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Pan de cristal

Wed, 28 September, 2022

Pan de cristal is Spanish bread that has more air than crumb and the crust is as brittle as glass. Not very appetising? Wait till you try…

pan de cristal

What is pan de cristal?

Pan de cristal means ‘glass bread’. I couldn’t fail to give it a go with an intriguing name like that!

You might know it from tapas restaurants as pan con tomate, usually overlooked in the menus because bread with tomato doesn’t sound exciting. More fools you!

Those inconspicuous tiny slices of pale bread sinking under the load of diced tomato and pools of olive oil are the best, if baked on site as they should be in self-respecting outfits.

spanish glass bread

High hydration Gen Z-er

Pan de cristal, crystal bread or more commonly named 'glass bread' is typical for Catalonia.

It is often compared to Italian ciabatta, as both are high hydration breads, as well as relatively recent inventions.

But while ciabatta goes back to 1980s, pan de cristal is a Gen Z! It was invented as recently as 2004 by a Barcelona baker Jordi Nomen, who decided to bake a loaf of bread with non-existent crumb, to prove that bread didn’t make you fat.

And so it is, nearly non-existent, like a honeycomb with more holes than structure. The crust is delicate and brittle – hence ‘glass bread’.

glass bread

How is it achieved?

I mentioned already high hydration, but those not au fait with baking intricacies, even if they bake a loaf occasionally, will be puzzled.

The hydration of the dough is the ratio of water to flour in bread dough. Ordinary breads, sourdough or not, hover around 60% (it’s not a rule of course), which means that for, say, 500g of flour the bread uses 300ml of water.

High hydration breads have the water-flour ratio closer to 80% which means the amount of water crawls closer towards matching that of flour.

Pan de cristal’s hydration is about 90%.

high hydration spanish bread

What is the effect of high hydration?

Just like in pan de cristal or ciabatta: so called ‘open crumb’ which means lots and lots of air bubbles. It makes the bread light and puffy – but it also means sometimes butter drops out onto the floor...

High hydration is hard work though. The dough is sticky, runny, and trying to stretch it, fold it and give it some semblance of structure is like trying to fold soup.

pan de cristal dough

Pan de cristal dough

The good thing about high hydration dough is that you can easily mix it with a wooden spoon because it’s so runny. The ease ends there because if you tried to knead it - well, as I said, try to knead soup.

The method employed here is folding instead of kneading. It takes about six folding sessions, between half an hour rests, to get an approximation of coherence and a hope of being able to shape the loaves.

stretching and folding

The dough still rolls about like mercury from the old-fashioned thermometers so the loaves are really strips cut with a bench scraper and handled with copiously floured hands.

Baking glass bread

The baking is best done on a baking stone or steel, with some steam generated by spraying the oven with water when the bread goes in, or a dish set at the bottom of the oven splashed with boiling water.

And the bread is transferred into the oven and baked on the parchment sheet, which makes the process not just easier but actually feasible.

The outcome is gorgeous: chewy, almost-no-crumb bread sticks that are obviously gorgeous sliced and topped with ripe tomatoes but, halved horizontally, also make great bruschettas or toasties.

Surplus can be frozen and lightly toasted before serving again.

pan de cristal spanish bread

More high hydration bread recipes

The Italian counterpart, ciabatta, means ‘old slipper’ and is pronounced ‘cha-bah-ttah’. My coccodrillo, or little crocodiles, is absolutely the best recipe for homemade ciabatta loaves.

Off to Germany, for Seelen which means souls in German, and in Schwabia it means fantastically tasty spelt sourdough bread rolls, rustic and completely artisan.

The Portuguese have their own version, pão de água or water bread. It is a white sandwich loaf that’s light, airy and fluffy inside and has a wonderfully crunchy crust on the outside.

More Spanish recipes

Spinach and cheese empanada wrapped in filo pastry and baked in the oven, with honey and pine nuts topping. Spanish empanada meets Greek spanakopita!

Padron peppers, pimientos de padron, a Spanish dish of pan-blistered padron style green peppers. A delicious snack from the tapas menu, they can be eaten whole.

Roasted peppers salad with soft cheese recipe; red peppers roasted under the grill and skinned, tossed with spiced dressing and served with soft cheese or feta.

how to shape pan de cristal loaves

Pan de cristal

Servings: makes 4 loavesTime: 4 hours 30 minutes


  • 400g strong white bread flour plus more for dusting
  • 360g water at room temperature
  • 8g salt
  • 3g instant yeast or 9g fresh yeast


1. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl with a dough whisk or a wooden spoon. The dough will be very sticky. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave it to rest for 10 minutes.

2. Over the next 2½ - 3 hours stretch and fold the dough every 30 minutes, to develop structure. With wet hands grab the underside of the dough at one end, stretch it gently without tearing and fold over on itself. Turn the bowl 180 degrees and do the same at the other end (I’m using a large plastic tub to present it more clearly). Continue until the dough feels to taut to fold one more time.

3. For the next stretch alternate the direction of the folding.

4. After 4-6 sets of folds the dough should become smoother and more elastic.

5. After the last interval turn the dough out onto well-floured surface. Flour the top of the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes.

6. Preheat the oven to 240C fan if possible/475F/gas 9 with a baking stone or steel, if available, set on the middle rack.

7. Stretch the dough very gently, trying not to deflate it, into a rectangle of about 35 x 30cm. If it shrinks back, give it a minute rest and try again.

8. Line a baking tray with parchment and dust the parchment with flour. If you’re using a stone or steel, place the parchment on a rimless tray or a baking peel, to slide it onto the stone/steel.

9. Using a bench scraper cut the dough into 3 or 4 long loaves. Carefully transfer them onto the parchment, using your hand and the scraper, trying not to deflate them.

10. Cover the loaves with a tea towel or place the tray in a large, inflated plastic bag (just blow into it and tie the end) and leave for the final proof, 10-30 minutes depending on ambient temperature.

11. Slide the loaves with the parchment onto the baking stone or steel, or transfer with the tray onto a rack. Spray the inside of the oven with water.

12. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the crust turns golden. Remove from the oven onto a wire rack and cool completely before cutting.

13. You can freeze pan de cristal loaves and refresh them in the oven.

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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