Filipino Bread Ultimate Guide: Everything You Need to Know

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Flaky croissants from Paris, chewy bagels from New York, buttery scones from London. You can travel the whole world and seek the most exquisite culinary masterpieces made of flour, yeast, salt, and water. But if you're a true-blue Pinoy at heart, the quest for the best bread will always take you to a local Filipino bread hub - the neighbourhood panaderia.

Churning out trays of freshly-baked Filipino bread, the glorious scent alone will be enough to stop you in your tracks.

There will be no other choice but to get a bag (or two) of pandesal, Spanish bread, ensaymada, all your favourite treats, and revel in a gastronomic experience that fills the tummy and comforts the soul.

Without a doubt, every Pinoy has a unique love story with bread. Even we, at Ludy's Kitchen, do too! 

In fact, love for baking is the heart and soul of Ludy’s Kitchen. Our founder, Manolo Fetalvero, is a Singapore-based Filipino who built a successful bakery business from the ground up. How did he do it? Simple. By offering classic Pinoy favourites tweaked to suit the palate of local customers.

Whether you want to learn Filipino bread making for home consumption, to earn extra cash, or to build a baking empire, you've come to the right place.

In this crash course, we'll discuss the following:

  • Roots of Filipino baking
  • Basic types of Filipino bread
  • Qualities of good Filipino bread
  • Common trends in Filipino baking

So sit back, get yourself a warm drink, and get ready to dig in.

Filipino Bread: A Fusion of Culinary Traditions

Baking has come a long way since our Stone Age ancestors soaked and mashed grains in water and cooked the paste on hot rocks resulting in flatbreads.

In the Philippines, the culinary tradition of baking traces back to three origins. 

1

Malay Influence

Malay culinary influence typically involves rice cakes and other sticky treats. This early form of baking made use of Southeast Asian ingredients such as rice, coconut, corn, and root crops like cassava.

2

Chinese Influence

Ancient trading relations between China and the Philippines dates back to as early as 7th century. These exposed Filipinos to Chinese cooking traditions, including mooncakes, more commonly known in the Philippines as "hopia," which means good cakes.

3

Spanish Influence

Conquistadors who went to the Philippines in the 16th century brought their religion, weapons, and culinary traditions, including Western-style baking. In fact, one of the most popular local Pinoy bread types is called "Spanish" bread. Aside from European bread and pastries, they also brought delicacies from their other colonies in Central and South America.

Each of these influences remains to be evident in Filipino bakery treats up until today.

And though it's common to see modern bakeshops offering bread and pastries from far and wide, these three culinary traditions continue to reign supreme when it comes to Pinoy comfort food.

The Filipino bread and bakery business has come a long way since the Spaniards first introduced the European baking process. In fact, the Philippines' bread and bakery industry is estimated to bring in over US$26 million worth of revenue in 2020.

3 Essential Filipino Breads

There are many types of Filipino bread, and Pinoy bakeries' repertoire only keeps on getting larger by the minute.

Here are the three broad categories of baked goods that grace the display cases of most panaderias in the country.

If there's any bread that's quintessentially Pinoy, it's none other than the pandesal. This delicious classic is a staple in Filipino breakfast tables.


Which one's your favourite?

Also called "pan de sal", which translates to "bread of salt," the original version of this number was more salty than sweet.

Food historians plot the presence of this bread in Filipino cuisine at about the same time the Spaniards came to the islands.

Back then, it was also known to be the "bread of the poor" as it became a cheap source of carbohydrates during the revolution.

Basic Ingredients

Some references say pandesal takes after French baguette. After all, it also contains mainly the same ingredients:

  • Flour
  • Yeast
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Water

As mentioned above, salt used to dominate the main palate profile of this Filipino bread, thus its name, salt bread. Over the years, however, the recipe evolved to be much sweeter than its original version.

In fact, if you look at recipe formulations then and now, the old version's 1.75 percent sugar has swollen to 18 percent in the current version.

