There is only one baked good I know to be adequate for any Fil-Am breakfast. If you don’t have this on hand every morning, well, you might as well go back to bed because your day already sucks.
Its name is misleading. Pan de sal, the breakfast roll standard, is deliciously sweet. Yes, its recipe calls for some salt, but its flavor profile falls somewhere between a baguette and a brioche. The texture is soft, yet structured. It’s a yeast-raised bread traditionally formed into hand-held rolls. When sliced in half, it’s the perfect vehicle for butter, jam, spam, corned beef, cheese, or delightfully dipped in a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.
Its name suggests an origin during Spanish rule in the Philippines, but my experience dates back to my childhood, staring at the wall of packaged pan de sal displayed near the entrance of my Tatay’s grocery store. My father would receive pan de sal deliveries fresh from local bakeries in New Jersey. Their golden appearance and wonderful aroma would always greet customers at the door, or at least, serve as a reminder on their way out, as if to say, “Hey, don’t forget me for tomorrow’s almusal.”
It may surprise my readers that I hated eating as a child. Breakfast was merely a tedious chore, and eating a pan de sal took me hours. But nearly every morning, before going to school, I’d watch my father eat his breakfast: Eggs over easy, a cup of coffee, and two pan de sals. He’d sometimes take a bite out of the pan de sal after a yolky forkful of eggs, but I loved it when he’d dip his pan de sal in his coffee. I would do the same with my chocolate milk, and he got a kick out of that. He’d finish his plate, say goodbye, and run out the door to pick up produce in Chinatown. When no one was looking, I’d gulp the last bit of coffee in his cup. Those were the moments when I really enjoyed breakfast.
Fast forward twenty years, and here I am, in Boston, no pan de sal to be found. The bakeries back in New Jersey have changed with the times. Not only can you get a plain pan de sal or pan de sal baliwag (a miniature version), but you can get it with cheese on top or even whole wheat. Unfortunately for me, New England lacks Filipino businesses. Luckily, I did take a baking class or two. Equipped with internet recipes and baking skills that were short of not failing my classes, I attempted pan de sal. This is my third batch, and I’m pretty satisfied. The key is not to overwork the dough so that it remains soft but still springy in texture.
There are so many pan de sal recipes out there, it feels pointless for me to post one. I was pretty satisfied with this recipe, but I did add a bit more sugar. What you don’t eat that day will store well in a zip-lock bag in your refrigerator.
It’s quite a basic bread recipe, but having freshly baked pan de sal pulled me through a heart-warming time warp. Tatay must have thought I was such a silly monkey when I soaked my pan de sal in cold chocolate milk. Honestly, I did it just to see him smirk.