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.


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


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


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.

The 614ortyPlatter: Thanksgiving Timbre

Buckeye Donuts has become a Thanksgiving tradition for us

This year of 2020 hasn't been a cornucopia year for things to be thankful for for many people, with the COVID pandemic and the often imperfect response to it by world leaders casting a huge shadow over this period.

Thanksgiving itself has recently seen new levels of examination ever since Abraham Lincoln declared it a holiday in 1863, and the subsequent levels of mythology that have been built up since. Like most things, the history is a lot more complex - this recently published USA Today article provides a nice in depth look at the events surrounding the gathering which inspired the holiday.    

And while we will not meet up with our family like we usually do due to the rise in COVID cases, this is still a day to express thanks, and I thought I'd do that a little bit of that here.

    - We are thankful that none of our immediate family members have had a brush with COVID.
    - We are thankful that those we know who have had a brush with COVID have recovered, with the further hope that they do not have any long-term complications.
    - We are thankful that, despite some tough moments, we have been able to get through our own pandemic-related struggles, and we have grown and are growing stronger because of it.
    - We are thankful for all the hard work people in the teaching, restaurant, hospitality, retail, medical and any other occupational fields who are facing these challenging and unprecedented times brought on by the pandemic.
    - We are thankful for all our human interactions this year, from a night around fire pit with family and friends, to a quick smile and hello from our neighbors, and even some unexpected friendships from places I never thought I would be and from folks I would've never pegged as such in the first place.
    - And we are thankful for you taking the time to check out this little piece of the vast World Wide Web with us.

And now, without further adieu, a little gift for your Thanksgiving festivities this week - a little holiday-themed playlist to accompany you during your meal prep.

The 614ortyPlatter: Puff Pastries and Playlists

The current cast of the Great British Bake Off

In a generally sucky year, "The Great British Bake Off" (GBBO to its fans) has proven to be a godsend for those who have taken the COVID pandemic seriously and stayed close to home.  In a nod to the times, the show had to take extraordinary measures (essentially creating a bubble for cast, crew, and participants, as detailed in this The Guardian article) to make the show look and feel like any of its previous seasons.

What made this UK-based show unique thankfully hasn't changed - the competitive without being cutthroat atmosphere, where contestants genuinely and actively expressed and gave support to each other, was a breath of fresh air compared to the reality shows that more or less borrowed from the Survivor format of backstabbing, secret alliances, and sniping about competitors behind closed doors.

With this current season soon to end (the quarterfinals airs today Friday), a themed musical playlist based on this show seemed like a incredibly scrumptious idea.

The 614orty Platter: The Breakfast Buffet is Open!

This week's 614ortyPlatter touches on a subject whose exploration by us has been curtailed by many things this year: breakfast and brunch.

The obvious obstacle has been the COVID-19 pandemic which has thrown all the world for a big loop.  Out of all the different meals of the day, breakfast and brunch has been our main go-out-and-dine-in time for us, and out of due caution, we've limited that type of dining in general this year.

Another limitation has been the discovery of some food allergies for us. Eggs, a staple for us, is no longer able for my better half, as well as oats. When you combine the number of dishes that use eggs and/or oats in their ingredient list together, that limits the meal options greatly no matter what meal of the day.  The limitations are especially felt during breakfast and brunch, with eggs and/or oats a main component of numerous favorites. 

But if we can't enjoy breakfast as much as we used to in terms of consuming dishes, we can sure enjoy the thought of dishes in our mind via music. My work-from-home status has uncovered the first of what I'm sure will be a number of musical breakfast buffets for you listening pleasure.

The 614ortyPlatter: Au Pair Culinaire

 Like many, I've put in my share of telework hours from home in this year of COVID.  One of the bonus aspects of this time has been the ample opportunities to listen to both a myriad of podcasts as well as music.  I debated whether to subscribe to Spotify for the longest time, but never have I been so happy to have made that decision as I have the past several months.

It struck me during one otherwise insignificant workday that, despite the lack of usual topics to blog about, there was an opportunity to expand on a topic that I have on occasion blogged about: music. But my mind on this day went one step further: why not intersect the two fields? There's plenty of music about food, and Spotify is as good a source to figure out what's out there.

So thus, the Weekly Musical Platters.  The theme of this third edition noshes on some natural food pairings we all know and (mostly) love, all with a thymely rhythm and a sage sense of soul.'''