When I was in high school and history was a required subject, zoning out in class seemed to be a contagious disease among students. Whenever the teacher asked a question you can practically hear the crickets sing. At times some of us would get sick of the silence and raise our hands to answer just so the discussion could move along, whether we be right or wrong. I’m one of those students– kind of passively listening and observing in the background but active when necessary. But I do remember liking it when I got the answers right.
It didn’t occur to me at that time that I had an interest in world history until I found out I was practically the only one who would read our history books in advance. Like waaay in advance. Kids don’t care about stuff like that during that age, and I didn’t think I did either. For me I was just doing my due diligence, and advanced reading was pretty normal for me. But then the teacher started calling my name everyday and somehow I always knew the answers to who did what, where at what point in time.
I don’t have a photographic memory, if that’s what you’re thinking. Eventually I did realize that the detail retention was caused by a genuine interest; that whenever I read my history book I am always filled with this shining curiosity. I guess I have some strange fascination when it comes to knowing how things as they are today came to be. I’m pretty sure plenty of people can relate to this.
This sort of curiosity has thankfully extended to and melded well into my interest when it comes to food. These days instead of reading about Charlemagne or the Han Dynasty, I’d find myself reading about the origins of coffee and grilled cheese sandwiches.
But this one kind of stumps me.
The Spanish Bread has been around for as long as anyone can remember, but no one can seem to fully explain how it managed to get its name. Some say that it’s because the Spanish bread is the rolled version of an ensaymada, and we all know where that originated.
My favourite name this particular bread has taken is the Senorita Bread. Quite possibly called so because of how dainty these rolls can be if made in smaller sizes. It can easily be picked up by any senorita for teatime or merienda without sacrificing any required ladylike delicacy. It can be eaten without getting frosting all over the lips.
As far as I know, the Spanish bread doesn’t really point to it being exclusively Spanish, but it certainly is a better name than say, “butter-filled sweet rolls” or “yellow rolls filled with sweet butter”. And the Senorita Bread is a lot more original than the “ladyfinger bread”. Anyway “ladyfingers” is already taken by the cookie!
If I had to choose, I would very much prefer to spend time searching for the best version of a dish rather than wondering about its names and origins. As important as that may be, experiencing the actual thing– eating it!– seems to count a lot more! Whether or not this bread has an identity crisis, it doesn’t change to fact that this bread is practically part of the Filipino culture already.
Every panaderia in the country worth their salt has a version of the Spanish Bread. But note that not every Spanish bread is created equal! The best kind is light and fluffy, with just the right amount of butter and sugar inside. Sprinkling more sugar on the rolls adds a light sweetness, if you’re up for some finger-licking after.
While the traditional filling for these breads are melted butter and sugar, you can switch it up and use whatever you please: jam, Nutella, chocolate, or a personal favourite of mine the coconut jam! The dough is incredibly easy to handle and a joy to work with so you shouldn’t have any problems with this at all. Plus its yellow hue is so gorgeous and inviting…
Take it from me: It’s so hard to stop at just one piece!
For the dough
- ¼ cup warm water, 100 to 110°F*
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 3½ cups all-purpose flour, or more if necessary
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup milk
- ½ cup 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 cup sugar
- 1. In a measuring cup, mix together water, yeast, and the 1 teaspoon sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes until mixture is foamy and has doubled in volume. (If not, check if the water might have been too hot and repeat the process. If yeast still does not double in volume then it needs to be replaced.)
- 2. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if kneading by hand), whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add milk, melted butter, eggs, and yeast mixture. Combine using a spoon until almost all ingredients are incorporated.
- 3. Set bowl onto the mixer and using the dough hook, knead mixture until a smooth and elastic dough is formed. Add more flour if necessary**. Dough should still feel a bit moist. (Alternatively, dough may be kneaded on a clean surface dusted with flour until smooth elastic.) Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size, about three hours.
- 4. Once dough has risen, punch down the dough and transfer to a clean work surface. Divide dough into two equal parts, then shape each part into a log. Cut into eight equal parts with each piece weighing about 2-1/2 ounces (70 grams).
- 5. Roll each small piece into a 3-by 5-inch rectangular sheet. Brush with melted butter, then sprinkle generously with breadcrumbs and sugar. Starting from one corner, roll dough towards the opposite corner.
- 6. Sprinkle the rolled dough with more breadcrumbs and sugar. Place seam-side down on a greased baking sheet. Let the rolls rise for another 30 minutes.
- 7. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
- 8. This bread is best eaten warm. Leftovers can be frozen in a ziplock bag for up to a week. Toss frozen rolls in the microwave and reheat for 30 seconds.
** I ended up using 3½ cups PLUS 1/4 cup flour before my dough came together. Adapted from Jun Belen's blog
I also hate when the bread is dry. My favourite version that I’ve had so far is one from a corner bakery in Vigan. I can’t remember what its name was but I think it was in the Heritage Village.
This Spanish Bread recipe is a keeper though. But I will probably change the filling into a better blend when I figure one out.
The best way to eat these is warm. With or without coffee. But if you’re anything like me then you’re likely to start your day with something that’s your favourite. And Spanish Bread with coffee is a pretty good combination of things I really like. Ahhhh what a way to start the day!
Since we are on the subject of history and things that have existed a long time, I thought I would share some snippets from my recent family trip during the Holy Week. We went to Taal, Batangas for a supposed quick out of town R&R and… Well you can forget about any of that because it ended up being more like a trek through the preheated oven called ‘summer in the Philippines’.
As a history lover I was supposed to be the most excited about the trip but the heat really messed with my mood in a big way. REALLY BIG WAY YOU GUYS. (Don’t shoot me, I’m human.) Luckily there were good parts to it of course. I’m sharing my favourite snapshots from the trip and writing a little bit about each of them. We ate a lot of different things that I enjoyed!
The view from the lake. That’s not the Taal Volcano though! // Looking out the window to the world from the pavilion at Bangkong Kahoy Nature Resort in Dolores. // A little selfie moment with my brothers. Love them boys! // We waited in Cafe Lago for AGES just to get served our breakfast but this suman drenched in yema-flavoured syrup makes up for it a little.
When in the Philippines, BOODLE! // My Dad and the very nicely tiled walls of Cafe Lago. // Looking up into the light. // “The Honesty Store” is too small for dishonest people.
The yummy Mushroom Bucayo, which is actually sweetened mushrooms in a coconuty syrup with fresh raspberries. Never eaten anything like it! // So much relief every time the sunsets. The weather cools down quite a bit when the sun is down. // My favourite suman combination during the trip! The hot tsokolate is too sweet when drank directly, but with the suman it is perfect! // There’s a charm in old things, especially the ancestral homes in the Philippines.
Who else can beat the Rolleiflex collection in the Galleria Taal? // Pasta party at the Gourmet Farm Cafe. I love their cilantro pesto. Goes perfectly with their pesto-flavoured lettuce chips! // Doing our best wacky poses on the beach! // Had an amazing calamari street food session outside the churches in Batangas.