Not many know of the days when pan de sal was peddled on a bicycle, from a wooden box tied on its rack, in a thin, ocher-brown paper bag that would get as warm as the freshly baked buns it held. I remember our “magtitinapay” would signal his arrival with three short, tinny rings of his bicycle bell, a sound I swear brought – at least to my mom – both a sense of relief and an almost palpable swell of anxiety. She would pour the coffee before she rushed to the door – but what if Mang Turing reached into his box, found many “supot” marked with all the other housewives’ names and none marked with “Aling Nena”?

This was way before little home bakeries sprouted like, well, pan de sals selling pan de sal. And way before a nation woke up to a shrunken version and an economy that had begun to head south. Most probably don’t even remember that pan de sal, paired with coffee, was our people’s breakfast of choice – not Payless or Lucky Mi Instant Mami.

The pan de sal is that one taste of my childhood I hardly remember, but one that I will instantly recognize. Give me one that is soft, stretchy and chewy inside, with a crust that always and inevitably leaves a trail of tiny crumbs on the floor. It’s the one with the smell of yeast as strong/subtle as, I was told, the sweat of the baker who kneaded its dough.

  • 1-1/4 cup warm skim milk (I used Almond Milk)
  • 1 packet of active dry yeast
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar, divided into 1 and 2.
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1 cup all purpose, 2 cups whole wheat)
  • 1 cup fine bread crumbs
  1. Dissolve 1 tbsp of sugar in the warm milk. Add the yeast and let stand until frothy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining sugar and the oil and mix until smooth. Add the salt, 1 cup of flour and the yeast mixture; stir well. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time and mix until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes.
  4. Lightly oil another large mixing bowl, place the dough in it and turn to coat the dough with oil.
  5. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place until the dough has doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
  6. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and press gently to remove air in the dough. Knead for about 2 minutes and let rest, about 10 minutes.
  7. Divide dough into 2 and form each piece into a cylinder about 1 inch in diameter. Using a sharp knife, cut each cylinder diagonally into 2-inch long pieces, about 10-12 pieces.
  8. Roll each piece on a plate of bread crumbs. Place the pieces onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Gently press each roll down to flatten.
  9. Cover the rolls with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.
  10. Bake at a pre-heated 375 degrees F oven (190 degrees C) until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Most recipes use water instead of milk. I thought milk (I had almond milk in the ref) would make my pan de sal a little healthier. I also found some recipes that had eggs as an ingredient, but I don’t remember tasting an “eggy” pan de sal when I was young. Maybe there was neither milk nor eggs in the pan de sals of those days. After all, wasn’t the pan de sal supposed to be our basic, simple, inexpensive daily bread?