Parker House Rolls & Tips for Using Yeast

Yeast:  few like to work with it, the majority of people fear it.  Why does baking with yeast seem so intimidating? Yeast-raised goods usually have a lot of steps, and take a lot of time.  What if you put in all the time and the dough never even rises? Oh the nightmares!

I want to start pressuring people to make their own bread.  It tastes so much better than store-bought options, it makes the house smell delicious, and you can customize the loaf to your liking.  Not convinced yet?  Let me help you out with a little guide to using yeast and a delicious (and relatively easy) recipe to test your new skills.

You will come across a few different types of yeast when looking at bread recipes, but these three are the most common:

  • Active Dry: Active Dry is my baking yeast of choice, in part for the convenient little packets (2 1/4 teaspoons in each packet), and its availability.  It should be “re-activated” by dissolving in warm water (100-115 degrees) and (sometimes) a pinch of sugar.  In order to make sure that the yeast hasn’t gone bad, let the mixture sit for 10 minutes.  If you have a foamy, bubbly yeast mixture after time has passed–voila, you are ready to bake.  If not, your yeast has died.  Try a new packet.
  • Instant, or Rapid Rise:  Rapid Rise yeast can be added directly to the dry ingredients, without dissolving in water.  As the name hints, your bread may rise a bit quicker than bread made with active dry yeast.  It has been the yeast of choice for no-knead aficionados.
  • Cake or Fresh: Typically preferred by more advanced bakers, and more tricky to find in grocery stores, cake yeast only has a shelf life of about 2 weeks.  You can refresh the yeast in 80-90 degree water for about 10 minutes.  Like active dry, if no bubbles appear your yeast has probably gone bad.

Don’t have the type of yeast a recipe calls for?  Well, there’s good news because you can substitute whatever yeast you have on hand.  Just use this conversion table.

Things to keep in mind when baking bread:

  • If your dough springs back when rolling it into shapes (which may happen when making these Parker House Rolls) walk away for 10 minutes and let the dough rest.  When you come back it should be ready to cooperate!
  • In order to preserve a loaf’s crust, wrap the bread in parchment paper or a paper bag.  The minute you wrap bread in plastic it will lose its crunch.
  • Most doughs can be refrigerated for a slow rise.  If you are not in a rush, and are baking a treat for breakfast, try chilling the formed dough overnight.  Simply take the dough out while preheating the oven, and enjoy freshly baked items in the morning without waking up at 4am.
  • I know, I know, eating bread straight from the oven is probably one of the biggest motivations to bake your own.  But, by cutting the bread before it has come to room temperature you are not letting the loaf cook completely.  Think of cooling as the last stage in the bread baking process.  You wouldn’t want all your hard work to go to waste, would you?  Now, I’m not saying that if you cut the bread prematurely it will be horrible.  It will, in fact, probably be quite good.  But, it will be even better if you allow the loaf to cool.
  • New to baking bread?  Try kneading the dough by hand, even if you have one of those handy electronic mixers.  You’ll be amazed by the dough’s transformation from sticky and rough to smooth as a baby’s bottom!  You may also find the process to be a great stress reliever.

Have any other pressing bread baking questions?  There are loads of great resources on the web.  Here are a few:  Baking 911, Reluctant Gourmet, and YouTube.  Or, if you don’t feel like searching, write a comment and I’ll try my best to find the answer.  Have fun baking!

Parker House Rolls don’t motivate you to bake with yeast?  Try these temptations: Heidi’s Baked Doughnuts, Seven Spoon’s Banana Bread Yeasted Waffles, or perhaps Pumpkin Brioche Cinnamon Rolls.

