12 Nov 2019
Every great tasting menu has a bread course, which is an opportunity for a kitchen to showcase their breadmaking prowess. The complexity, precision, and technique involved in artisan breadmaking represent a rabbit hole of near-unlimited depth (similar to ice cream in that regard). I have never taken the trouble to start and maintain a sourdough starter and will likely never be able to complete with the quality of loaves that are readily available here in San Francisco, so instead I choose to serve Parker House rolls. They have a wonderful soft pillowy texture with a very thin just-barely-crispy crust on top, and the pull-apart aspect is fun. They beg to be brushed with fat (olive oil in this recipe, but any rendered animal fat will work), and the freshly-baked glistening loaf is always a big hit with guests. This recipe yields 8 rolls from a 8.5"x4.5" loaf tin and cannot be scaled down. I usually make one loaf when serving 4 guests.
Bread baking in home ovens can be rather difficult. Commercial combi-ovens are capable of injecting moisture into the cooking environment which improves "oven spring", the final expansion of the dough during baking. I attempt to replicate this by using a pan of boiling water placed on the bottom oven rack during baking. I also brush on an egg wash before baking to encourage a golden shiny crust, and brush on more fat after baking. Your bake time may vary slightly depending on your oven and cooking conditions; instead aim for an internal loaf temperature of 190F.
I have experimented with the "tangzhong" technique, which involves cooking part of the flour and water into a roux that is mixed into the dough, with the goal of yielding an even more tender crumb. I found the loaf was improved but pretty marginally, and so I serve this simpler recipe that is less work and basically equivalent. I do add milk powder to the dough to yield a tender and sweeter loaf that browns more readily, but it can be omitted if you do not have access to it. If you wish to make the tangzhong version, combine 24g (8%) of the bread flour and 120g water and cook while whisking over medium heat until thickened. Let cool and then prepare the rest of the dough as directed using 276g bread flour and about 105g water; add the tangzhong slurry along with the rest of the ingredients.
I strongly recommend serving these with salted butter (try homemade) and additional Maldon salt for guests to sprinkle.
Yields 8 rolls.
300g bread flour (100%)
4.5g active dry yeast (1.5%)
185g water (~62%)
20g nonfat milk powder (~7%)
6g kosher salt (2%)
5g olive oil (~1.6%)
15g honey (5%)
10g cheddar, grated on microplane (optional) (~3%)
1 egg (~17% @ 50g)
1 egg + ~1 Tbsp cold water, mixed
Fat for brushing, such as olive oil, rendered duck fat, etc (optional)