My search for the best Parker House Roll recipe stems from Thanksgivings spent with my mom’s side of the family in LA. In addition to our unorthodox traditions like my mom’s Chinese sausage-studded and oyster-sauced sticky rice stuffing, my aunt’s mom, Sharley, would bake homemade pies and warm, pillowy rolls that were buttery and utterly addictive.
For years, my sister and I have tried several recipes each Thanksgiving in search of a recipe that would rival those rolls. While we’ve been happy with certain attempts (we’ve made Joy the Baker multiple times), we can never remember which ones we liked. So this is my attempt to finally find my ultimate roll!
- 27 total tasters
- All 9 recipes were made and baked the day of tasting
- Recipes were kneaded using a dough hook in a KitchenAid mixer (not by hand)
- All recipes were baked either on parchment-lined baking sheets or glass baking pans (as directed by recipe)
- Tasters ranked each roll on a scale from 0-10 for taste, texture and overall as a whole
- King Arthur unbleached all-purpose and bread flour
- SAF Red Instant Yeast
- Fleishmann’s Active Dry Yeast
- Unsalted Land O Lakes butter
- Bob’s Red Mill baking powder and soda
- Diamond kosher salt
- Kroger buttermilk
- Borden whole milk
- Imperial granulated sugar
- Bob’s Red Mill potato starch
- Hungry Jack’s potato flakes (same as plain instant mashed potatoes)
Note: although I typically use Gold Medal Flour (a lower protein, widely available, consistent all-purpose flour), I chose to use King Arthur’s unbleached all-purpose flour in this bake off since the higher protein content lends itself well to bread baking.
What are Parker House Rolls?
Legend has it that these rolls were invented at the Parker House Hotel in Boston in 1870s when a disgruntled baker slammed a tray of rolls in the oven–and the jolted rolls emerged with their signature folded appearance.
Parker House rolls are basically buttery, yeast-based dinner rolls. To me, they’re superior than your average dinner rolls because of the signature fold that allows you to pull sections apart to reveal a steaming hot and tender interior.
An overview of all the recipes I tested and why:
|Recipe||Why I chose it||Similar to|
|Alton Brown||Uses egg yolks||Joy the Baker|
|Cookies and Cups||High yeast (quick rise recipe)||A Cozy Kitchen|
|Delish||Uses a mix of evaporated/sweetened condense milk, no egg||n/a|
|Bobby Flay||Slightly higher egg ratio, great reviews/high search ranking, “benchmark” recipe||New England Today, Bon Appetit|
|King Arthur||Uses potato flour/flakes||Serious Eats|
|Jessie Sheehan||Uses buttermilk, shortening, potato starch, bread flour||n/a|
|Joy the Baker||No egg, uses bread flour||James Beard|
|Mel’s Kitchen Cafe||Oil-based, all hot water (no milk)||Bon Appetit|
|Vintage Kitchen||No knead||The Kitchn|
Best Parker House Roll Recipe Results
This was another bake off where it was hard to go wrong. As one taster put it: “It’s a roll. Who hates a roll?”
I firmly believe that any of these rolls, if made in isolation, would be hugely crowd pleasing (fresh bread is magic!). I highly encourage you to read the analysis to figure out which roll you may prefer most, even if it’s ranked lower. My goal in posting the rankings isn’t to discourage people from making the lower-rated rolls. This is a bake off where I can confidently say that ALL ROLLS ALL DELICIOUS!
But if we have to split hairs, here’s how the roll breakdown went:
Here are some factors that may have played a part in the parker house roll bake off:
- Potato flakes: Potato starch are hygroscopic, which means it’s great at holding onto water. Potato flakes is the ingredient that made a huge difference in King Arthur rolls by keeping them significantly more tender and moist compared to other rolls, even hours later!
- Liquid: Recipes ran the gamut from using just water to milk to buttermilk to evaporated and sweetened condensed milk. Recipes that used all or higher proportions of milk (Joy, King Arthur, Bobby, Delish) tended to perform better. Though Mel again confounds the results with a hot water and oil-based roll that comes in a close 5th place. Generally, if you have a choice, milk is a better option to use in bread as it provides richness (there’s more sugar and fat in milk than water) and more flavor.
- Fat: All recipes used 100% butter except for Mel’s (which used oil) and Jessie (which used a combination of butter and shortening). Of course butter will always give the best overall flavor, but Mel’s rolls show that you can make butter-free rolls with such a fantastic texture, it almost makes up for any flavor deficits.
- Egg: The only recipes that omitted egg happened to be Joy the Baker (2nd place) and Delish (4th place). It was surprising to see these egg-less rolls do quite well as eggs typically help enhance breads by providing color, structure and leavening. In my opinion, other factors like use of milk, bread flour, etc. played a bigger part in these recipes than lack of egg.
