Pocketbook Rolls – look! they’re humming! (BBB November 2012)

go directly to the recipe

BBB: Let's Get Baking summary: recipe for Pocketbook Rolls adapted from a recipe in “The Glory of Southern Cooking” by James Villas; a Bread Baking Babes project; submission for YeastSpotting and Bake Your Own Bread; (click on images to see larger views and more photos)

Bread Baking Babes (BBB) November 2012

I love that word “pocketbook”! Of course, when I hear “pocketbook” I automatically think of a small paperback novel. But thanks to voraciously reading paperbacks, I know what “pocketbook” means in the USA.

Pocketbook Rolls

pocketbook, small book-like case for bank-notes, papers, etc.; (US) woman’s handbag

– The Little Oxford Dictionary

This month, Astrid (Paulchen’s Foodblog) chose the BBBabes’ task. If you can call making these rolls a task. Because not only are they easy to make but they’re delicious (in a soft white bread sort of way)!

I took one look at the photo that Astrid showed us and immediately thought of Parker House rolls.

We LOVE Parker House rolls!! And it’s been ages since we’ve had them.

Don’t tell any proud Southerner that our delicate, beloved pocketbook rolls […] bears an uncanny likeness to the famous Parker House rolls created in Boston. Do notice that, unlike less complex yeast rolls, these need to rise at least 2 hours to attain the right feathery texture when baked.

– James Villas, Pocketbook Rolls, The Glory of Southern Cooking, p. 327

Oh oh! Too late! Quick! Pretend you didn’t even hear me say anything at all about Parker House rolls! :-)

BBB Pocketbook Rolls diary:

25 October 2012, 10:02 I’m just looking at the recipe. Whoa! That’s a lot of butter and shortening!

Let’s see now… What are the percentages?

80% milk/water/egg
30% butter/shortening
13% sugar
2.4% salt
1.9% yeast

Can that be right?

I did a quick internet search.

Flour: 100%
Water: 55.4% (includes the water in the butter and egg white)
Yeast: 2.1%
Salt: 1.5%
Fat: 47.7% (includes the fat in the egg yolk)
-Epicurious, Basic Brioche Recipe

Apparently, butter is about 20% water.

So the butter is 11gm water and 46gm fat, changing to this percentage

83% milk/water/egg/
27.5% butter/shortening
13% sugar
2.4% salt
1.9% yeast

I didn’t know how to figure out the baker’s percentage for the egg. I was just going to ignore it. But, being the freak I am, I looked it up:

An average-sized egg weighs approximately 57 grams (about 2 ounces). Of this weight, the shell constitutes 11 percent; the white, 58 percent; and the yolk, 31 percent. Normally, these proportions do not vary appreciably for small or large eggs. The percentage composition of the edible portions is:

Percent     Water     Protein     Fat     Ash
Whole egg     74         13        11      1
White         88         11        ..     ..
Yolk          48         17        33      1

-University of Illinois, Structure of the Egg | University of Illinois Extension

I have always heard that an egg was roughly a quarter cup so was calculating the egg’s weight at 60gm. With this new knowledge (which has to be correct because I found it on the internet :-)) here are the new percentages (I love using my calculator!):

click click... click click click...

53% water in white
28% water in yolk
20% fat in yolk

click click... click click click...

13 gm water from yolk,
32 gm water from white
12 gm fat from yolk

click click... click click click...

liquid: water/milk/butter/egg 120 + 120 + 11 + 45 gm
fat: egg/butter/shortening 12 + 46 + 57 gm (I’m using skim milk powder so am going to pretend there is zero fat in the milk)

79% milk/water/egg/
31% butter/shortening
13% sugar
2.4% salt
1.9% yeast

And of course, 100% flour.

Okay. Now what?

Heh. I think I have just proved that a little knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing. ;-)

All I can tell from all this clicking is that these rolls have a lot more liquid and almost the same amount of fat as brioche. In the past, I have failed pretty spectacularly in making brioche. Oh oh. Suddenly, I have a bad feeling. :stomp:

2 November 2012, 9:05 Naturally, since typing the above, I haven’t learned yet anything about whether it’s really too much fat for these rolls. But I’m inclined to leave the shortening out entirely anyway. And I’m tempted to use olive oil in place of some of the butter too.

