Why It Works
- Milk, oil, and eggs contribute flavor and color, and increase the tenderness of the crumb.
- A coating of plain breadcrumbs gives the pandesal its signature sandy exterior.
Besides water, milk, and rice, pandesal has been a mainstay in my diet since I was an infant. Filipino pandesal, which means salt bread in Spanish, is reminiscent of the American-style dinner roll but it leans more sweet than savory, with a pillowy interior and a golden, sandy exterior dusted with breadcrumbs. A popular breakfast choice, pandesal are also eaten as a snack throughout the day and can be slathered with copious amounts of butter, stuffed with cheese or eggs, spread with jam or peanut butter, and used as the base for a simple yet tasty sandwich.
Wheat isn't indigenous to the Philippines, so bread is a relatively recent addition to the cuisine. Wheat was introduced by the Portuguese during the 1500s, and with the arrival of Spanish colonizers and the opening of the country’s first panaderia, or bakery, in the mid-1600s, bread production flourished. Back then, bread had a sturdier crust and firmer structure, a result of being baked directly on the floors of wood-fired ovens. Over time, it incorporated cheaper, lower protein flour and commercial yeast, and was baked on baking sheets (brought over by Americans)—all of which contributed to the modern version of pandesal.
This everyday staple is typically bought fresh from the panaderia, not baked at home. Growing up, my mom always returned from grocery shopping with a bag of pandesal. Prior to developing this recipe, the idea of baking my own pandesal never crossed my mind, my thinking being, basically, how can I improve on perfection. But after perusing quite a few ingredient lists and conducting my own tests, I’ve successfully created a version of pandesal at home that I'd proudly serve my mom.
My initial test batches started out with all-purpose flour, sugar, salt, instant yeast, milk, eggs, and butter. Although I liked the richness from the addition of butter, those first batches tasted more like crusty dinner rolls than pandesal. I swapped out the butter for vegetable oil, added in an extra egg yolk, and increased the quantity of milk and sugar (here, oil provides tenderness, eggs add structure, flavor, and color, and milk and sugar contribute color while improving shelf life), and I ended up with what I think of as my ideal pandesal—airy, plush, and slightly sweet with a bit of chew. My next step was figuring out how to shape it.
Traditionally, the dough is rolled into a log, cut into individual oval-shaped pieces, and dipped in breadcrumbs. However, I’m accustomed to eating pandesal that are uniformly round in shape, a type that is widely available. The dough is divided into equal portions, formed into smooth balls, and rolled in breadcrumbs. I baked up batches both ways but found that I preferred the aesthetic of the smooth, round pandesal (directions for which I’ve included below) over the irregularity of the sliced ones.
Since its fluffy texture diminishes as it cools, pandesal should be eaten hot, straight out of the oven (they also reheat well). I’m a fan of eating pandesal just smeared with butter, but they're excellent when paired with something salty and meaty, like when they're stuffed with crispy Spam or Filipino-style sautéed corned beef. Plate up two, maybe even three, of these rolls along with a steaming hot mug of coffee and you’ve got one satisfying breakfast.
- 555g (19 1/2 ounces; about 4 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour, such as Gold Medal
- 115g (4 ounces; 1/2 cup) sugar
- 8g (2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast, such as SAF
- 5g (1 1/2 teaspoons) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use half as much by volume or the same weight
- 225g (8 ounces; 1 cup) whole milk
- 60g (2 ounces; 1/4 cup) vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs (100g)
- 1 large egg yolk (15g)
- 60g (2 ounces; 1/2 cup) plain breadcrumbs
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Mix on low speed until well combined. Add milk, oil, eggs and egg yolk, and mix until a shaggy dough forms, about 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium and continue to mix until dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl (it will remain attached to bottom of bowl and be sticky), about 10 minutes.
Using a bowl scraper, transfer dough to a lightly oiled large bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let sit at warm room temperature (75°F/24°C) until roughly doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Fill a wide shallow bowl with breadcrumbs. Turn dough onto a clean, floured surface, but do not deflate. Divide into 16 equal portions (2 1/3 ounces; 65g each). Working with one portion at a time, cup dough beneath your palm and work it in quick circular motions to form a smooth ball. Transfer portion to bowl with breadcrumbs, roll to evenly coat with breadcrumbs on all sides, and transfer to prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining portions of dough, spacing each about 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and allow to rise at warm room temperature (75°F/24°C) until almost doubled in size, about 1 hour. (Alternatively, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight until puffy and soft, between 10 and 12 hours).
Thirty minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 350°F (177°C). Bake pandesal until puffed and golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Transfer to a serving platter, and serve immediately.
Make-ahead and Storage
Baked pandesal can be stored in an airtight container for up to 4 days at room temperature. To reheat pandesal, preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Transfer pandesal to a baking sheet and reheat until hot, about 5 minutes.