My first attempt at making pandesal was a major disaster. The rolls were tasty but rivaled a blackhole in density. Because they were so hard, eating them felt like I was eating stones. Since then, I swore never to make pandesal in my entire life again. Up until last week, that is.
This post is a part the Filipino Bread series. This series aims to promote well-loved Filipino bread to everyone. Check out the other posts included in this series: #FilipinoBreadSeries.
Pandesal is the quintessential Filipino bread roll. It comes from three Spanish words pan de sal which literally translate to bread of salt or salt bread in English. No surprise there because the Philippines was a colony of Spain for 333 years.
Filipino panaderias (bakeries) always boast that their recipe is the best. My apartment back in Manila was a stone’s throw away from a bakery and I could smell the aroma of freshly baked pandesal at 4 or 5am everyday. Pandesal is always the first order of business in any bakery in the Philippines and no self-respecting panadero (that’s baker in Filipino) would dare remove it from the list of goodies to sell at the bakery. By mid-morning, you’d be hard-pressed to find pandesal as they sell out like hotcakes.
While I enjoy pandesal as much as the next Filipino, I do have one gripe with it. The normal pandesal that you get from bakeries tastes like cardboard, bland and coarse. I guess it has something to do with the rising costs of ingredients and the drive to turn a profit.
But is it possible for a home baker to reclaim the sought after characteristics of pandesal? Is it too much to hope for soft, finely textured, and mouthwatering rolls? I set to find out.
An important component of bread baking is yeast. I talked a bit about yeast in this post on Chocolate Babka. Anyway, I noticed that most Filipino recipes don’t specify what kind of yeast to use. But based on experience, the most common yeast available in the country is the active dry yeast.
This kind of yeast needs to be activated in lukewarm, sweetened liquid (not hot as that will kill off the yeast) for 5-10 minutes before adding it to the dry ingredients. However, in case you have a packet of rapid rise or instant yeast, do note that this may be added directly to the dry ingredients.
There are also recipes that use bread flour. For my own version, I stuck with regular, all purpose flour. Bread flour contains more protein than all purpose flour and this helps develop gluten. More gluten equals chewier, denser bread.
While some types of yeasted bread would benefit from a chewier texture, I prefer my pandesal to be on the soft side. Hence, the all purpose flour (4 cups of it) used in this recipe. Oh by the way, I use a kitchen scale to measure my ingredients for consistency. Check out the common ingredients and their corresponding weight measurements here. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, make sure to measure the ingredients correctly (i.e. spoon and level or dip and level).
After mixing the wet and dry ingredients, you’ll get a wet and sticky dough. Don’t be tempted to add more flour though. That was my big mistake the first time I baked pandesal. I added too much flour (and not by tablespoons either) because I thought that the dough was too wet to knead. Just sprinkle a tablespoon or two during kneading or make sure that your hands are oiled before handling the dough.
Surprisingly, whipping up your own batch of pandesal is easy. Aside from dealing with the stickiness of the dough, the only other activity that was remotely hard was waiting for the dough to rise.
I think what stops some people from trying their hand at bread making is the kneading process. I admit, it also stopped me from trying to bake bread for a long time. Kneading is crucial in turning that dough to the best bread you can have. Kneading can also turn that dough into a lump dense enough to be used as paperweight.
I use my stand mixer to knead the dough for a few minutes. Once I feel that the dough is smooth enough and comes together easily, I turn out the dough onto a silicone baking sheet. I knead the dough by hand for a few minutes until it is quite elastic. I then pinch a part of the dough and stretch it between my thumb and forefinger. If it stretches easily without breaking and is already a wee bit translucent, it means that I have already kneaded the dough enough.
If at first you don’t succeed, there’s always a second time (or a third time or an nth time). I’m sure your taste testers will be more than happy to sample your “failures”.
Ready to give it a go?
Check out the other posts included in this series: #FilipinoBreadSeries: