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How to Make Perfect Parker House Rolls (Plus 4 Spin-Offs)

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Light as a cloud, sweet and buttery Parker House rolls are easy to bake in your own kitchen

Light as a cloud, sweet and buttery Parker House rolls are easy to bake in your own kitchen

What Are Parker House Rolls?

There is a soft, pillowy, buttery dinner roll called the Parker House. Have you ever wondered how it got that name? Here's the story, and (bonus for you!) how to make them in your own kitchen.

From Humble Beginnings

In 1825 Harvey Parker, a 20-year-old youth from the small town of Paris, Maine, moved to Boston, Massachusetts. He had no family, no friends, no job in Boston, and only $1.00 in his pocket. But that didn't discourage Harvey.

With a head full of ideas and a heart full of ambition he quickly landed his first job as a caretaker for a cow and a horse. Several more menial jobs followed, but then his condition improved; he was employed as a coachman for a wealthy Boston socialite, a position that changed his life.

Harvey often enjoyed his midday meal in a basement tavern. Although he had no experience, he was inspired to improve the food and atmosphere and bought the tavern for $432. He renamed it Parker’s Restaurant, serving an updated menu and employing professional waitstaff. The former dingy hole-in-the-wall became the go-to place for Boston’s elite. By 1847, Parker’s was one of the most popular dining destinations in the city.

Seven years later with an investment partner, Harvey Parker purchased a boarding house that had once been a grand mansion. Under his guidance, the aging structure was razed and in its place arose an Italianate-style five-story brick-and-stone hotel with marble steps, elegant foyer, crystal chandeliers, burnished bronze fixtures, golden oak paneling, and plush wool carpets.

The lobby of the Omni Parker House Hotel

The lobby of the Omni Parker House Hotel

Instead of the traditional boarding house meals at established times, Parker’s had a new concept—an elegant dining room, a menu, and upscale meals which could be purchased at any time. Today, Parker's is regarded as the oldest of Boston’s elegant inns and the longest continuously operating hotel in the United States.

Some Notable Parker's Guests

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • Babe Ruth
  • Ulysses S. Grant
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Sarah Bernhardt

A century and one-half ago, the creative kitchen staff developed several dishes that are still known today. One of those is the Parker House roll, beloved because of its unique combination of buttery exterior and pillowy softness.

Of course, with all things famous there are legends. The story oft-told of the Parker House roll is that it was created in a moment of passion—a guest at the hotel so infuriated the baker that he picked up a pan of rolls ready to be baked. When they emerged from the oven they were folded over in what we today recognize as the distinctive shape for a Parker House roll.

I hate to rain on the parade, but I honestly don't believe that hurling a pan of unbaked dough into an oven would serendipitously result in perfectly formed "pocketbook-shaped" rolls. What do you think?

Original Parker House Rolls

Original Parker House Rolls

Original Parker House Rolls

The oldest printed Parker House Rolls recipe on file is from an April 1874 issue of the New Hampshire Sentinel, and they have been a favorite in homes and restaurants ever since. The website New England Today published what is purported to be the "original" Parker House roll recipe as it appeared in "The Yankee Magazine" August 24, 2017.

Garlic Herb Parker House Rolls

Garlic Herb Parker House Rolls

Garlic Herb Parker House Rolls

I find one problem with this recipe for garlic herb rolls—it makes only 18 rolls. They have the buttery softness you would expect in a Parker House roll, but the addition of garlic and herbs and a dusting of sea salt makes them irresistible.

Gluten-Free Parker House Rolls

Gluten-Free Parker House Rolls

Gluten-Free Parker House Rolls (5 Flavors)

The perfect balance of potato starch, tapioca starch, and almond flour make these gluten-free Parker House rolls just as light and puffy as the original. Brittany also gives us four alternative recipes for garlic and herb, rosemary/black pepper, pumpkin/honey butter, and cheddar/mustard versions.

Salted Honey Parker House Rolls

Salted Honey Parker House Rolls

Salted Honey Parker House Rolls

Adrianna sweetens the dough for these rich salted honey Parker House rolls by replacing ordinary granulated sugar with honey. Depending on the type of honey you choose (there are dozens of flavors) your rolls can have notes of butterscotch, burnt sugar, oranges or clover blossoms. A dusting of flaked sea salt gives the perfect contrast of salt to sweet.

Vegan Parker House Rolls

Vegan Parker House Rolls

Vegan Parker House Rolls

Plant-based milk and non-dairy butter make these vegan Parker House rolls tasty and guilt-free. Don't let the vegan label dissuade you from trying these—they are moist, puffy, and light as a cloud.

Sources

© 2021 Linda Lum

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 05, 2021:

John, I think parker house rolls are an American thing, so I'm not surprised that they are new to you. But despite the country of origin, no one can deny that they are pillowy yummy goodness.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on June 05, 2021:

I always enjoy reading the history of the foods you write about, Linda, and this was no exception. What a wonderful story of determination by Harvey Parker. I have never heard of Parker House rolls, but they look and sound delicious.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 05, 2021:

Misbah, your comments are always a special gift to me. Thank you for your kind words. I hope that in the next few weeks the people of Hubs Pages will restore Comments so that it isn't so difficult for us to exchange thoughts and share ideas with one another. I appreciate that you took the time to find this in your feed.

Blessings on your day.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on June 05, 2021:

Hi, Linda Thank you very much for sharing this fantastic article. Reading your writings is always a pleasure for me. This one I read yesterday, but it didn't show up in my feed for me to comment on. I'm delighted I can now leave a comment. The Garlic Herb ones are my favorites; they're so delicious...

Many blessings to you, dear friend

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 05, 2021:

Rawan Osama, thank you and thank you for the "follow."

Rawan Osama from Egypt on June 05, 2021:

Beautiful recipe

Thanks for sharing it

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 05, 2021:

Rachel, they're not difficult to bake (and you really don't need to throw the pan across the room LOL).

Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on June 05, 2021:

Hi Carb Diva. That was an interesting story about Harvey Parker. I love those parker rolls. I have had them at other people's dinners, but never saw the recipe. I happy you shared the recipe now.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 05, 2021:

Audrey, thank you for your kind words. As Flourish said in her comments, there's rain in the forecast this weekend. A perfect time to make some soup and, of course, Parker House rolls on the side.

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on June 04, 2021:

Thanks for the history lesson about Parker. A great intro for your mouth-watering roll recipes. It sure brings back some delicious memories. Dinner wasn't special without those Parker House Rolls.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 04, 2021:

Denise, thank you. After I hit the "publish" button, I questioned my timing. Perhaps almost Summer isn't the time to think about baking dinner rolls, but you and my other dear friends have come to the rescue.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on June 04, 2021:

Oh, you never disappoint. These are perfect and the history was entertaining. I have to try the vegan version. Thanks for sharing it.

Blessings,

Denise

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 04, 2021:

It's probably in our best interests to not hold our breath.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 04, 2021:

Oops. I meant by the end of the second quarter, which is June 30th.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 04, 2021:

Linda, the comments restoration was promised by the end of the third quarter, so they have until June 30th to live up to their promise.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 04, 2021:

Flourish, I think the weather in my part of the world will be very much like yours. Bring on the soup. I've made me a happy Diva today. Thanks for finding me. Hey, it's June--weren't we promised the restoration of Comments in the "first half of the year"?

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 04, 2021:

I found this article on the feed. I am making these TODAY with some soup, as it is cool and overcast. I'm with you about doubting that tossing the tray in the oven could result in perfectly folded over rolls, but hey, it's a good story. Honey and butter and salt and all that good stuff are calling my name.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 03, 2021:

Femi, yes baking bread is such a wonderful aroma. Of all our senses, smell is the one that does not alter in our memory. It remains true.

femi from Nigeria on June 02, 2021:

I can still taste the delicious flavours in my mom's home made bread.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 02, 2021:

Thank you Kalpana. Yes, there is nothing like the taste (and aroma) of home baked bread.

Kalpana Iyer from India on June 01, 2021:

These look absolutely divine! Yum

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 01, 2021:

My mom never made rolls or breads (cake-type breads, yes, but not sandwich/dinner breads). I think those are the only baked goods she never made from scratch.

Yes, garlic makes everything butter - I mean, better!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 01, 2021:

Shauna, my mom was a great bread baker, but she never made rolls. Yes, Beth and I are going to make the garlic ones (everything's better with garlic, right?).

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 01, 2021:

Boy, this brings back memories. My mom would always serve Parker House rolls with Thanksgiving dinner. Now she bakes biscuits, but I so loved those PH rolls growing up!

The herb garlic version looks yummy.

Interesting history, too. I love hearing rags to riches stories!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 01, 2021:

Bill, I'm glad I was able to teach you something new today. Yes, today will be a scorcher (by Pacific NW standards) and I plan to stay inside as much as possible, writing and painting.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on June 01, 2021:

Pamela, my Godson cannot eat gluten (or fish or shellfish, peanuts or tree nuts) so I've become quite sensitive to that dietary need. (Still working on perfecting my technique so I don't end up with hockey pucks). Yes, those garlic rolls sound amazing, don't they?

Thank you for stopping by.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 01, 2021:

It's weird, but I don't think I ever knew them by this name. Doesn't sound familiar at all. Mind you, I've eaten my weight in them, just didn't know what to call them.

Find some shade and stay cool. I plan on being miserably hot today.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 01, 2021:

Young Parker sure is a success story ! I have always thought Parker house rolls were delicious, but I have never attempted to make them. I would find the ones with. garlic, etc. irresistible.

It is so interesting that they can be gluten free. my poor brother would love that. Thanks for a lovely article with great recipe suggestions.

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