Making pan de sal or salted bread from scratch is extremely comforting. A reasonable amount of kneading, the texture and rise of the dough, the cutting into familiar shapes, the rolling in the breadcrumbs and the smell of baking bread are all better than a valium for soothing nerves and returning to equilibrium. I havenâ€™t made this local classic in perhaps 25 years. And the last time I made it, I distinctly remember my mom saying it was okay but not really good enoughâ€¦because it started to get hard after a few hoursâ€¦hmmm, it MUST have been good bread thenâ€¦no preservatives, no added liquids to make it sweeter, softer, lighter and AVOID getting hard. Just yeast, water, flour, salt and eggsâ€¦and the result is a delicious bread that is the perfect foil for all of the great â€œpalamansâ€ everyone mentions in an earlier post on pan de sal. I was inspired to make this bread last weekend when I spied a very simple sounding recipe in the Aboitiz Family Cookbook (a privately published and distributed collection of family favorites). I altered the recipe just slightly and I was extremely pleased with the results.
I started this bread at 5 in the morning. There is something about rising dough in the still of dawn that is extremely peaceful. We were eating freshly baked pan de sal by about 9 in the morning. Make a starter with 1/3 cup lukewarm water, 1 tablespoon sugar (I used less than the original recipe as I donâ€™t like pan de sal sweet) and 1 tablespoon of yeast or two packets of active dry yeast (Fleishmanâ€™s or similar yeast). Dissolve yeast and sugar in the water and leave for 10 minutes or so. Make sure the yeast is alive by checking that the mixture bubbles and froths. Next mix 1.5 tablespoons of salt, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, 3 eggs and 1 cup of boiling water together. Pour hot water into mixture of egg, salt and oil slowly or you may end up with poached eggsâ€¦ Pour in the yeast mixture and mix. Add 5-6 cups of flour and use the paddle attachment on your mixer to mix then the dough hook to knead until smoothâ€¦ or knead with your hands on a clean floured counter. The dough will â€œfeel rightâ€ and the flour amount varies with flours, weather, etc. Let the dough rise for about 2 hours or until double in size.
Form into a long log and or two and roll in fine white breadcrumbs. Cut into smallish pieces that you then stand with one of the newly cut sides face down to the pan. Ideally, you should have two points at the top of the dough that will rise and when cooked, give pan de sal that authenthic look, unlike commercial versions today that are all puffy, spongy and attached to each other. Place on a greased baking sheet or on a silpat non-stick mat and let it rise for another hour or so. Put into a pre-heated 375-400 degree oven and bake for just 15-20 minutes until a light brown. As soon as it emerges from the oven, cut into the bread, put a big blob of unsalted butter and eat while rolling your eyes. There are few things in the world as good as freshly baked bread. This recipe is a nice quick version and the results are about 8.5/10 on the Marketman home baked bread scale. It looked good, had a nice crust, was slightly chewy inside (not just airy) and tasted great. I used a hard wheat flour from the bakery (primera) but the original recipe uses all-purpose flour which is more readily available for home cooks.