But today, I looked in “The Bread Bible” by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Son of a Gun! She has common bread ingredients listed with their water content! She also talks about common ingredient percentages. How handy is that?

A Range of Ingredient Percentages for Hearth Breads by Weight
Flour: 100%
Water: 54.6 to 83.9%
Instant yeast: 0.25 to 1.03%
Salt: 1.5 to 2.6% […]
When adding an ingredient [during mixing], it is necessary to understand what it is comosed of (fiber or starch, water, and/or fat) and its effect on the dough in order to keep the ingredients in balance. […]
[A] larger amount of fat will reduce the volume of the dough by making it heavier and more compact. […] Excess fat, however, coats the flour particles, preventing them from absorbing the water necessary for gluten formation and in effect “overtenderizes” the dough. excess fat also prevents the yeast from getting to the flour, thereby lengthening or in extreme cases even preventing fermentation.
When a larger proportion of fat is added, such as butter in a brioche, where the total fat content is 47.7% of the flour, the dough is mixed first in order to developthe gluten before coating it with the fat.
milk: 87.4% water, 3.6% fat
sugar: 0.5% water
egg white: 87.6% water
yolk: 51% water, 30.6% fat
-Rose Levy Beranbaum, The Bread Bible, pages 41, 44, 566, 569

9:38 I just finished kneading the dough. My pocketbooks are going to be distinctly northern – definitely aimed at my parsimonious Scots heritage (even though I did use some of the fat and some of the sugar). I just couldn’t bring myself to mix in all of the fat!

5. add the flour and salt and mix very well.
– – – from here you can keep the mixture up to one week in the fridge covered lightly with plastic wrap for further use
-BBB pocketbook rolls recipe

I just reread the instructions. Ooooops! I see that I wasn’t supposed to knead… AND I was supposed to put the dough in the fridge until it’s time to roll it out. I guess I’d better go and take it out of the oven with just the light on. :lalala: I won’t put it in the fridge though. There’s no need. The kitchen is winter cold now at around 15C.

18:09 I just put the rolls in the oven. Shaping them – about three hours ago – was a breeze. As I was rolling out the dough, I remembered that I was supposed to slather the buns with melted butter. So I put 4 tablespoons (instead of the suggested 8 tablespoons) into a little pot on the stove. Even that amount was too much butter.

It turns out that all those rumors about violists not being able to count are true! Using our handy fluted edge biscuit cutter, I punched out 2 dozen rounds and then counted and realized that I had managed to make only 18 rolls.

And I see now that some are considerably larger than others. Still, I have high hopes that these rolls will be perfect with tonight’s dinner of salad and white bean & ham hock soup.

18:19 They’re not quite done… but they look pretty darn good! I’m giving them five minutes more.

18:25 They look and smell great! I can’t wait to taste one. Or two.

Or three. :-)

Pocketbook Roll Each roll was light as a feather when picked up. But the inside crumb was not quite a feathery and light as I’d hoped. And not even remotely elastic. The rolls ended up being more like biscuits.

Maybe I wasn’t supposed to knead the dough. Or perhaps it really does require all that fat.

Still, they were very good and went perfectly with white bean and ham hock soup.

Here is the BBB November 2012 Pocketbook Rolls recipe. And here is what I did to it:

Pocketbook Rolls
adapted from a recipe in “The Glory of Southern Cooking” by James Villas