- Flour: All recipes used all-purpose flour except for Joy the Baker and Jessie Sheehan, which both used a combination of bread and all-purpose flour. Bread flour has a higher percentage of protein which allows more gluten to build up and thus gives a more chewy texture. I think the use of bread flour may have given Joy a slight edge. But I also think if you don’t have bread flour, you can still make her rolls pretty successfully by subbing all-purpose.
- Sugar: I was positive that one of the reasons for Joy’s win was a higher ratio of sugar, but as a percentage against flour, Alton Brown (14%) and Food Network (13%) are highest, followed by Mel’s (11%), then Joy, King Arthur and Cookies and Cups and Jessie at 10%. This doesn’t give us much insight behind the rankings, but know that sugar plays an important role in bread–not only does it provide sweetness, it also helps promote browning, tenderizes the crumb and is crucial in helping yeast activate.
Alton Brown: a chewy, fluffy, golden roll with a rich pocket of butter in the middle
Alton’s recipe stood out for its use of egg yolks and shaping technique which adds a tiny cube of chilled butter in the center of each roll before folding it over. This leads to a delightful pocket in each roll where the butter melts (though it also perhaps led to rolls that popped open more easily). These rolls seemed a bit oversized to me–I would probably try to get at least 20 rolls out of this recipe if I made them again. Texturally, they were reminiscent of the stretchy, fluffy milk bread on the inside with a fairly chewy exterior, but to me, they were lacking in flavor. To be completely honest, Alton has one of the highest proportions of salt in his recipe, yet they were so bland it made me wonder if I had accidentally omitted it.
Interestingly, there were quite a few comments from tasters that they thought this roll was sweeter than others, though one said it “reminded me of a less sweet, less fluffy King’s Hawaiian roll.” Quite a few also commented on the beautiful golden brown shell but slightly tough and dense texture. “It felt empty,” said one taster. “Not very balanced, and quite dense” said another. Given the number of positive reviews on this roll, I want to give this another shot and see if I did, in fact, forget the salt.
Jessie Sheehan: a lofty, shaggy, hearty roll with a subtle tang from buttermilk
True to form, Jessie’s recipe thoroughly details the research she embarked on to develop these rolls, which includes potato starch, a combination of butter and shortening (the latter is supposed to add a softer texture while butter is there for flavor), bread and all-purpose flour, and the unusual inclusion of buttermilk. The slight tang from the buttermilk definitely came through these lofty rolls, particularly compared to the more neutral flavor of others. Though the shaggy texture of the crumb felt dry initially, each feathery bite kind of dissolves in your mouth (which may be thanks to the potato starch, which helps cling onto moisture). Ultimately, I had no complaints about the level of moisture, and I loved the poofy crumb of these.
On the plus side, tasters praised the nutty, buttery, yeasty flavor and great golden crust with some agreeing it had the perfect level of salt: “little salty which adds a nice touch. The sweetness comes in the more you chew. Fairly buttery.” Many found the crumb a little dry and rough and were split on liking the thick and chewy texture. Some also noted the crumb disintegrated in their mouth too quickly. While a few detected the buttermilk, noting a “tart” or “sour” flavor, others thought it was a little bland. Though comments proved a little divisive, if you’re looking for a fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth texture with a slight tang, this is the roll for you!
Cookies & Cups: a fast-rise roll that is a little denser and chewier, but still fluffy and slightly sweet
I was excited to include Shelly’s recipe in this bake off as the high amount of yeast in these rolls (2 envelopes or close to 5 teaspoons) means that these rolls only require 40 minutes of total rising time, meaning you could have fresh rolls in just over an hour! (A Cozy Kitchen’s recipe is nearly identical and notes that you can also prep these ahead by doing one rise overnight in the fridge.) I liked the hint of sweetness and salt in these rolls combined with a pillowy, cushy texture that compresses nicely.
Tasters generally liked the flavor of this roll but were split on the texture–some liked the denser, chewier bite while some thought it was a bit dry. “Lovely yeasty smell. Compact roll but fluffiness is not compromised. Has some chew but it’s not tough. I didn’t expect to like this one as much. Small size but big flavor and texture,” said one taster. Naysayers thought the texture was a little too tough and slightly drier and some thought it was lacking flavor. Overall, this wasn’t a hugely memorable roll for me, but the fact that you can make it from start to finish in a little over an hour is a huge plus!
Vintage Kitchen Notes: a no-knead recipe with a nice fluffy texture but a blank canvas in terms of flavor
I included Paula’s recipe (which is quite similar to Bobby Flay’s recipe, but with less sugar and slightly different ratios of milk/flour/egg) as it is a no-knead recipe. Although this dough did look concerningly wet, it proofed beautifully and rolled out easily. To me, this is a fairly easy process that is good for beginner bread bakers. While these had a beautiful fluffy texture, I couldn’t detect much flavor in these at all–no real sweetness or savoriness.
