There’s a bakery on Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver (that’s the one in British Columbia in Canada) that my family used to frequent: Monarch Bakery sold all manner of European-Canadian goodies – cakes, pastries, savouries. I remember flaky, buttery sausage rolls, tender crusted meat pies, vanilla slices, butter tarts, walnut and cherry slices, big chocolate cakes covered in chocolate sprinkles. I only discovered that eccles cakes were filled with lots of currants when I got to the UK – Monarch’s delicious variant was the raspberry eccle, a thin chewy circular puff pastry sandwiching raspberry jam and a scattering of currants. In addition to a selection of these, my mother would buy a bagful of either soft Parker House Rolls or flaky butterbuns for the week.
The overwhelming memory of the bakery was the amount of butter they used. Everything was dripping in it and, of course, this made everything ridiculously good. If you’re around in North Vancouver, I believe they’re still there; if not, perhaps these Parker House Rolls will take you there.
I had no inkling of the history of these soft buttery buns; as a kid, I thought that my bakery had perhaps invented them and stuck a fancy name on them. It was only recently that I learned of its Boston origins, created at the Parker House Hotel. They’ve got a unique shape with a ‘lip’ or fold created either by pressing a dowel or chopstick into the bun or by cutting out rounds and folding them over; I used the latter method, also favoured by Monarch Bakery. These soft, buttery buns were perfect for mopping up the baked beans in my last post and in case there’s not enough butter in them for you, they’re awfully nice with an extra bit on them too.
Parker House Rolls
adapted from the hotel’s original recipe.
about 450g plain flour (you might need more or less depending on how damp your dough is)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp dry yeast
115g unsalted butter (divided into 2 parts)
In a small bowl, place 1 tbsp of sugar (from the 50g), the yeast and 1/2 cup warm water from the tap. Stir to dissolve and set aside until the mixture is frothy (about 10-15 minutes).
In a large bowl, cut 1 cup of flour, salt, rest of the sugar and one part of the butter together. Pour in the yeast mixture and add an additional 1/2 cup of hot tap water and stir very well to combine. Add the egg and stir again very well to combine (you can also use a mixer – at this point, the dough is still very wet). Stir in about another cup and a bit of flour to make a soft dough.
Turn the dough onto a well floured board and start kneading and working in the rest of the flour if needed (I needed it). Knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough is very elastic. Oil the original large bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place in the bowl, turning so that the dough is coated in oil all over. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled (about 1.5 hours).
When the dough has risen, punch it down and turn it out again onto the board (lightly floured) and knead to punch out the air and make a smooth ball. Cover with the bowl and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Melt the second part of the butter and set aside. Line a baking sheet with baking paper. Roll the dough to 1cm thickness and cut circles out (about 5-6cm in diameter). Brush both sides of each circle with the melted butter (or just dip them), fold it in half and place on the lined baking sheet. Brush all the buns with the remaining melted butter. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise again for about 40 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 200 Celsius.
Bake for about 15 minutes until browned on top.