Qualities of a Good Pandesal

How would you know if the pandesal you made or bought is good? It should have the following qualities:

  • Fragrant, yeasty scent
  • Golden brown colour
  • Soft crumb texture
  • Well-risen and not dense
  • Slightly sweet
Ludy's Kitchen

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One of the qualities that our customers love about Ludy’s Kitchen pandesal is that it stays delicious longer. It can taste freshly baked for up to two weeks if kept in the fridge. We’ll share our never-go-stale recipe on our next blog post. The full instructional video will be made available at Ludy's Kitchen Members Area. Subscribe now and register for a FREE membership account!

A Hundred Ways to Eat Pandesal

Though today's pandesal is sweeter than it was in the 1600s, this classic bread is still simple enough to act as a blank canvas for spreads and fillings.

Well-made pandesal will taste superb on its own, especially if eaten warm. However, there are so many other ways to enjoy this delicious bread, including the following: 

  • As a bun for typical breakfast fair of fried eggs, sausages or cold cuts
  • Smothered with butter that melts as it sits on the warm bread
  • Soaked in dribbles of condensed milk
  • Sliced in half to embrace a spoonful of fruit jam or preserves

But perhaps one of the most popular ways to eat pandesal is to break a piece, dip it in a mug of hot coffee (sweet and milky, if you must), and dunk it straight in your mouth.

Flavoured Pandesal (Ube, Ube-Cheese)

Over the years, Pinoys have become more and more creative with pandesal. And perhaps because of its versatility (as illustrated by the serving suggestions above), creative bakers tried their hands at baking the flavours right into the bread.

Flavoured pandesal has become so popular, and it deserves its very own spot on our list, separate from classic pandesal.

There are many types of flavoured pandesal, but they mostly fall under three categories:

  • Flavoured bread. The flavour or additional ingredient is baked right into the dough. Some examples include squash pandesal, sweet potato pandesal, and malunggay pandesal.
  • Pandesal with filling. This category covers bread with a mound of filling inside. Take, for instance, tuna pandesal or sardine pandesal.
  • Flavoured bread with filling. This category is a combination of the first two types. So, squash pandesal with tuna filling will fall under this category.

The flavours and fillings that baker use may depend on consumers' tastes and resources available. However, two types have remained extremely popular among the bread-loving public over the past few years. These are malunggay pandesal and ube pandesal, as discussed in detail below.

Ube-Cheese Pandesal

In the Philippines, taro or ube is a favourite local flavour for ice cream, cakes, milkshakes, and other sweet treats. So, it's not a surprise that bakers took this purple root crop and used it to flavour pandesal.

Though ube pandesal may fall under the flavoured bread category, its sibling can be considered a flavoured bread with filling - the very popular ube cheese pandesal. As the name suggests, ube is mixed into the dough, embracing a pocket of cheese filling inside.

There are as many ways to incorporate ube flavour into the dough. Some of these are through:

  • Flavour essence (liquid or paste)
  • Powder flavouring
  • Grated ube
  • Ube jam

As for the filling, most people use pasteurized cheese or quick melt cheese. But any type would work, as long as it gives that salty creaminess that balances the mild sweetness of the ube-flavoured bread.

Other Trending Flavours

Aside from the two most popular pandesal varieties above, creative bakers are coming up with more exciting flavours. For instance, some bakeries are offering the following pandesal flavours:

  • Pandan
  • Chocolate
  • Matcha
  • Strawberry
  • Coffee

Some bakers also started stuffing their pandesals with fancy numbers like Nutella, yema (milk candy), and even cheesecake filling. However, these varieties are still in the experimental stage and may come and go depending on consumer response.

Healthier Versions of Pandesal (Wholemeal, Malunggay)

Delicious as it may be, we admit that pandesal isn’t the healthiest bread there is. As mentioned earlier, today’s formulation is a lot sweeter than it originally was back in the day. So, if you’re looking for a healthier twist on this breakfast classic, these options might be more your flavour.

