I was given a subscription to Saveur magazine last year by one CMH Gourmand, who must have felt that my culinary education should go beyond Wikipedia and Epicurious searches.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the subscription (with the exception of the issue on Thailand markets that came out right as I returned from the Asia trip, not having had a chance to visit Thailand’s markets.) The articles are beautifully written and the photographs touch the photojournalist that still dwells within me. (Turns out that there’s a reason for that; Saveur’s photo editor was the director of Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication when I was a student there.)
When it came time to thank Mr. Gourmand (by way of the Colicchio & Sons Parker House Rolls listed in the most recent edition of the magazine, per his request), it was my math and logic skills, not my photographic ones, that came into play. In order to time the rolls perfectly during my Sunday evening dinner party, I had to work backwards. Of course (of course, of course, of course) things didn’t go as planned, but the premeditation did help avert catastrophe.
The act of baking brought forth many simple concepts and ideas that parents, teachers and even college professors have tried to ingrain in me over the years. Planning ahead is one I seem to have grasped.
But patience, attention to detail and reading comprehension are all attributes that were challenged a bit during the process. One might say that making these rolls brought on the same stress level as taking a standardized test. I’m not exaggerating.
I read the instructions every few hours, in between sending texts to my friend that the act of baking bread is a pain in the ass. He suggested on more than one occasion that I give up, that no one would know. But he didn’t realize that this had become more than a thank you gift; that the success or failure of these rolls had a direct correlation with the success or failure of me as a person. Not to be overly dramatic, or anything.
On a more sane level, I didn’t want to put my previous work (the time line, finding the barley malt extract powder, paying $14 for fleur de sel) to go to waste.
And, perhaps, my most simple motive was smell. I wanted the gratification of the smell of freshly baked rolls to fill my kitchen. If I never baked again, it would be fine. Just this once, though, I wanted to feel like June Cleaver for a tiny moment. Put together, showered, hospitable.
But mainly, I wanted to prove something to myself. If these rolls come out, maybe I can go to grad school someday; maybe I’m not a failure for not being a photojournalist. Turns out – I’m not a failure. As he tried his thank you gift, Mr. Gourmand declared to me: “These rolls don’t suck.” And they didn’t. And therefore, I didn’t.
The process brought two new thoughts into my mind, the first being Maybe I’ll make these again. The second, a result of the high from the accomplishment of my friend’s request for rolls was, Damn it; now I owe him another thank you gift.
Colicchio & Sons Parker House Rolls
Saveur, Issue #133
3/4 cup milk, heated to 115°
1 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. barley malt syrup or dark corn syrup (I used barley malt extract powder)
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into
1/4 cup clarified butter, for greasing
Fleur de sel, to garnish
1. Stir together milk, yeast, and malt syrup in a large bowl; let sit until foamy, 10 minutes. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt; add to milk mixture along with butter and stir with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth, 5–6 minutes. Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let sit until nearly doubled in size, about 1 hour. Uncover and punch down dough; cover and let sit until puffed, about 45 minutes.
2. Heat oven to 325°. Portion dough into fourteen 1 1/2″-diameter balls, about 1 1/4 oz. each, and transfer to a greased 8″ cast-iron skillet or 8″ x 8″ baking pan, nestling them side by side; cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Brush with clarified butter and bake until puffed and pale golden brown, 20–22 minutes. Transfer to a rack and brush with more clarified butter; sprinkle each roll with a small pinch of fleur de sel and serve warm.
MAKES 14 ROLLS