Our neighbor, who has had the iconic yeast-raised bread – or pandesal – every day on his breakfast table has unleashed a tale about the dying breed of bakeries in the neighborhood, once competitive with each other with the scent of “malunggay pandesal” and others.
Individual loaves are shaped by rolling the dough into long logs, or wooden sticks which are rolled in fine bread crumbs which are then portioned, allowed to rise, and baked.
Today, some bakeries sell pandesal, often referred to as the quintessential bread roll of the Philippines, not only for breakfast but also as a snack at any time of the day.
Pandesal accounts for about 50 percent of total bakery products in the Philippines, with the formulation consisting mainly of flour, water, sugar, fat, salt, and yeast.
Because the Philippines does not grow wheat and imports most of its supplies — something that remains true today — bakers had to turn to a more affordable version of flour, resulting in the soft, doughy bread recognized as pandesal today
The slightly sweet bread, soft and fluffy and best enjoyed with salty cheese or peanut butter, has a light brown crust; slightly sweet aroma; soft, airy, and chewy texture with a slightly crunchy crust; and contrary to its name, it is a little sweet rather than salty.
It resembles the Puerto Rican bread, pan de agua and the Mexican bread, bolillo.
In the 16th century, it was also called “the bread of the poor” because it was an alternative to rice during the Philippine revolution.
The anecdote goes that pandesal was originally to be modeled on French bread, the ancestor of the French baguette, made from wheat flour, baker’s yeast, sugar, water, and salt.
Baking in the Philippines goes back at least 1,000 years ago. Pies, and cakes, were prevalent in Europe during the 17th century.
And, as the continent spread its reach across the seas, it brought the art of baking along with it.
Bakery experts say there are not many shops able to attract passers-by as much as bakeries, strictly based on the wonderful smell emanating from them, with the irresistible, almost magical perfume that owes this irresistible attraction to science.
Bread is likely one of the simplest foods to prepare with simple rules to observe, a basic bread containing only four ingredients: water, flour, yeast, and salt.
These ingredients are mixed, with the gradual incorporation of water into the flour so as to obtain an elastic and homogeneous dough.
Behind simple movements such as hands kneading and the pouring of clear water, hides the first secret of bread: flour.
Flour contains two proteins in large quantities: glutenin and gliadin, which, together, produce the famous gluten. A good flour must contain at least 7 percent gluten but more is even better, according to bread experts.
Now, the price of pandesal is rising – with the poor feeling the jab – no thanks to the Ukraine-Russia war which began in February, the invasion effectively denying the world almost a fifth of the total world supply of wheat which cannot keep up with regular demand.
Some have observed that bakers used to bake bread using brick-lined wood-fired ovens.
That was yesterday. Bakers have since shifted to diesel or LPG which means added cost – imposing additional costs from electricity and water which are ingredients in making bread.
Now the bakers want to increase the price of the Filipino daily bread, the pandesal, small and less tasty as ever, from P2 to P4 each roll.
Without the increase, they might just have to close shop.
And the ordinary man may have an empty breakfast table. (ai/mtvn)