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Friday, October 8, 2010

S.F. Rising: Bread Basket's Pan de Sal

Posted By on Fri, Oct 8, 2010 at 3:53 PM

  • Jonathan Kauffman
Jonathan Kauffman
A weekly survey of bread in San Francisco ― the baked and the fried, the

artisan and the novelty.

Pan de Sal

Source: Bread Basket, 7099 Mission St., Daly City, 650-994-7741,
Price: $2 for a dozen rolls.
Toast-appropriateness: Good lord, no. Though a gentle rewarming in the oven is welcome.

Pan de sal, the old timers say, is nothing like it used to be. Once a crusty, airy bread related to Mexican bolillos ― the Spanish brought pan de sal to the Philippines in the 16th century ― it's now more like a dinner roll: vaguely sweet, with a dusting of toasted bread crumbs giving the bread a sandy surface and slightly nutty flavor. A pan de sal is a sop for coffee or soup, a breakfast treat smeared with butter or liver paté, the shell of a slider-sized sandwich.

I asked SFoodie contributor Jun Belen, who chronicled on his blog his experiments in making pan de sal at home,  where he'd pick up pan de sal in Daly City. The answer: Bread Basket, a tiny corner bakery on Mission with a couple branches in Southern California. The bakery distributes pan de sal to local groceries, and you can find bags and bags of the rolls stacked around the periphery of the shop, whose case displays 20 or 30 different kinds of sweets, cakes, and other breads.

The point of driving to the bakery is not to pick up one of the plastic bags of bread baked hours ago, though ― it's to ask the hair-netted attendant if she has any warm rolls. She darts back to the oven room and returns with a paper bag. It is incubator-warm, the womblike smell of fresh bread emanating from its top.

This is a risky proposition. A hot pan de sal doesn't crumple as much as disperse into bread-flavored mist. One bite leads to a second, and it's gone ― these are small rolls, mind you. A second and third roll evaporated by the time I got to the car. I realized just why the woman gave me a knowing grin as she handed the bag over, saying, "I left it open just in case you wanted to eat some."

That was the first risk. The second risk is more dire: As gently as the counterwoman handled the hot rolls, and as much as I tried to keep the bag from tipping over or knocking around on the way home, the rolls jostled and crumpled by the time I got there, and there was no way of inflating them back into shape. A cook who planned to serve the pan de sal to a group of people would buy the already cooled rolls and gently rewarm them, or at least treat the warm bag as if it contained a dozen baby chicks. By contrast, a selfish eater would scarf as many of the pan de sal as he could before they cooled, then hunt around the kitchen to see if he could rustle up any fruits or vegetables, yet another feeble attempt to redeem himself.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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