A North of the Border Bolillo


Mexican Bakery Bolillos

On our trips into Mexico, one of the things I’m tempted to load up on for our exit are the fantastic bolillos, which are just simple rolls, used primarily for tortas, the name given to sandwiches. Bolillos are often termed “hard rolls” which I think is a misnomer, for the best ones to me have a chewy crust – they do go stale very fast! Maybe that’s what they’re talking about.

We rented a simple apartment with an outdoor, covered kitchen while in Mexico, and when making breakfast, we did not have the luxury of a toaster, but we still had toast every morning – we’d take a bolillo and slice it into thin slices, and then slip them into a hot skillet for several minutes – Damn good toast!

Bolillos have a strange shape, from which they get their name – bolillo in Spanish means, “bobbin”, as in an old fashioned spinning bobbin. So, a bolillo has a fat middle and is tapered at each end. They also have a cut or crease across the top of each roll – it results in a unique look that immediately separates it from all other rolls. That doesn’t mean that they all taste alike – I’ve had some pretty bad bolillos in Mexico, but the good ones are a joy!

The popularity of the bolillo in Mexico is growing all the time – and that is primarily due to its use for making a rather famous sandwich made up of avocado, mashed beans, pickled jalapeños, lettuce, tomato, and onion – sometimes this is enhanced with the addition of sliced roast chicken as well. Damn good sandwich!

Recently, I was Googling and came across a website in Spanish, and noticed the word “Bolillo” on the page – well, it happened that this site had a translator button – so I translated it to English. First thing I noticed was that this recipe for Bolillos was a bit different than others I had come across – it used what was translated as a “mother dough” – that’s a term that is often used to describe a sourdough starter, especially one that is very old. It can also refer to a simple “starter” dough, which is most often simply a saved piece of old dough – a starter has been proven to assist a newly baked bread in flavor development. And since I know that Mexican bakers are just as sophisticated, if not more so, than are their peers in the U. S., I have no doubt that a starter is certainly used in making good bolillos. I wrote the recipe down, but there were several items I either guessed at, or had to make adjustments – not an unusual thing with me anyway!

I’ve now had the opportunity to make these twice, and my experience was somewhat different both times –  I notice that this is a rather dry dough – that means it’s easy to work with, but if it’s too dry, it’ll contribute to a poor roll texture after baking.  I attribute the difference I noticed in the second baking to a dryer sourdough mixture – if your sourdough is wet (100%), I think you’ll be fine here, but if you use a dry sourdough, you may want to increase the water a tad.  So, here is my version of those sourdough bolillos:

My Version of Bolillos


  • 1 cup sourdough @ 100% hydration (* or starter-see note below)
  • 568 grams white flour, (approx. 4 cups, or 1 1/4 lb.)   (1/2 bread and 1/2 AP preferred)
  • 1 tsp yeast (if you wish to do sourdough only, be sure to give at least 24 hours fridge fermentation)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 275 grams water, (approx. 1 & 1/4 cup)
  • up to 25 grams (about 3 Tbs) additional water, if needed
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbs melted lard


  • Mix first five above ingredients for two minutes with paddle on stand mixer.  If it has come together well and does not seem too dry, do not add any additional water – but if too dry, add up to 25 grams (about 3 Tbs) additional water – this is a fairly dry dough, but different flours can absorb different amounts of moisture, so you must adjust if necessary.
  • Also add 1 tsp lemon juice, 2 tsp salt and 2 Tbs melted lard or oil now – mix well for a minute or two.
  • Rest dough for 10 minutes.
  • Knead 10 minutes on stand mixer, using dough hook – the dough will likely want to “climb” the dough hook – stop it occasionally and push the dough back into the bottom of the bowl.
  • At this point, it would be wonderful if you could slip your covered dough into the fridge for a day or two, and if you do, feel free to reduce the amount of yeast by 1/2 or even to only a quarter of a tsp. – this would facilitate fermentation and more flavor development – if you go this route, take your dough out of the fridge at least two hours before proceeding.
  • Put the dough into a covered bowl and let it rest in a warm place for an hour or two, or until it doubles in volume.
  • Once the dough is ready, you are ready to divide it into 12 equal balls Alternately, I use a kitchen scale and make 3 1/2 oz rolls.  Dust your counter or board with flour, and slip the dough out of the bowl onto the counter – it will be very puffy, and you don’t want to lose all that internal air while forming the rolls, but the dough will be easier to work with if you give it a few turns and reduce its size by a third – don’t knead it again.
  • Roll with edge of palm into a football shaped, elongated roll with tapered ends.
  • Place on parchment covered pan, spray with water, cover, and let rise for 1 or 2 hours, until doubled in size.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Make a paste of 1 tsp cornstarch, 1 tsp honey, and 1/4 cup cold water – in saucepan, boil until thickened – cool  (this cornstarch glaze is optional, but it sure does make them pretty!)
  • Using brush, cover tops of bolillos with paste, and score down middle of roll about 1/2” deep.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes at 375, or until nicely browned (internal temp of 205 deg).
  • Remove to cooling rack.