On the positives: “this flavor profile was the most neutral which for some reason I really liked,” said one taster. “Beautiful color, soft texture on inside, smells and tastes super buttery. Almost looks and feels like a biscuit because of the very defined fold,” said another. A couple tasters compared this as a “slightly worse version of [Bobby Flay], but still very good.” Most appreciated the fantastic texture–airy doughiness paired with the slight chew–but most agreed that this was one of the most bland rolls of the group. Still, this is an ideal option for when you want a carby vehicle for sopping up something more flavorful–and it’s also easy to dial up the sugar and salt on this roll for a little more flavor!
Mel’s Kitchen Cafe: perfectly picturesque hot water rolls that are airy and fluffy but a little bland
Many of you were curious to see a parker house roll recipe that used hot water instead of milk–Mel’s recipe also uses oil instead of the more typical butter and is a no-knead recipe to boot. (This recipe is somewhat similar, using all water, but with butter and requires kneading.) This recipe made an incredibly abundant pan of rolls (I think we made closer to 50-60 rolls than 30-40). The beautiful browning on top was probably due to being squished onto the tray and thus rising taller than other rolls. While I loved the fluffy, airy texture of these rolls, I wished for a little more flavor. I picked up on a little sweetness, but would have liked more salt to highlight the flavor.
Tasters overwhelmingly loved the beautiful golden top and fluffy, doughy texture of these rolls. “The flavor was not quite there, but the texture! Light, fluffy with a bit of doughiness!! Didn’t have a discernible crust but I’m ok with that,” said one taster. “The perfect texture. But flavor is lacking,” said another. Interestingly, many commented that this had a buttery taste (the rolls are brushed with butter, but there’s no butter in the dough). Again, I would increase the salt to 1.5 tsp if I made these again–but as a blank canvas, these are incredibly textured!
Delish: a sweet, slightly dense roll with a delightfully bronzed, salty top
June Xie’s recipe on Delish for parker house rolls was highly unusual with a combination of evaporated and sweetened condensed milk standing in for the usual whole milk, sugar and egg for a more “creamy, complex, rich sweetness.” Although I don’t typically have either milk on hand, I can’t deny that this recipe made for a very short and easy ingredient list (essentially 6 ingredients). Note: I made 1.5x this recipe to use up the whole can of evaporated milk. Note #2: June says you should eat your finished rolls with any leftover condensed milk! Finished with an egg wash and topped with salt, this was one of my favorite rolls as this finally delivered on the level of salt I prefer! The crumb wasn’t quite as fluffy and stretchy as others, but it had a nice toothsome bite and chew.
Tasters widely commented on the salt level–some agreed that it was ideal while others thought it was too salty (this is easy to control; if you prefer them less salty, just skip the salt on top!). Tasters also liked the buttery flavor of this roll, though some wished it was sweeter. “Nice yeasty aroma, feels a little dense. Chewier but not dry,” said one taster. “Very full and dense, but feels fluffy still,” said another. There were some complaints of dryness and denseness, which I think could be due to the smaller size of these rolls (we were trying to get the full yield), leading to more crust and less soft interior bread volume. I would definitely make these again and make fewer, bigger rolls next time!
Bobby Flay: a soft and squishy, intensely cloud-like roll with just a hint of sweetness
Bobby Flay’s recipe had a pretty standard ingredient list with a slightly higher ratio of eggs and a fairly straightforward process (though it doesn’t give much direction in terms of shaping so we went with rectangular folds). This recipe was consistently number one whenever I searched for “best parker house rolls” and it seems it has won the SEO game for good reason. It was one of the softest, plushest overall rolls with a stretchy consistency and a hint of sweetness–one of my personal favorites in terms of texture.
Tasters praised this roll for its doughy, pillowy, almost underbaked texture and buttery flavor, comparing it to a King’s Hawaiian roll or the bun on a Chick-Fil-A mini. “Very good texture and butteriness. Easy to eat by itself,” said one taster. “Very spongy. Quintessential white bread flavor. Hint of sweetness,” said another. The main critique of this roll is that people wanted more salt, and some said the center of the roll was too soft. Next time, I would either finish these rolls with a sprinkle of salt or increase the salt/sugar slightly, but otherwise these rolls are delightful!
