Betsy’s Pandesal; Filipino Sweet Rolls
By Karena Apollonya Ebora Higgins
I miss Betsy’s. I miss their pandesal. Pandesal are sweet bread rolls and Betsy’s Bakery was the quintessential spot for them. Located on Vermont, in a half ass strip mall, right next to LACC, Betsy’s was the end-all, be-all when it came to those heavenly balls of dough. They were fresh, hot and cheap. A dozen cost a dollar. I can still remember lining up, placing my order (no less than 3 bags), sitting and salivating. The waiting area was small, a couple of chairs. The seats were placed to the side of tall steel racks which housed prepackaged goodies, and were positioned directly in front of the shop’s refrigerated cases. The glass displays offered other Filipino favorites like hopia, ensaimada and siopao, but the star, the showstopper, remained behind the swinging doors.
To kill time, I’d nibble on a dry, tasteless pastry and count the number of heads waiting, like me, for the main event. When the double hung finally swung open, it was as if sweet baby Jesus himself made an appearance. I stopped whatever I was doing and stood up. My attention focused on the man. He wore a stained white apron and held several white paper sacks in each hand. He carefully placed each on the counter top. Yeast and sugar perfumed the air. The lady began calling names and I prayed they wouldn’t run out before getting to mine, “Karena?” Hallelujah, I thought. “Here!” I answered, as if I were in school. She handed them over.
I walked outside. I could feel the steam through the plastic shopping tote. Before I could even get to the car, I reached in and grabbed one. They were blazing, almost untouchable, almost inedible, but I didn’t care. I had to eat at least one, sans a napkin, sans any kind of accoutrement. I tore into the perfectly shaped light brown,crumb speckled bread. The crusty shell gave way to the moist, chewy, gummy goodness inside. The mini bun smelled pure and sweet. I popped half in my mouth, then the other half. I was in heaven.
5 cups + 1 cup bread flour
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 table spoon + 1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 stick butter
1 cup + 1 cup + 1/2 cup whole milk
1 large egg
moist towel or plastic wrap
There are several steps to this recipe. Preparation is key. I suggest measuring and laying out all the ingredients first.
A. Yeast & Sugar Mixture: In large bowl, add 1 tablespoon active dry yeast to 1 cup warm milk and 1 tablespoon of sugar . Sugar encourages yeast to grow or bloom. Stir well and let sit for at least 15 minutes.
B. Milk & Butter Mixture: In microwave or over low heat, add 1/2 stick of butter ( I used salted) with 1 cup of whole milk. Heat until the butter is completely melted. Mix. Add the additional 1/2 cup of milk to cool down the mixture, then add 1 large egg. Mix until incorporated.
C. Dry Ingredients: In large bowl sift together 5 cups of flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1 cup of sugar.
Add yeast & sugar mixture to the milk & butter mixture. Mix until incorporated. Slowly add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients. Add half of the entire mixture, with your hands start to fold in flour. Continue to add the wet mixture until all ingredients are combined. The entire mixture should be wet and sticky. Use additional 1 cup of flour to help form dough. When dough ball is formed, cover with damp towel or plastic wrap. Be sure to spray plastic wrap with nonstick spray to avoid sticking.
Let the dough proof in warm place for at least 2 hours. The dough should double in size.
Grease 2 baking sheets. Sprinkle bread crumbs on greased baking sheet.
Remove dough from bowl and knead again. Form dough. Cut dough into 4 equal portions and shape each portion into 2 inch loaves. Slice loaf. Each slice should weigh 2oz. Place each slice onto greased and crumbled baking sheet. Sprinkle bread crumbs atop each piece.
Place baking sheets in warm place for dough to rise or proof again. Let proof for at least 2 hours. Dough pieces should double in size.
Bake at 350 degrees for 16 minutes or until tops of rolls are light brown.