Puerto Rican Pan Sobao

Pan Sobao Bread from Puerto Rico

The Spruce Eats / S&C Design Studios

Prep: 45 mins
Cook: 30 mins
Rise: 90 mins
Total: 2 hrs 45 mins
Servings: 24 servings
Yields: 2 loaves

Puerto Rico has a popular bread called pan sobao ("kneaded bread") or pan de manteca ("lard bread"), and it is absolutely delicious. The baguette-shaped bread is light, airy, and just a little sweeter than most—it's a bit like French bread, but with a softer crust. There's no need to hunt it down at Puerto Rican bakeries because it's surprisingly simple to make at home.

Pan de manteca is an appropriate name for this bread because lard is the ingredient that makes it special. If you prefer, vegetable shortening is a good vegan substitute, and the difference is subtle enough to go unnoticed.

This two-loaf bread recipe is easy, even for new bread bakers. You can mix and knead it in a stand mixer or do it all by hand. Either way, you'll love how simple it is to shape the loaves. Pan sobao is excellent as a side to meals, toasts well, and perfect for both fresh and grilled sandwiches. Don't be surprised that you'll want to make this bread again and again.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups/333 mL warm water
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons/14 grams active dry yeast (or two 1/4-ounce packets)
  • 3 tablespoons white granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup/51 grams lard (or vegetable shortening)
  • 5 cups/600 grams bread flour (divided)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients. Divide the bread flour: 3 cups (360 grams) of flour in one bowl and the remaining 2 cups (240 grams) in a separate one (you may not need all of it).

    Ingredients for Pan Sobao Puerto Rican Bread
    The Spruce Eats / S&C Design Studios
  2. In the bowl for your stand mixer or another large mixing bowl, pour the warm water and stir in the yeast and sugar until completely dissolved. Let stand for 15 minutes to allow the yeast to bloom.

    Blooming Yeast for Pan Sobao Bread Dough
    The Spruce Eats / S&C Design Studios
  3. Mix in the lard (or shortening) using the stand mixer's paddle attachment or a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.

    Adding Lard to Pan Sobao Bread Dough
    The Spruce Eats / S&C Design Studios
  4. Mix in the 3 cups of bread flour and salt. Add more bread flour in small amounts from the reserved bowl until the dough begins to follow the paddle or mixing spoon around the bowl.

    Adding Flour to Pan Sobao Bread Dough
    The Spruce Eats / S&C Design Studios
  5. Switch to the mixer's dough attachment or, if kneading by hand, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Knead for 10 minutes, adding a little more bread flour as needed. The dough should be elastic and smooth.

    Kneading Pan Sobao Bread Dough
    The Spruce Eats / S&C Design Studios
  6. Place the ball of dough in a greased bowl and flip it over so both sides are greased. Cover with a lint-free towel and let rise for 40 minutes, or until double in size.

    Proofing Pan Sobao Bread
    The Spruce Eats / S&C Design Studios
  7. Punch down the dough.

    Punching Down Pan Sobao Bread Dough
    The Spruce Eats / S&C Design Studios
  8. Turn out onto a very lightly floured board and fold four times. The only flour you should add from now on is to prevent sticking.

    Folding Pan Sobao Bread Dough
    The Spruce Eats / S&C Design Studios
  9. Form the dough into a ball, cover with a towel and let rest for 15 minutes.

    Ball of Pan Sobao Bread Dough
    The Spruce Eats / S&C Design Studios
  10. Divide the ball into two equal pieces. Form a ball with each, cover, and let them rest for 5 minutes.

    Two Balls of Pan Sobao Bread Dough
    The Spruce Eats / S&C Design Studios
  11. Using your palms, roll the dough back and forth to shape each ball into a 12-inch long baguette.

    Shaping Loaves of Pan Sobao Bread
    The Spruce Eats / S&C Design Studios
  12. Place the two loaves on a parchment paper-lined or lightly greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes, until double in size.

    Proofing Loaves of Pan Sobao Bread
    The Spruce Eats / S&C Design Studios
  13. While proofing, preheat the oven to 400 F. Create a steamer by filling a deep pan with about 2 inches of water and place it on the top rack of the oven.

    Once risen, place the bread in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped.

    Baking Pan Sobao Bread in the Oven
    The Spruce Eats / S&C Design Studios
  14. Let the bread cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a baking rack to cool completely (about 2 hours) before slicing. Serve and enjoy.

    Fresh Baked Pan Sobao Bread
    The Spruce Eats / S&C Design Studios

Tips

  • For consistent bread, weigh out the ingredients and use a stand mixer. You can produce great bread with hand kneading, but it's important that you don't over-knead it. This particular bread is fluffier when machine kneaded.
  • The amount of flour you need and the proofing times will change with your kitchen environment. Open windows, air conditioners, heaters, and humidity can affect yeast development throughout the year, so make adjustments as needed. For the most control, proof your bread in the oven with the light on. Just don't forget it's in there and accidentally turn on the heat!
  • You can use all-purpose flour rather than bread flour, though the bread will be a little flatter.
  • While not necessary, the pan of water turns your oven into a steamer so the crust is neither too soft nor too hard. If you have a convection oven, try that setting without the steam tray.
  • Pan sobao will keep at room temperature for about three days. Freeze the extra loaf until needed if you won't eat it right away.

What's the Ideal "Warm" Water Temperature for Bread?

When making bread, warm water is crucial for activating the yeast. The water should be lukewarm but not too hot; generally, water above 120 F will kill the yeast. Red Star is a popular brand of active dry yeast, and the company recommends mixing the yeast with water between 110 F and 115 F, though water that's at least 90 F yields excellent results. Heat the water gently in a saucepan or the microwave and check the temperature with a thermometer. When mixed with water, the yeast will "bloom" (bubble and foam) during the resting period. If it does not, your yeast may be "dead" (too old or damaged in some way) and should be discarded and replaced.

What's the Difference Between Pan Sobao and Pan de Agua?

Pan de agua is Spanish for "water bread." It is a popular bread in both Puerto Rico and Cuba and famously used for Cuban sandwiches. Pan de agua is also a baguette-style white bread but the crust is much crispier than pan sobao. Beyond that, the most notable differences are that pan sobao is slightly sweet and includes lard (or a similar fat), resulting in a chewier bread.