Joy the Baker: a tender, slightly sweet, substantially pillowy roll with a satisfyingly chewy bite and buttery aroma
Joy’s recipe stood out for its use of both bread and all-purpose flour plus its lack of egg and relatively high ratio of butter. Although the recipe calls for a chopstick indentation instead of a typical parker house roll fold, we used a circular foldover for consistency. This is the recipe my sister and I have made for our family most often over the years and I’m delighted to see it win the bake off! When I tasted it blind, this was my top-rated roll for its pillowy plush softness and subtle butteriness (though I noted I would’ve liked more sweetness). Joy’s roll basically tied with King Arthur for first place–I think the distinction is all about the style of roll you prefer. Joy’s has more substantial body and chew than a super light and fluffy-style roll like King Arthur, Bobby Flay, or Mel’s Kitchen Cafe.
Although this roll has a firmer exterior, most tasters liked the fluffy texture. “I was a little afraid it would be too dry based on the texture, but it didn’t feel dry at all when I ate it. Nice mouthfeel, well balanced,” noted one taster. Most agreed this had ideal levels of butter and salt. “The flavor is sooo good. Perfectly buttery! Love the shape and structure. I enjoy that it’s firmer,” said one taster. “Similar to [King Arthur] but less flavor,” said one. Some weren’t overly impressed by the flavor and wished it had browned more, but otherwise most loved the slightly denser, chewy but still fluffy roll! “Smaller, denser in size but still fluffy with a nice bready flavor. Not too sweet. Another small package with big flavor. Very easy to eat a few and before you know it, you’ve eaten the equivalent of a loaf of bread.”
King Arthur: an incredibly silky, pillowy roll with complex buttery, savory notes and crunchy edges
In previous Thanksgivings, I’ve always eyed the King Arthur ingredient list and decided against making them due to the extra step of buying potato flour or potato flakes. Besides the one finicky ingredient, King Arthur’s recipe is quite straightforward. And if I’m being honest? Buying the potato flakes is 100% worth it. The starch in potatoes helps hold onto moisture–one follower pointed out that the potato starch functions similar to tangzhong–in both cases, the starch and tangzhong work to gelantinze and activate the wheat starch to help it hold onto water better, equalling a more tender and moist dough!
Tasters almost universally loved this roll. “Best combo so far: buttery flavor and texture. Firmer outer crust with a fluffy cloud middle. This one is better seasoned with salt than others and has a good butter flavor without too much richness,” said one taster. “Perfect sweetness and moistness. Love the chew on this,” said one. “Tastes like an off croissant, incredibly buttery texture,” said another. A few picked up on a “subtle extra flavor” and noted the “complexity of the butter and other flavors,” which I think was due to the savoriness from the potato flakes. The crunchy bottom was widely praised. While a few didn’t love the “nutty,” rich/heavy flavor, there wasn’t a lot of critique for this roll! This roll was also by far the softest the day after.
Note: Potato flakes are the same as plain instant mashed potatoes, which should be easy to find at the grocery store (I used the Hungry Jack’s brand). I had a difficult time finding potato flour for the yellow cake bake off (finally found it at Central Market), so I’d recommend ordering it through King Arthur’s site if needed.
Tips on Making the Best Parker House Rolls
None of these rolls were particularly hard to make, but here are a few tips if you’re new to baking bread:
- Instant yeast vs. active dry yeast: These can be used interchangeably at a 1:1 ratio, though you may have to adjust for rising time. The difference? Instant yeast is smaller granules which can be mixed directly into dry ingredients. Active dry yeast are larger granules that must be dissolved in liquid to activate.
- Activating yeast: Recipes will specify that your proofing liquid should be x degrees, but I rarely use thermometers to measure. The finger test is just as easy: it should feel like a warm bath. If it’s too hot for you to comfortably leave your finger in, the liquid will likely kill the yeast. Even if the recipe doesn’t specify it, I always like to add a pinch of sugar when proofing yeast because the yeast needs something to eat!
- To get crusty, crunchy edges: use a cast iron pan for the crunchiest bottoms (a tip from Delish). I found that a glass pan tended to yield crunchier sides/bottoms compared to baking sheets.
- Prepping ahead of time: If you’d like to prep rolls ahead of time, you can generally follow the recipe as directed and skip the second rise at room temperature. Instead, place in the fridge overnight for a cold rise. Remove and let come to temperature for 20-30 minutes before baking as directed.
- Freezing: Have a bunch of leftover rolls after baking? Wrap them in foil, seal in a plastic bag and toss them in the freezer! They’ll keep for at least a few weeks and will reheat beautifully.
Best soft and squishy rolls: King Arthur, Bobby Flay, Mel’s Kitchen Cafe
Best fluffy rolls with chew: Jessie Sheehan, Joy the Baker, Vintage Kitchen, Alton Brown
Best “in a hurry” rolls: Cookies and Cups
Best if you love potato rolls: King Arthur
Best for sweet roll lovers: Joy the Baker, Delish
Best day-after rolls: King Arthur Flour (though all were good reheated!)
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