#FilipinoFood Book Review: Panaderia – Philippine Bread, Biscuit and Bakery Traditions by Amy A. Uy & Jenny B. Orillos

I have never craved a buttery piece of ensaymada bread as much I have while reading Panaderia – a essential addition to all Filipino food-themed bookshelves describing the panoply of breads, biscuits and cakes produced in the Philippines.

In a chapter titled “Ensaymada: The Festive Bread,” Uy and Orillos write, “If pan de sal (bread of salt) is our daily bread, ensaymada is the bread we indulge in.”

The Philippine ensaymada takes on so many forms that you could liken to a bakery version of adobo – as a food whose base structure (of flour, water, sugar, eggs and a starter dough) welcomes the addition of myriad toppings (from aged queso de bola [Edam cheese] and sweet cured ham to thick slices of salted eggs) and flavour variants (such as ube, a puree of boiled sweet purple yams worked straight into the dough or swirled onto the pastry’s surface).

On the history of bread in the Philippines, Uy and Orillos write about the rice cakes of precolonial times, such as pillowy soft steamed buns of puto, made from rice flour, and the clay-oven baked bibingka, whose etymology stems from the Chinese word for rice, “bi”.

From a chapter on the beloved pugon pan de sal (or brick oven bread), I can’t help but draw an emotional parallel to reading Chad Robertson’s Lucky Peach Magazine essay about the beginnings of Tartine Bakery and his life’s work to reestablish traditional methods of bread making – with long-fermented doughs baked in wood-fired ovens – to this Philippine take on hearth-baked bread.

Panaderia is a sweeping volume of everyday breads sold in the Philippines – I feel I need to make up so much lost time in sampling Filipino bakery treats I never paid much attention to!

I love the authors’ attention to detail in describing different breads’ particular crumb and structure; why certain styles of bread such as pan de agua (bread of water) and pan de siosa (a pull-apart loaf made of soft dinner rolls left to rise in narrow pans) remained bakery mainstays through generations; and how breads such as the popular monay (made from a sweet, milky, shapeable dough) and kalihim (a pudding-filled rolled bread tinted red as lipstick) are examples of Filipino humour at its funnily crudest (monay being a colloquial term for vagina, and kalihim being a direct translation of the word “secretary” – and stemming from the root word lihim, or “secret” – reminiscent of red lips which evoke an air of mystery in the bread).

On Filipino cakes, there is the torta, which Uy and Orillos describe as “the celebration cake of the Visayas.”

“The torta traditionally graces the table during a town fiesta,” Uy and Orillos write. “With its scalloped edges, it looks like a large mamon (sponge cake) and when cut into wedges to be shared with guests, it reveals a lemon-yellow interior acquired from a batter made with a full bowl of egg yolks.”

What distinguishes the Visayan torta from other bakery cakes, Uy and Orillos continue, is its liberal use of mantikang baboy (rendered pork lard) and, especially in rural areas, tuba (or coconut toddy) as a leavening agent.

On pies and pastries, there is information on the empanada, a crescent to half-moon shaped fried pastry encasing a meat and vegetable filling; Uy and Orillos write about classic empanadas, the Ilocos empanada (made of a rice flour pastry tinted a bright orange with achuete, or annatto seed oil, and garlicky Vigan longganisa), panara (a delicacy of Pampanga province, where locals eat their grated papaya, pork and shrimp-filled empanadas with anise-flavoured rice cakes called puto lusong), and empanada de kaliskis, or fish-scale empanada, so called for the pastry’s paper-thin layers that enclose a chicken, potato, egg and raisin filling.

There’s also hopia, which I greatly loved learning more about – as a kid, my fondness for these sweet mung bean-filled pastries stemmed from an aunt who always brought some home as a take-home treat, or pasalubong. One amusing fact I learned has to do with the most popular variant called hopia baboy, on which Uy and Orilla write, “The name is a misnomer because there is no pork meat (baboy) in the filling; candied kundol (winter melon) or leeks are used (instead). The hint of savoury pork that faintly accompanies each bite comes from pork fat or lard incorporated into the (pastry) mixture.”

Above all, it’s the index of bakeries across the Philippines (with information on local specialties and stories about family-guarded recipes) that make Panaderia an absolute gem of a book to own. From the northern Luzon town of Ilocos Norte to Mindanao’s Kidapawan City in Cotabato province, Uy and Orilla share snapshots of life in Philippine bakeries from pre-colonization to its present and future.

As food historian Felice Prudente Sta. Maria writes in the foreword, “This book is a tribute to the panderia as a cultural institution.”

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