(* If you do not have any sourdough handy, use a simple  starter (a poolish or pre-ferment) – mix 1/2 cup water with 1/2 cup flour, add a pinch of yeast and a pinch of sugar – mix well, cover and refrigerate for a day or two – it will sub well for the sourdough.)


These were very nice! Even more than nice – they actually were wonderful. However, as you can see from the pic, I didn’t get the shape right – mine look a bit like fat kissing fish. I was following verbal instructions similar to those in my recipe above – not good enough. But I’ve found a YouTube video that is the only thing you’ll need to get that part exact – check this out. That’ll get you the proper shape!

But if you too have dreams of eating luscious bolillos in Mexico (or even LA), you do need to try these – they are more like the real thing than anything I’ve ever tried before.


(I have submitted this post/recipe to “Yeastspotting / Wild Yeast”, an excellent bread blog, and a sharing site for bakers like us! – check it out)

About drfugawe

I'm a guy with enough time to do as I please, and that my resources allow. The problem(s) are: I have 100s of interests; I have a short attention span; I have instant expectations; I'm lazy; and I'm broke. But I'm OK with all that, 'cause otherwise I'd be so busy, I'd be dead in a year.
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21 Responses to A North of the Border Bolillo

  1. Lang says:

    Good looking rolls! I’ll give your recipe a whirl Doc.

  2. drfugawe says:

    I think you’ll enjoy, Lang – but when you make them, don’t fail to give them at least an overnight in the fridge, otherwise they require more yeast. Let me know what you think.

  3. nick says:

    These look absolutely fantastic. I especially like the long retard, knowing how the protein breakdown and other molecular goings-on will add an awesome depth of flavor to the finished product. I use this approach whenever I can.

    Might I suggest, if you are interested in more background or refining the recipe, to contact the services of Bob Mrotek, a.k.a. mexicobob.blogspot.com. He has provided me unparalleled information about Mexican cooking/baking tradition (especially on my Authentic Caesar Salad post) and is a great resource for most traditional Mexican things.

  4. drfugawe says:

    Yeah, these rolls turned out quite nice – actually, I think the crust is chewier than with real Mex bolillos, but I liked that! Thanks for the tip on the Mexico Bob site – I visited today and enjoyed it – I’ll be spending some time there –

    Thanks nick,

  5. Very nice! Thanks for sharing these with YeastSpotting. Thanks for the video link too — that speed ambidexterity is really something to aspire to!

  6. They look amazing, definitely something to put on the ‘To Do List’ 🙂

  7. Mary says:

    Great looking rolls! My crystal ball tells me these are in my future.

  8. Karen says:

    Ever since we moved from the Mex border last year to MT I’ve been thinking of tortas but bolillos aren’t available around here. Duh, why didn’t I think to make my own!? I’m going to give these a try… they look great!

  9. drfugawe says:

    Ya’all are too kind re these misshapen chubs – if you make them, make sure you check out the You Tube clip showing how to make them look right – then you’ll really have something good!

  10. Judy says:

    they look great – what hydration is your sourdough starter?

    We’ll try them this week.

  11. drfugawe says:

    Judy, I use a very wet starter – 2 water to 1 flour when feeding – and of course, the orig starter (about half of the volume of add-ins) I keep the starter about the consistency of pancake batter. And as I say in the post, this one needs a wet starter, or additional water.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  12. Pingback: Baking Like a Granny « The Lost World of Drfugawe

  13. Jackie says:

    Love your bolillos. You should submit it to the bread contest on my site. The winner gets a $179 Super Bread bread knife from New West Knifeworks. You can get more info here:


    Let me know if you’re interested. All I need is a photo of your bread (for voting) and the link to your recipe.

  14. Matt A. says:

    The trick for shaping is to start with your boule after the first rise and flatten it a bit then fold 1/3 over, then fold over again making sure to seal the the dough to itself like you do with a loaf then push the seam in and fold the dough over itself along it pinching it together along the new seam.

  15. Today, while I was at work, my sister stole my iPad and tested to see if it can survive a twenty five foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation.
    My apple ipad is now destroyed and she has 83 views.
    I know this is entirely off topic but I had to share it with someone!

  16. drfugawe says:

    Sounds a little like you’re enjoying it too! Did you beat her up yet? No, don’t do that – make these rolls with sourdough, and refuse to give her any.

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