Pandesal
Credit: Amelia Rampe
American dinner roll-style pandesal.

Pandesal, the Philippines’ Perfect Bread, Led Me on a Pilgrimage and Back Home

updated Jun 4, 2020
Kitchn Love Letters
Filipino Sourdough Pandesal

Pandesal (or pan de sal), translates to “salt bread,” but it leans more sweet than salty with a soft texture and a golden, gently-crisped top.

Makes24 rolls

Prep2 hours to 3 hours

Cook20 minutes to 30 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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When I think back to my first bite of pandesal, I’m transported back to the Filipino market I visited when I was growing up. Twice a month, we’d make the 45-minute trek from rural Kitsap County, WA, to pick up our Filipino pantry necessities: the rice with the elephants on it, Silver Swan soy sauce, bitter melon, and packages of frozen tocino (sweet cured pork belly) for the weekends. Every time, I would get suman, coconut sticky rice steamed in a banana leaf, for the road — and we would never leave without a couple of bags of a dozen pandesal.

Pandesal (or pan de sal), translates to “salt bread,” but it leans more sweet than salty. Traditionally, pandesal is made by rolling a wheat dough into a log, cutting it into pieces, and rolling the pieces in breadcrumbs (it’s not pandesal without breadcrumbs). The result is a soft, lightly sweet roll with a golden, gently crisped top. It’s commonly eaten at breakfast with coffee and throughout the day as a snack.

When I was growing up in the U.S., we always had pandesal around to snack on whenever we wanted. I would warm mine in the microwave and smear butter on it, or make a ham and cheese sandwich — the sweet roll contrasts perfectly with the savory ham and cheese. It’s a meal I still crave to this day, and I’ll make pandesal just to have it.

Credit: Amelia Rampe
My favorite ham and cheese pandesal sandwich.

My Pandesal Pilgrimage

Although I was raised on pandesal and knew it was popular in the Philippines, I had no idea to what extent until last year, when I returned for the first time in over 30 years. My first stop was Makati, a neighborhood in Manila and the home of famed Filipino restaurant Toyo Eatery and their sister bakery, Panaderya Toyo. There, they make pandesal with local sourdough starter. “We like to think the pandesal we make is connected to how it used to be back when bread was first introduced to the Philippines (when) there was no commercial yeast — (a) natural rise, baked directly on the baking stone” owner Jordy Navarra explained to me.

Jordy is referring to the type of pandesal made by Portuguese colonizers, who brought wheat to the Philippines in the 1500s. They were thought to have used tuba, a fermented wine made from the sap of a coconut tree, as a natural leavener. In the 1600s, Spanish colonizers opened the first pandesal bakery, where they made pan de suelo, or “floor bread,” baked on the floor of a wood-fired oven. Pan de suelo had a firmer crust and a structure similar to the French baguette, and is still available in the Philippines. Eventually, the introduction of cheaper wheat led to softer rolls, and when Americans colonized the Philippines, they brought instant yeast and baking sheets.

Credit: Jason Rampe
Sourdough pandesal from Panaderya Toyo in Manila, Philippines

I’d never seen or tasted a pandesal like the ones I had at Jordy’s bakery. It was beautifully knotted like a small pulla or challah bread, and the familiar sweetness was followed by the sourdough’s tang. My mind raced with excitement at the possibility of making a sourdough version when I got home. (Martha Stewart would later visit this bakery and even participate in making rolls!)

After our stop at the bakery, we left Manila for my former childhood town of Olongapo City, where my mother was raised and my family still resides. As we entered, my nose immediately picked up the sweet smells of delicious baked goods. Then I saw it: a giant sign that read “24 hour pandesal” next to a tiny bakery. When we walked by later, we saw a woman pulling fresh pandesal from the oven. It was smaller than what I’d seen before, and was made using the more traditional rolling process. I only purchased four pieces, a decision I would almost immediately regret when I was on the bus back to Manila holding an empty bag.