Whole Wheat Pandesal

Whole wheat pandesal, also called whole wheat or whole grain pandesal is higher in fibre and nutritional value

Think of it this way - refined grains are mostly starch in composition. On the other hand, whole grains haven’t been processed, so all the good parts are intact. These parts include the outer layer called bran, which is rich in fibre, vitamins, and minerals.

In fact, the US Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) advises eating 6‐8 ounces of whole grains every day to support a healthy body.

Malunggay Pandesal

Moringa or horseradish tree, locally known as malunggay, has always been known for its nutritional properties. 

Studies suggest that moringa offers numerous health benefits, including the following:

  • Great source of antioxidants
  • Lowers cholesterol and blood sugar levels
  • Helps reduce inflammation
  • Aids in milk-production for lactating women

Some may conclude that malunggay pandesal is an attempt to up the nutritional value of the classic breakfast Filipino bread. In addition to that, the dried leaves' savoury sweetness, akin to that of matcha, adds depth to the dough's flavour.

Besides taste and health benefits, Pinoys love malunggay because it grows so easily. In fact, you can plant a tree in your backyard and enjoy the benefits of its nutritious dark leaves and slender fruits for around 25 years.

In the same vein, malunggay flakes are relatively cheap; a kilo only costs around P500 (US$10). That will be enough to last for more than 20 batches of pandesal.

Unlike traditional pandesal that goes on sale at around 4 A.M. and runs out after breakfast, malunggay pandesal follows a whole different timeline.

In the Philippines, most bakeries that make malunggay pandesal offer only that - nothing else. These bakeries are open 24/7, making the bread a constant option throughout the day. Whether you want a filling bite after work or need a hangover-busting snack at 2 A.M., it’s there when you need it.

Breads with Toppings and Fillings

Aside from pandesal, every neighbourhood bakery is teeming with breads made sumptuous by fillings and toppings. These are Spanish Bread, Pan de Coco, and Pan de Queso.

Spanish Bread

This log-shaped treat owes its charm to its sweet buttery filling that complements the chewy and slightly salty bread. A favourite snack for many, this Filipino bread is crumbly like pandesal, but fancier in shape and flavour profile. 

Those who grew up in the Philippines probably have fond memories of snacking on this bread, still warm from the bakery brown bag, and pushing it down with quenching glugs of soft drinks.

Is it Really Spanish?

Given its name, you'll probably assume that it's a delicacy handed down to us by colonizers. However, you would be surprised to think that it's an original Filipino treat. In fact, Spain doesn't have a version of it.

So, why the name then? Some references say that it might have something to do with the filling. Since it has the same sweet, buttery paste similar to ensaymada, which has Spanish roots, the name Spanish bread came to be.

Common Ingredients

Spanish bread is a close cousin of pandesal as the doughs of both are more or less the same. However, the magic lies in its filling - the sweet paste is the soul of this bread. It consists of the following ingredients:

  • Butter
  • Flour
  • Brown sugar
  • Bread crumbs
  • Milk or cream

Every bakery has its unique filling recipe, but they always turn out toasty sweet, almost like a deep, buttered caramel. This may be due to the molasses content of the brown sugar. 

Always a classic, never a trend

Unlike other Pinoy bakery staples like pandesal or ensaymada, you won't find any trendy twist done on this Filipino bread. It's probably because the filling is distinct and legendary enough that modifying it would be nothing short of a betrayal. 

There's certainly enough room to experiment with flavours or variants. But for now, the verdict is simple - Pinoys like their Spanish bread pure and traditional.

Ludy's Kitchen

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One good flavour to throw in this recipe is a bit of nuttiness. Our culinary experiments at Ludy’s Kitchen have proven that nuts balance the creaminess and toasty sweetness of the filling. It also boosts the nutritional value of the bread, and that’s always a good thing! We’ll share our Spanish Bread fillings recipe (as well as our own Pan de Coco and Pan de Buco fillings) on our future blog posts. The full instructional video will be made available at Ludy's Kitchen Members Area. Subscribe now and register for a FREE membership account!