makes about 2 dozen rolls

  • 1.75 tsp (5.4gm) instant yeast ¹
  • .5 c (120gm) lukewarm milk ²
  • 4 Tbsp (57gm) vegetable shortening, room temperature ³
  • 4 Tbsp (57gm) butter
  • 1 Tbsp (12 gm) sugar 4
  • .5 c (120gm) boiling water
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 c (122 gm) whole wheat flour
  • 2 c (254gm) unbleached all purpose flour 5
  • 9 gm Kosher salt (1.5 tsp table salt) 6
  • 8 Tbsp 114gm butter, melted
  1. Mixing the dough In a smallish bowl, whisk yeast with the lukewarm milk (do the baby’s bottle test on your wrist) until the yeast granules are dissolved and the mixture resembles cream. Set aside on the counter.
  2. Cut the butter into pieces and put it in a large mixing bowl. Add sugar and boiling water. Stir until the butter has melted. Check that the liquid is cool enough to stick your finger in and whisk the egg into the mixture.
  3. Using a wooden spoon, stir in flours and salt.
  4. Add in the yeast mixture and stir to form a rough dough. Cover the bowl with a plate and let sit on the counter for about 20 minutes.
  5. Kneading Scatter a tiny amount of flour onto the board and turn the dough out.
  6. Wash and dry the mixing bowl. (Please do not be tempted to skip this step.)
  7. Hand knead the dough 10 to 15 minutes. Try not to add any more flour. Let your dough scraper be your friend to keep the board clean.
  8. Proofing Form the dough into a ball and put it in the clean bowl; cover it with a plate (there is no need to oil the bowl!) Let the dough rise in a no-draft place at room temperature (or in the oven with only the light turned on if you want) until it has doubled in size.
  9. Shaping Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and using a wooden rolling pin, roll it out until it is about .5inche (1.25cm) thick. Use a round biscuit cutter to cut the dough into as many rounds as the dough will produce. Ideally, this will be 24.
  10. Fold each round in half an place them on two parchment papered cookie sheets. Brush each roll with melted butter. (Rather than brushing his Parker House Rolls with butter, Alton Brown puts a small piece of butter on the inside and then folds each round in half AND brushes the rolls on the outside with butter – see 14:12 on this YouTube video – I must confess that I really like this idea. :-)) Cover the trays with a clean (ha! not for long) tea towel, followed by a large plastic grocery bag. Set aside in a no-draft area to rise for about 2.5 hours – or until doubled.
  11. Baking When the loaves have doubled, turn the oven to 400F. Spray each one liberally with water and sprinkle sumac overtop. Put them on the TOP rack of the oven to prevent them from burning on the bottom. Immediately turn the oven down to 375F. Bake for about 15 minutes in total, turning them around once half way through to account for uneven oven heat. The rolls are done when they are golden on top and sound hollow on the bottom.
  12. Remove the trays from oven and allow to cool briefly on a well ventilated rack. Serve the rolls warm.


1.) Yeast: The BBB recipe calls for “a packet” of yeast. This kind of measurement drives me crazy! How much is in a packet?! In North America, it’s generally accepted that it’s about 7 gm – or 2.25 teaspoons. This time round, I used instant yeast (because that’s what we have in the fridge). I always use less yeast than the recipe calls for, usually reducing it drastically. But because of the high fat content, I ended up putting in almost 2 teaspoons. Next time I’ll use about the same amount of active dry yeast.

2.) Milk: The BBB recipe calls for whole milk. I added roughly 2 Tbsp skim milk powder to .5 cup of lukewarm water. Tap water is fine to use. However, under no circumstances should you use water from the hot water tap. Heat the water in a kettle or microwave (to create lukewarm water, add cold water until it is the correct temperature – use the baby bottle test on the back of your wrist. Or… you can use a thermometer.) Please note that before the yeast is added, the water temperature should be BELOW 120F because yeast begins to die when the temperature is higher than 120F.

3.) Shortening/Butter It just felt like too much fat. So I eliminated the shortening entirely. Of course I KNOW I’m supposed to use unsalted butter. But I didn’t. Salted butter is WAY less expensive. (Yes, I am a skinflint.)

4.) Sugar: The BBB recipe calls for .25 cups (50gm). Again, I just couldn’t bring myself to put in that much sugar. I wanted rolls, not cake!

5.) Flour: The BBB recipe originally calls for 3 cups all purpose flour. Astrid used white spelt flour in her pocketbook rolls. I decided to use a third whole wheat and two thirds all purpose.

6.) Salt: The recipe calls for 1.5 tsp (9 gm) of salt. Because we use Kosher salt, I weighed it. Kosher salt is much fluffier. (I have no idea how many teaspoons I used.)

7.) I LIKE warm rolls If you wish to serve warm rolls, they can be reheated after they have cooled completely. To reheat the rolls, turn the oven to 400F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the rolls in the hot oven directly on a rack for about ten minutes. If the rolls happen to be is a little stale, put them into a paper bag first. Spray the bag liberally with water and place it in the hot oven until the bag is dry (about 10 minutes).

