I wanted to sample as many ensaimadas that were commercially available (for sale) as possible and try to come up with a personal opinion on each. These are my opinions and I am sure many of you may disagree with them, while the owners of businesses making them may even want to throw an ensaimada or two at me at full forceâ€¦but here goesâ€¦ I do not have any ulterior motives, just a desire to find the best ensaimadas on the market and to help all of my readers sift through the dozens and dozens of choices out there. For me, the perfect ensaimada has heft yet lightness, itâ€™s tanned not blond, it is rich but not overly sweet and it has body and texture, among other desired attributes. I will post my own recipe soon and though not yet perfect, it is a little more to my liking than most of the ensaimadas I describe belowâ€¦
First, I should start with those at the bottom of the heap. On the run to Cebu on business, I tried an ensaimada from Red Ribbon at the departure lounge of the PAL terminal in Manila. Disgusting. End of story. I took a photograph of it and canâ€™t even find it in my filesâ€¦ it decided to vanish on its own out of embarrassment and the possibility of going head to head with the competition. It was pricey too if I recall right, but then again, it was the departure lounge. Final verdict: WASTE OF CALORIC INTAKE and AVOID.
Next, I sampled the ensaimada at Sugarhouse Rockwell. I was disappointed. The ensaimada I tasted was dry, the grated cheese on top conjured images of a bad toupe and the bread itself was a bit sour or even panis. Not sure if it was just old but it shouldnâ€™t have been up for sale at any rate. The sourness could also indicate that the dough was allowed to rise for too long. Also, it looked like it was made by dropping a single blob of dough in a muffin or straightsided pan. Weight and proportions of the bread were not on. Somewhat pricey at PHP48 when compared to others just meters awayâ€¦ Final verdict: UNREMARKABLE and AVOID.
I was surprised to see ensaimadas at BIZU, a favorite patisserie of mine where I snort macaroons by the half dozen. They shouldnâ€™t have strayed from French pastry and dessertsâ€¦ their ensaimada was perhaps best described as fusion bakingâ€¦ though topped with cheese, they were wettish widish strips of what looked like processed cheese food (though I canâ€™t tell for certain). There was also a thick layer of whipped or “extended” butter on top. Though it was denser and more breadlike than other ensaimadas tried, it was still apparently plopped in one blob into the pans (as opposed to the original twisting of dough). It wasnâ€™t as airy as the airheaded ensaimadas later in this post nor was it overly sweet. I would say it just didnâ€™t have oomph or character. It was slightly darker or tanned than most but it was all image and no content. They had a myriad of bizarre flavor combinations for sale as well. Sorry, I like my ensaimada pretty plain (no ube, chocolate, nuts?!?) please! Final verdict: EAT A MACAROON INSTEAD!
Hizonâ€™s has a reputation that precedes it. It is near famous, in fact. So I was pleased when my wife brought home a Hizonâ€™s ensaimada from the basement of Landmark for me to try. I opened the distinctive cellophane wrapper with brown markings with heightened anticipation. But instead of finding ensaimada heaven, inside was a small, unremarkable, airy (though more bready too) version. The cheese on top was sparse and butter and sugar melting. At PHP60, they have got to be joking!!! No way, Jose. Or should I say, no way, Hizon-ay. Final verdict: EXPENSIVE and AVOID.
Surprise find of the month was Le Coeur de France. While Bizu floundered on a Filipino classic, Le Coeur does a surprisingly good job. Hailed as a â€œClassic Ensaimadaâ€ it is indeed more tanned than others though still soft rather than crusty or flaky. It had a nice consistency and felt like it came from a proper bakery. It was oozing with butter on top, perhaps a bit too much actually but that could have been just the specimen I tried. Rating wise I would put this just shy of the Mary Grace and Cunanan ones. I think it does well in that I had no expectations of an ensaimada from a chain bakery but it tasted surprisingly good and at PHP45, not that expensive. Some matronas might even remove this from its packaging and pass it off as their own. Final Verdict: GOOD everyday conveniently available ensaimada.
