My neighbor Elspeth is loosing herself. This is my euphamism for someone experiencing memory loss. It is the harsh reality many of us will face in years to come, but my neighbor is facing it now. Elspeth knows her memory is faulty and that it may eventually fail her completely. For now, with the help of her husband Guy, Elspeth is coping as best she can.
Elspeth is a wonderful cook, but as her memory issues increase cooking has become more and more difficult. For the past few years Elspeth and I have baked together. Most of the time we bake cookies. When we are finished Elspeth happily carries home her portion of our "loot" in a brown paper bag to share with Guy. Sometimes we are more ambitious.
As a young married woman and the mother of two small children, Elspeth used to make Parker House Rolls to earn house money. Several times per week Elspeth would rise early and begin her rolls. When the rolls were finished, she would bring them down street to one of the local markets where they were sold on consignment. This past fall, as we have done for several years now, Elspeth and I made Parker House Rolls. Elspeth learned how to make Parker House Rolls from her aunt with whom she was very close.
I pull down my mother’s old-fashioned bread bucket, and Elspeth and I measure in the ingredients and crank the handle mixing the dough to a perfect elasticity. We cover the bucket with a towel and let the dough rise. When it has doubled Elspeth punches the dough down, and we wait through the second rising. While the dough is rising, Elspeth and I bake cookies.
When the dough has doubled again we turn it onto a lightly floured cutting board and Elspeth begins to knead. Although her memory is faulty, Elspeth’s hands remember what has to be done. Her fingers and the heels of her hands work the dough with skill and practiced ease. As she works Elspeth tells stories—long walks as a young child every Sunday with her father and siblings, her mother’s final illness, learning how to make Parker House Rolls from her Aunt Rachel, and so many others. We continue to work rolling out the dough and shaping the rolls preparing them for their final rising. Elspeth continues to tell stories sometimes repeating herself. We work on and when the rolls are finally baked and cooled we package them up, and Elspeth heads home with her share of our booty. We have passed another enjoyable day, and I feel blessed and my life enriched.
Elspeth has been unable to find her Parker House Roll recipe for a while now. This recipe comes from an older Betty Crocker Cookbook.
Notes for this recipe: Manual method: Do not heat the water any hotter than 110 degrees, as it will kill the yeast. Machine Method: It is not necessary to dissolve the yeast. For the best results, use instant yeast—it is less heat sensitive. The butter must still be melted in the milk. Rising: If the kitchen is cold, fill a pan with boiling water, place a cooling rack across the pan, set the bowl on top, and cover completely with a towel. Freezing: These rolls freeze very well. To freeze, cool the rolls completely, place in a zip lock bag and freeze for up to one month.
Parker House Rolls
1 pkg. or 2-1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast or instant yeast
¾ c. lukewarm milk
¼ c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
3/4 c. unsalted butter, cut up
3-1/2 to 3-3/4 c. bread flour
Additional unsalted butter
Lightly grease a large bowl with unsalted butter and set aside
Pour the milk into a small saucepan, add the cut up butter, and heat until the butter has melted fine bubbles appear around the edges. Cool to lukewarm.
In a large mixing bowl dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the cooled milk, sugar and egg. Mix to combine. Add half the flour and mix with a wooden spoon to combine. Add enough remaining flour to handle easily; mix with your hands.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (5 to 10 minutes). Knead in more flour if necessary. Place in the greased bowl and turn to coat. Cover with a towel and put in a warm spot and let rise until double, about 1-1/2 hours. Punch down, let rise again until almost double, about 30 minutes.
Punch down, place the dough on a flat surface, cover with a towel and let rest for 15 minutes.
To shape the rolls:
Lightly grease a baking sheet with butter and set aside. Roll the dough to ¼ inch thickness. Cut into circles with a 3 inch round biscuit or cookie cutter. Roll the circles flat if necessary.
Make a crease across each circle and place a pat of butter on what will become the bottom half of the circle. Fold the top half so it slightly overlaps. Place 1 inch apart on the greased baking sheet, cover with a towel and let rise until double, about 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 375. Bake rolls 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Remove to a cooling rack or serve immediately. Makes about 1-1/2 dozen rolls.
Measure all ingredients into the pan of a bread machine. Set to “dough” setting. When the cycle is complete, go to the instructions for a second rising above and proceed.