Pan de Coco

Pan de Coco, which translates to "bread of coconut," is another Filipino bread perfect for snacks or dessert. This treat combines European baking tradition with one of the most important crops of the nation.

Coconut Republic

For Filipinos, coconut is considered as "the tree of life" because of the many products we derive from it. If you’ve ever lived in the Philippines, you’ll know how coconut is embedded in everyday life. 

Picture this. After breakfast, your mom asks you to use a walis tingting (broom made of palm midribs) to sweep the yard and a bunot (coconut husk) to polish the wooden floor. To quench your thirst after the cleaning session, she offers you ice-cold buko juice (coconut water).

You then take a shower using coconut soap and condition your hair with coconut oil. And as if your chores haven’t been enough, your mom asks you to help her cook fish ginataan (fish with coconut milk) and chicken binakol (chicken soup with coconut water). You enjoy your lunch and, lo and behold, dessert is buko salad.    

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says the Philippines is the second top coconut producer in the world. And to further prove its significance to our economy, we even have a government arm focused on developing the industry (Philippine Coconut Authority).

That said, it's not surprising that one of our main exports finds its way to our local baked goodies:

  • Buko (coconut) pie
  • Coco jam
  • Coconut macaroons
  • Bibingka (coconut rice cake)

And of course, the ever-so-popular pan de coco

One Name, Two Colonies

References tell us that our beloved coconut-filled Filipino bread was brought to us by the Spaniards in the 1600s. They got it from Honduras, which has a tropical climate akin to the Philippines and was also under the Spanish rule.

Unlike the Pinoy version, however, Honduran pan de coco has coconut milk, coconut water, and sometimes coconut meat mixed into the dough. The result is a dense bread ideal for dipping in savoury stews.

The Sweeter Version

The Filipino version, on the other hand, is much sweeter. All the coconut goodness goes into the filling, which consists of:

  • Grated or desiccated coconut
  • Brown sugar
  • Coconut milk
  • Butter

The result is a sweet, gritty paste bursting with the robust and nutty flavour of coconut. For those who aren’t a fan of the gritty texture, however, tender young coconut offers a rounder, more delicate flavour. It's a perfect snack best served with a steaming cup of tea.

Pan de Queso

If you're a cheese lover, then you'll surely adore pan de queso. Also called cheese bread, this soft bun hides a not-so-secret chunk of cheese inside. It has a streusel topping that offers a milky, slightly sweet hint with every bite.

South American Versions

If you Google pan de queso, search results will likely lead you to its South American versions. These two are the most prominent types:

  • Colombian pan de queso. This naturally gluten-free bread has tapioca flour, milk, egg, baking powder, cheese, and butter. The cheese, grated or shredded, is mixed right into the dough of the bun.
  • Brazilian pao de queijo. The dough for this bread has tapioca flour, egg, and oil. The ingredients are combined into a choux dough and mixed with the cheese. The result is a puffy bread, akin to French gougère.
Filipino Cheese

Before we talk about the Pinoy version of cheese bread, let's tackle local cheese first. If there's a type of cheese that's local to Pinoys, it would be kesong puti, also called white cheese, farmer's cheese, or cottage cheese. 

Traditionally made from carabao's milk, this cheese is best with hot pandesal and a cup of tablea, a local drink made from ground cacao beans. However, this soft cheese spoils easier than firmer versions and is therefore not ideal for baking.

Pinoys love Edam cheese or queso de bola, but that's a treat usually reserved for the Holidays. In fact, queso de bola is a gift exchanged so much during Christmas that it’s common for a household to have two or three red balls of cheese throughout the season.

For everyday cooking and consumption, however, Pinoys turn to boxed processed cheese. These are cheese blocks made with real cheese such as cheddar but mixed with emulsifiers to improve shelf life.