Even though the crumb wasn’t exactly as we hoped, we still loved these rolls. I LOVE the shaping of these buns!

And now I’m humming too! Mmmmmmmmm Mmmmmmm Mmmmmmmm Thank you once again, Astrid!

Bread Baking Babes
Bread Baking Babes: Pocketbook Rolls (November 2012)

edit 18 June 2013: Here is June 2013’s recipe for Nan e Barbari (Persian Flatbread)

Astrid (PaulChen’s FoodBlog) is the host of November 2012’s Bread Baking Babes’ task. She wrote:

Here is what we will be baking for November, hope yall like them!

These rolls are so named because the folded dough resembles small purses or pocketbooks.

In the book it says it is essential that you let rise them at least 2 hours to attain the right feathery texture they are famous for.

We know that you too will WANT to bake these rolls!! To receive a Baking Buddy Badge to display on your site: bake Pocketbook Rolls in the next couple of weeks and post about them (we love to see how your bread turns out AND hear what you think about it – what you didn’t like and/or what you liked) before the 29 November 2012. If you do not have a blog, no problem; you can also post your picture(s) to Flickr (or any other photo sharing site) and record your thoughts about the bread there. Please remember to email the Kitchen of the Month to say that your post is up.

For complete details about this month’s recipe, the BBB and how to become a BBBuddy, please read:

Please take a look at the other BBBabes’ Pocketbook Rolls:

Yeastspotting - every Friday (wordle.net image)

Each week, Susan (Wild Yeast) compiles a list of many bread-specific recipes from across the web. For complete details on how to be included in the YeastSpotting round up, please read the following:

Bake Your Own Bread (BYOB)
BYOB is a monthly event hosted by Heather (girlichef)

that encourages you to start (or continue) getting comfortable baking bread in your own kitchen. Anything from simple quick breads to conquering that fear of yeast to making and nurturing your own sourdough starter. All levels of bakers are welcome to participate.

BYOB Badge For more information about BYOB, please read the following:


Pocketbook Rolls (BBB)


Isn’t the internet great?! I just found this handy page about how to substitute vegetable shortening with vegetable oil:

[V]egetable shortening has air whipped into it. A good ratio would be 3/4 cup of cooking oil to substitute for 1 cup of shortening.

– eHow.com, How to Substitute for Solid Vegetable Shortening

Next time I make these rolls, I WILL add some of the “shortening” – but I’ll use olive oil instead.

This entry was posted in baking, BBBabes, bread - yeasted & unyeasted, bread recipe, food & drink, posts with recipes on by .

* Thank you for visiting. Even though I may not get a chance to reply to you directly, I love seeing your responses and/or questions and read each and every one of them. Please note that your e-mail address will never be displayed on this site, nor will it ever be shared.

"Moderation" is in use. It may take a little time before your response appears. Responses containing unsolicited advertising will be deleted as spam (which means any subsequent attempts will be automatically relegated to the spam section and unlikely to be retrieved). For further information, please read the Discussion Policy.

5 responses to “Pocketbook Rolls – look! they’re humming! (BBB November 2012)

  1. MyKitchenInHalfCups

    LOVE the olive oil replacing shortening.
    All those hoops you jump through are incredible but make for fun. Still what impresses me most is how we each one tamper with the recipes and still we come out with glorious bread!
    Your photos sure make the rolls look gorgeous, light and fluffy.

  2. Heather @girlichef

    I think these would go over very well with ham ‘n beans! And they are definitely making an appearance on my Thanksgiving table this year! Pocketbook reminds me of my grandma…it’s something I grew up hearing her call her wallet. Also, billfold. ha!

  3. Katie

    You have way too much time on your hands….. I was so good with a calculator I never had to look at the keys and my fingers flew. I miss that… Your rolls look lovely. I’m making soup (turkey noodle) as I type – send some over.


Post a Response

You must fill in the "response", "name", and "email" fields. Please rest assured that your email address will never be posted or shared. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam; learn how your discussion data is processed. Please note that the optional fields that point to your website URL and website name may be removed without notice. For more information about what can (or cannot) be included, please read our Discussion Policy.