Anatomy of a Recipe: Pandesal

A small snippet of a family recipe

When I have put myself in front of an oven, I’ve generally been the baker more than the cook.  I can cook, but it’s not natural for me (my parents did a lot of the cooking, and due to a big klutz gene I seem to have inherited, I don’t do much of the cooking – my spouse isn’t too keen on finding my fingertip bits in the spaghetti sauce…but I digress.)

However, my first recent attempt at Pandesal bread rolls, essentially the national bread of The Philippines, showed me something I had never considered – my experience with baking bread was nil. Sure, I helped my parents roll the dough when I was a kid (and I snuck away with some for just playing around with until it got all dry and crumbly), but I never actually whipped up Pandesal rolls for myself.  For that matter, I had never whipped up any kind of bread ever, not even in the early days of the current pandemic when homemade sourdough was all the rage.

Now before I progress further, let this paragraph be a nod to one of my spouse’s pet peeves.  She (along with many) who search for recipes online find it a big pain in the you know what on certain websites to get to the recipe itself. Wading through the backstories of bloggers like me is fine some of the time, but when you’re trying to whip up a dish and you only got a short time to do it, all that is a time suck. So thus, my compromise – if you scroll down to the bottom of this post, you’ll notice a jump break.  Hit that, and you’ll get to the recipe post haste, and I completely understand that you doing that.

If you do have some time however, I promise some at least mild amusement as I describe this first attempt at Pandesal.

HISTORY

According to Eater, Pandesal rolls are one of the many results of the period of colonial rule in The Philippines, created by the Spanish essentially as an answer to the French baguette.  Since wheat has to be imported from other places (the country has never nor currently grows its own wheat), bakers relied on a more affordable version to use in baking bread.  The roll itself really took off in popularity when the price of American wheat from the Northwest shot lower than rice.  With the emphasis on smaller meals throughout the day, Filipinos have adapted to the roll in a similar fashion, starting often with a plain roll at breakfast dipped in coffee or tea, to merienda (snack) periods where it can be eaten with a piece of protein or a slather of jam.

From my casual search of social media, I’ve seen creative variations throughout the world emerge, mixing popular flavors like pandan and ube (purple yam) amongst other interesting combos.

First batch of rolls pre-rise, and differently-sized

THE PREPARATION

As it turned out, my review of my family recipes showed I had actually three Pandesal variations to choose from.  Since we have egg allergies to deal with, we chose the one that didn’t need any egg in the recipe. The index cards also didn’t include detailed preparation instructions either; a lot of that I figure was in-the-head knowledge that my Mom didn’t need to put down on the card.

My inexperience with baking bread showed in my first attempt.  Worried about shortages I heard about regarding flour supplies, I was all focused in on making sure our all-purpose flour supply made it through okay, and I ended up mixing in a cup of bread flour to make sure we had enough regular flour for other things.  However, my focus was so wrapped up in the flour (and making sure the yeasties were nice and happy) that I forgot one (well, two) very important things in the recipe – the oil and the salt.

That explained why the dough was awfully hard to knead the first time around, though we didn’t know it at the time. My spouse was called from the sideline to try to diagnose the issue and that’s when I remembered I had forgotten about those two very important ingredients. We figure then it was too late to rescue the existing batch of dough.

(As a side note, the yeast that was in the first batch of dough didn’t see the problems we did, happily munching away and expanding – we had to keep punching the dough down in the plastic bag we disposed the first batch into to keep the garbage bag we had placed the bag into from overflowing.)

The second batch of dough went pretty much as it should.  One interesting note is that the use of bread flour might have sucked out more moisture than using all AP Flour – we used about one less cup of flour than the recipe called for.  Also, my spouse made an audible and slightly lowered the amount of sugar to two-thirds of a cup. As it turned out, that alteration didn’t seem to affect the end sweetness (the bread is supposed to be slightly sweet in the end.)

We let the dough sit for just over a half-hour underneath a clean towel and it rose no problem with the help of a warm stovetop that had already been used to cook some of our Thanksgiving day meal items, then punched it down to roll the rolls.

Traditionally, the dough is rolled out into a log and segments are cut from it; however, our family typically gathered in a group and rolled the dough into balls to be dipped into the bread crumbs.  It took awhile to get the proper sizing (my first ball, once risen, was more the size of a scone), but eventually we found that golf-ball sized balls seemed to work the best for the proper roll size.  Indeed, some of the larger rolls turned out to be, to use Great British Baking Show terminology, “just baked”.

Since I was only involved in the rolling process during family baking sessions, I didn’t know if a second rise was needed. My spouse hinted strongly that I should, and that turned out to be the right move.

Risen and about to go into oven – this second batch
sported more even sizing through the rolling process

THE RESULT

We did notice that these rolls were a little bit more lighter and airy than others I’ve had; I suspect it’s the fact we used water instead of milk in the recipe.  If I had to do this recipe over again, I would definitely substitute milk. Both the other recipes and others on the Interwebs also throw in things like butter and eggs into the mix – I imagine if you don’t have an issue with either of those, those recipes would be worth a shot for you. And maybe because of the lack of these other ingredients previously mentioned, the rolls turned out to be a little flatter post-bake than what I’m used to.

Still, though, we weren’t disappointed in the result.  We consumed quite a few, freshly baked rolls during our Thanksgiving Day eating, and we had plenty of extras for freezing and future munching throughout the next several weeks.

Finally out of the oven – the inconsistency in
rolling sizes can be seen clearly in this picture

RECIPE

PANDESAL (NO-EGG VERSION)

7 cups All-Purpose Flour (keep half a cup of flour separated for kneading purposes)
3 packets Active Dry Yeast (0.25 oz. each/0.75 oz. total)
3/4 cup Sugar
3/4 cup Vegetable Oil
2 cup Water
1 tsp Salt
1 cup of Bread Crumbs
Put yeast and sugar into a large bowl. Heat water to about 110 degrees F and pour into the bowl. Stir the mixture briefly to disperse the yeast throughout the liquid.
In a separate bowl, combine flour and salt and mix together well.
In another bowl, pour your bread crumbs for coating the dough later in the process.
Once the yeast is activated and the water is bubbling actively, pour about half of the dry ingredients into the bowl and mix with hands.  Slowly add the rest of dry ingredients until everything is well combined
Use the half cup of flour you separated and spread it out on a clean surface. Take the dough out of the large bowl and knead vigorously until dough is smooth and no longer sticky (if you push a thumb into the dough, it should spring back up.)
Clean the bowl you just used (or use another similarly-sized bowl) and lightly oil the interior of the bowl, and then place the now kneaded dough back in. Cover dough with a clean towel or cloth and wait about half-hour to an hour for the dough to rise, depending on room temperature.
Punch the dough, then take golf-ball-sized chunks and roll them each into a ball. Dip your dough ball into the bread crumbs and coat one side, then place the ball bread crumb side up onto a baking sheet coated with parchment paper.
Let the rolled dough balls rise for approximately a half-hour to an hour, depending on room temperature.
Place into a pre-heated 300 degree oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the top of the rolls are golden brown.
If you have extra rolls, they can be frozen for later heating and eating.

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