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Señorita Bread Is a Carb Addiction Waiting to Happen

For Filipino Americans, Starbread Bakery’s signature item is a quintessential everyday bread. For the rest of us? It’s an all-out bingefest.

 

The first time you buy señorita bread, what stands out most is how hot it is—too hot, almost, to pick up with your hands. At the original Vallejo location of Starbread Bakery, the self-described Home of the Señorita Bread, customers start lining up at 6 a.m. to load up on these Filipino dough sticks by the boxful—a mere $6 for 15, or $10 for 25. The price is convenient, because hot señorita bread is truly addictive—sweet and yeasty and airy-light. Each oblong roll comes coiled like a mini-croissant, and the undersides are soaked through with a caramelized, melted-buttery glaze.

You’ll be hard-pressed not to reach for a second helping. And then a third. And a fourth. And, if you’re anything like me, you may find yourself marveling, for the umpteenth time, at how much deliciousness can emerge from a dowdy-looking strip mall storefront. 

But this revelation isn’t anything new to the Bay Area’s Filipino American community. Starbread now has 11 humbly appointed locations scattered across Northern California, from Newark to Sacramento—and most of them have near-perfect ratings on Yelp.

Many Filipino Americans know the bread by its generic name, Spanish bread. (The “señorita” moniker appears to have been Starbread’s invention.) Whether it has any direct connection to Spain is somewhat of a mystery, though Dawn Mabalon, a historian of Filipino American foodways who teaches at San Francisco State University, says there’s a “meta” quality to the name: Every bread product in the Philippines is a result of Spanish colonial influence. Francis Ang, the Manila-born chef behind the San Francisco–based Pinoy Heritage popup dinner series, explains that Spanish bread is a cross between two better-known Filipino breads, the ensaymada (an eggy, buttery, sugar-dusted brioche) and the pan de sal (a sweet dinner roll). “It’s like an ensaymada had a black-sheep pan de sal child,” is how Mabalon puts it.

Essentially, you take a strip of pan de sal dough and sprinkle it with a streusel-like mix of breadcrumbs, sugar, and either butter or margarine. And then you roll the whole thing up to bake. Ang says he’s experimenting with recipes for a version he’d like to serve at his pop-ups—a kind of take-home gift that guests can eat for breakfast the next day.

Whatever the results, he’ll have a hard time besting Starbread’s señoritas. The chain’s real stroke of genius is baking these hot around the clock—on Fridays and Saturdays, in particular, when the South San Francisco location inside Ling Nam Noodle House is open 24 hours. Where else in the Bay can you snag fresh-baked bread at 3 a.m.? Even our all-night doughnut shops put out a new batch hot from the fryer but once in a while.

 

Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco  

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