Parker House Rolls
(Adapted from The Martha Stewart Baking Handbook)
Yield: 30 rolls
12 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cups warm milk (110 degrees)
2 envelopes (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
approximately 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Butter a 12 x 9 inch rimmed baking sheet.  Place 1/2 cup warm milk in a small bowl, and sprinkle with yeast; stir to dissolve yeast.  Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring remaining 3/4 cup milk just to a simmer.  Remove from heat; add 6 tablespoons butter, along with the sugar and salt, stirring until the butter has melted. Set aside.
If using a mixer: place 4 1/2 cups flour in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Make a well in the center of the flour, and pour in the yeast mixture, butter mixture, and eggs.  Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the dough hook, and beat on low speed until the dough just starts to come together, about 2 minutes.  Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and no longer sticky, 5 minutes, adding remaining cup of flour as needed.  Butter or oil a large bowl; place the dough in bowl, turning to coat evenly with butter. COver with a clean kitchen towel.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.  Punch down dough, and let rest 10 minutes.
Melt remaining 6 tablespoons of butter.  Divide the dough into two equal pieces.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece into a 12 x 10 inch rectangle, keeping the second piece covered with the towel.  Refrigerate dough until well chilled, about 30 minutes.  Repeat with remaining dough.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut on piece of chilled dough lengthwise into five 2-inch wide strips.  Cut each strip into three 4-inch long rectangles.  With a short side facing you, brush the top half of one rectangle with some melted butter, and fold over, about one-third of the way.  Transfer to prepared pan, folded side down. Repeat with remaining rectangles, arranging in pan so that they overlap slightly.  Repeat with remaining dough.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel.  Let rolls rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes.  Brush melted butter over top of each roll. Bake until golden brown, 20-25 minutes.

Brussels Sprouts with almonds and garlic

I couldn’t be happier about the popularity boost of the humble Brussels sprout.  After all, they are less bitter than regular cabbage, are packed with nutritional punch, and can be prepared in many different ways.  (One of my favorites is sauteing the sprouts with maple-glazed bacon and hazelnuts–quite delightful!)

However, today I wanted to try something different with the tiny cabbages.  I was looking for something similar to a slaw, yet with a more filling nature.  I think this dish hits the mark!  The nuttiness from the almonds and the cheese adds a richness to the dish, not to mention a bit of protein.  To boot, the dish only takes 20 minutes from cutting board to table.  I’m willing to bet that a few Brussels sprouts haters will reconsider their aversion after trying this dish.

Brussels Sprouts with Almonds and Garlic
This salad is also good cold, although I would omit the cheese.  Serves 2.
1 lb Brussels sprouts, outer leaves removed
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/3 cup almonds, chopped
large pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon
Romano or Parmesan cheese, for topping (optional)
Cut the bottom end off each Brussels sprout.  Slice thinly.  Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, being careful not to brown it.  Add the chopped almonds and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the sliced Brussels sprouts, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the sprouts  become bright green and are slightly wilted.  Remove from heat and top with cheese, if desired.

Screaming Potatoes

Whether baked, fried, or mashed, potatoes have never been my favorite item on the plate.  I always want something more–more texture, more flavor, more oomph!  It seems ironic then, that the star ingredient of my first post happens to be potatoes.

These potatoes, however, stand out from the typical potato crowd.  Fluffy on the inside and addictively crunchy on the outside, flavored with rosemary, thyme, and garlic–these will convert any potato-hater.  My favorite part is hearing the little spuds scream as they come out of the oven, telling you they’re ready to eat.

Screaming Potatoes

Screaming Potatoes:

I wouldn’t call this a recipe, as much as a technique.  Feel free to put your own unique twist on the herbs and spices used.  I would imagine that chili powder and garlic, or curry powder, red pepper flakes, and garlic would be divine!  Go ahead, be creative.

2 pounds of assorted, thin-skinned potatoes
Generous drizzle of olive oil (I use around 4 tablespoons)
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon rosemary
1/2 tablespoon thyme

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.

Scrub the potatoes and cut them into bite sized pieces.  Scatter evenly on the baking sheet.  Drizzle the potatoes with olive oil (you can also use melted butter, if you prefer).  Sprinkle the garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme over the potatoes.  Mix with your hands until the potatoes are evenly coated.  When potatoes are cooked through, which will take approximately 25 minutes depending on the size of the potatoes, place under the broiler for 5 minutes, or until nicely browned. Enjoy

Note: Do not eat until the little spuds stop screaming, or you’ll be the winner of a very burnt mouth!