Mary Grace is a highly popular brand of ensaimada. Originally a bazaar participant, she parlayed public demand into a name brand and stalls in major malls, including Rockwell. I do not like this generation of ensaimadas that are puffy airy light with a lot of dry salty cheese on top. However, having said that, I can understand why others have grown accustomed to it when there is a dearth of alternatives out there. This is closest in texture and flavor to the Cunanan ensaimada (reviewed next). At about 90 grams on average it is cakey, soft, airy and quite yellow dough. The grated cheese is larger than Cunanan and overall it is a reliable quick snack, though of the â€œnew generationâ€ ensaimadas as opposed to a more traditional one. At PHP44 each, value is not bad. Final verdict: GOOD if you canâ€™t be bothered to make your own. Marketman has reservations though.
Everyone I asked about the â€œbest ensaimadaâ€ seemed to point to this pinnacle of ensaimada-hood somewhere tucked away in Valle Verde, Cunanan ensaimadas. I made the trip myself to see where this epicenter of baking wasâ€¦ While there, I was in line with two other cars who were picking up their goodies that were in white cardboard boxes. Back home, I tore into the ensaimadas, wrapped in a unique almost seminary inspired paper pyramid that promised great things within. I was a bit disappointed it was again of the â€œnew generationâ€ ensaimadas that are best described as a light cake with cheese topping but I have to admit it did taste pretty good. About on par with Mary Grace save for the main difference which was the powder dry and better quality cheese that was on top. There was so much grated cheese that the mouthfeel was akin to salty polvoron, drying out every ounce of moisture on your tongue and inner cheeksâ€¦it was disconcerting, to say the least. Again, Marketman has reservations about this style of ensaimada but can see why many hail this as one of the better ones. At PHP37.50 each for the large ones, this is good value. No mall overhead and still the hint of it being home-made (albeit the apparent volume churned out) gives this an edge over Mary Grace. Final Verdict: GOOD if you canâ€™t be bothered to make your own. Pain in the neck to pick-up if you only want a few pieces.
A mystery entry is this ensaimada that our nice landlord sent over as a Christmas present. Clearly home made, I am not sure if it was made in the family kitchen or ordered from friends. I review it here because it is still a bit of an enigma. It is nice and big (more old-style) had tremendous flavor and good texture and was oozing cheese butter and sugar on top. The base was also really oily which suggests it was either made with lard as is traditionally the case, or better yet, a 1960â€™s shortcut could mean near yellow orange star margarine instead. The flavor was good but a bit oily. I liked it more than most commercially available fluffy versions so it rates high, even if some of the ingredients are suspect. I have no idea how much this cost and I donâ€™t know who made it (too embarrassed to ask my landlord to divulge source) so you will just have to keep guessing unless you know who made it. Final Verdict: GOOD, Iâ€™ll eat this over most commercial ensaimadas any day.
Finally, the large ensaimada available at the Salcedo market made by the family of Marc Medina, the market manager of sorts. Based on an old Pamapanga recipe that approximates the ensaimada the way I like it, it has the right color, lightness, just the right amount of sweetness and no cheese on top (but it may possibly be baked into the dough). Mr. Medina admits the recipe was altered a bit to meet more modern tastes (and propensity for airier versions) but this is the best commercially available ensaimada I have had in a while. Not perfect, just very good (it’s also the first ensaimada photograph at the top of the post). Also, once or twice I have gotten it slightly sour which means they let it rise too long. It doesnâ€™t last long eitherâ€¦but that is more of a good sign, really. At PHP160 or so it is pricey but I think well worth it. Final Verdict: VERY GOOD, I can eat this fairly often.
Next up, after criticizing everyone elseâ€™s ensaimada, I will post a recipe of my familyâ€™s that isnâ€™t perfect either but is what I like in an ensaimadaâ€¦stay tuned!