Filipino cheese bread sold at local bakeries uses processed cheese. is a cheap thrill I enjoy when I want something cheesy and quick. Processed cheese may not taste as rich as real cheddar, but it surely has its own charm. It's soft but holds up to the heat of baking and more affordable compared to real cheese. Most of all, it has that creamy, slightly salty flavour that complements the streusel on top.

The Cheesy Topping

Now let's talk about that streusel. The cheese inside the delicious bun is good as it is. But the streusel gives Pinoy pan de queso the distinct character that makes it hold up to its foreign cousins.

Filipino cheese bread streusel is usually made of:

  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Butter
  • Powdered Milk
  • Grated cheese

The result is a milky, cheesy, crumbly, and subtly toasted topping that goes well with the softness of the bun and the melty cheese inside.

Ensaymada

Who wouldn't dream of biting into this pillow-soft bread with sweet buttercream and a mound of cheese on top? Without a doubt, ensaymada is one of the most popular among bakery treats. Sporting a Spanish name, just how foreign is this Filipino bread?

Spanish Ensaimada

The Spanish version, spelled ensaimada, hails from the island of Mallorca. The bread gets its name from the Catalan root word saim, which means pork lard. The dough consists of flour, eggs, milk, sugar, yeast, and lard. 

The dough is shaped in coils, baked, and coated with powdered sugar. Some versions also have sweet fillings such as almond nougat or pumpkin jam.

Filipino Ensaymada: Panaderia Edition

Just like the Mallorcan version, Filipino ensaymada is also fashioned into coils before baking. But instead of lard, the local version uses vegetable shortening. Ensaymada sold in neighbourhood bakeries are brushed with margarine on top and sprinkled with granulated sugar. It may be modest and straightforward, but it hits the spot.

Special Ensaymada

Then there's a more delicate version of this bread - softer, fluffier, and more lavish than its humbler counterpart. Special ensaymada is extra rich with additional egg yolks and real butter. 

And instead of margarine and granulated sugar, special ensaymada is topped with butter and powdered sugar finished with a generous handful of grated cheese. Some versions also add slivers of salted egg, way before it even got trendy.  

Ludy's Kitchen

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Ludy’s Kitchen ensaymada recipe is extra special - it has not one, but two types of cheese, making for a savory-sweet treat you won’t get anywhere else. We’ll share our Special Ensaymada recipe and all the different variations we've made with it on our future blog post

. The full instructional video will be made available at Ludy's Kitchen Members Area. Subscribe now and register for a FREE membership account!

Many bakeries have developed their own twists on this bread. Some of the most popular varieties are:

  • Ube
  • Caramel
  • Chocolate
  • Ham
  • Custard

Some upscale cafes offer toasted ensaymada - they'll heat the bread in the oven for a few minutes just before serving. When it gets to you, the butter topping has melted, the cheese is gooey, and the sugar has caramelized.

Remember when we said queso de bola is a treat reserved for the Holidays? Many bakeshops offer queso de bola ensaymada during the Yuletide season. Boxes of this sumptuous treat grace the table at Christmas eve. It will be savoured at Noche Buena, with thick hot chocolate, as the family creates another sweet memory to treasure.

Bringing the Panaderia Right to Your Kitchen

If reading about delicious Filipino bread didn't make your mouth water, we don't know what would!

With the right knowledge and skills, the good news is that you can bake your favourite panaderia treats right in your own kitchen

On our next blog, we'll discuss the basics of pandesal - including our very own foolproof recipe, troubleshooting tips, and all the info you need to bake a batch of this mouth-watering breakfast staple.

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Serve your loved ones or your customers premium-quality bread.

Give us your feedback... We're Listening!

Drop us a comment below and let us know: What are your favorite panaderia treats and what fond memories do they remind you of? Let us know in the comment section below!


Carla Bauto Deña

Carla is a freelance journalist, content writer, and TV producer. When she's not busy writing and covering stories, she likes traveling and discovering different cultures through food.

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