Disposable art

At the museum I work for, we had an exhibition of traditional Filipino arts and crafts. One of the crafts featured is called “pabalat.” The word “balat” refers more strictly to skin, while the word “balot” is used more often for any kind of wrapping material, but this craft is traditionally called “pabalat” (pah-bah-LAHT). It involves folding thin Japanese tissue paper, tracing a pattern onto the folded paper, and then cutting it out, leaving an intricate, lacy filigree.


This craft is most commonly seen as a wrapper for “pastillas.” Pastillas are made with full cream milk or sweetened condensed milk, granulated white sugar, and additional granulated sugar for coating.

Pastillas De Leche recipe (makes approximately 20 pieces, when cut into inch-and-a-half long pieces)
1½ cup fresh milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon butter
5 tablespoons full-cream powdered milk
½ cup sugar, for rolling the pastillas in before wrapping

Combine the milk and sugar, and bring to a boil over a low fire, until it thickens to a pasty consistency. Make sure to keep an eye on it, milk scorches easily! Add the butter and powdered milk. Mix thoroughly, then remove from heat source. Rest pastillas until firm enough to handle. Divide into 20 pieces and roll into small cylinders. Roll in sugar and wrap in paper. You can add a bit of lemon zest for a bit of zing and to cut the sweetness a wee bit. It also gives the pastillas a lovely fragrance. Here we use a local citrus fruit called dayap, but if you haven’t got it, you can use lemon. 🙂

Ordinary store-bought pastillas comes packaged in plain white paper, but you can make a lovely traditional centerpiece for your table if you dress it up with pabalat.

To make pabalat or traditional pastillas wrappers, you need Japanese tissue paper and a pair of scissors — the finer the point, the better. I use a pair of locally-bought cuticle scissors from Watson’s. 😀

A 20 x 30 inch sheet of Japanese tissue paper can be divided into 4. You take one of those quarters, and fold it landscape-wise (not vertically or portrait-wise) until you have 8 panels. Trace a pattern onto the paper, leaving about 2 inches blank at the top, because that’s where your pastillas will go.


You start cutting through all the layers from the middle — NEVER start from the edges, the paper will shift and move, and you’ll never get a good result that way. Always cut out the holes in the design from the center outwards, using your scissors to pierce a hole through the paper and cut very carefully.

When you’re done cutting away the excess, this is what you’ll have:


I took the red one I made and unfolded it to four panels. Opened up all the way, you’ll have eight.


Each wrapper is cut into 4 pieces, so each pabalat you finish will yield 4 pastillas wrappers. You take your pastillas, wrapped first in plain white paper, lay it on the top, uncut part, then you roll it closed by folding in the top half inch and then twisting the part where it meets the top of the cutaway design, and you have a sweet dessert wrapped in a lacy paper filigree.


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