Credit: Amelia Rampe
Traditional pandesal from a 24-hour bakery in Olongapo City, Philippines

Back in Pasay City, Manila, I visited another 24-hour pandesal shop. Their rolls were more like the rolls I found in the U.S. — lighter in color, and a little more uniform and flufy, reminiscent of an American dinner roll. My eyes had been opened to all the forms pandesal could take. I couldn’t wait to come home and make them myself.

I’ve made pandesal more than a few times since my return, usually in the dinner roll-esque style I was raised with. I love being able to share one of my childhood favorites with my children. When the pandemic hit and the sourdough craze followed, I remembered the Toyo version and knew I had to attempt a mash-up with my abundance of sourdough discard. Each recipe makes 24 rolls, which seems like a lot, but they didn’t last a week in my house. I include both rolling methods in the recipe so you can choose how you would like to make them.

Credit: Amelia Rampe
Homemade pandesal rolled the traditional way.

Filipino Sourdough Pandesal

Pandesal (or pan de sal), translates to “salt bread,” but it leans more sweet than salty with a soft texture and a golden, gently-crisped top.

Prep time 2 hours to 3 hours

Cook time 20 minutes to 30 minutes

Makes 24 rolls

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    active dry yeast

  • 1/3 cup

    plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

  • 1 cup

    whole milk

  • 4 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 2 1/2 cups

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 1/2 cups

    bread flour

  • 2 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup

    sourdough discard, stirred

  • 2

    large eggs

  • Cooking spray or vegetable oil

  • 1/3 cup

    fine, dry breadcrumbs

Instructions

  1. Place 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast and 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment. Warm 1 cup whole milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until warm to the touch (105 to110ºF), about 3 minutes. (Alternatively, warm the milk in the microwave.) Pour the milk into the yeast mixture and gently whisk to combine. Let sit until foamy, 5 to10 minutes. Meanwhile, melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter and set aside to cool to room temperature.

  2. Place 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 cups bread flour, and 2 teaspoons kosher salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine.

  3. Add the melted butter, remaining 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup sourdough discard, and 2 large eggs to the yeast mixture and whisk to combine. Turn the mixer on to low speed and gradually add the flour mixture. Once all the flour is added, increase the mixer speed to medium and mix until the dough forms a smooth, supple ball, about 5 minutes.

  4. Coat a large bowl with cooking spray or vegetable oil. Transfer the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place 1/3 cup fine breadcrumbs in a small bowl.

  5. Punch down the dough, then scrape it onto a work surface. Form into dinner or traditional rolls.

  1. Option 1: Dinner Rolls
    Cut the dough into 4 pieces, then cut each piece into 6 pieces. You should have 24 pieces of dough. Working with one piece at a time, roll it on the surface into a tight, smooth ball: Start by pressing the roll down with the palm of your hand while rolling, then cup your hands while continuing to roll. (See this tutorial.)

  2. Dip the top of the roll into the breadcrumbs, then place on the baking sheet crumb-side up. Repeat with the remaining rolls, spacing them evenly apart, 6 across and 4 down on the baking sheet.

  1. Option 2: Traditional Rolls
    Pat and stretch the dough into an 8x12-inch rectangle with a long side closest to you. Cut the dough lengthwise into 4 (2-inch wide) strips. Gently roll each strip into a 12-inch long rope. Cut each rope crosswise into 6 pieces.

  2. Working with one piece at a time (do not shape), toss to coat completely in the breadcrumbs, then place on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining rolls, spacing them evenly apart, 6 across and 4 down on the baking sheet.

  1. Rise and bake the rolls: Sprinkle some extra breadcrumbs on the rolls, if desired. Loosely cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Let the rolls rise until you can poke the surface and it springs back, 40 minutes to 1 hour. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF about 15 minutes before the rolls are ready.

  2. Uncover the rolls. Bake until the tops are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool 5 to 10 minutes. Serve warm with coffee, great with ham and cheese!

Recipe Notes

Storage: Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.