In the run-up to Christmas 2005, I had fully intended to post an ensaimada recipe. By late last November, I had already tested a recipe several times but still needed to get it tweaked just right. I boldly handed out samples to Marketmanila â€œeyeballâ€ participants to get their reactions but I was still fooling with the recipe. Then I got distracted by other matters and didnâ€™t get to post the recipe. So when the topic for this monthâ€™s Lasang Pinoy came out and Joey over at 80Breakfasts said it was time for â€œpinoy breakfast fare,â€ I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to post an ensaimada entry. I love ensaimada for breakfast rather later in the day (though merienda is a close second). But first, some backgroundâ€¦ The ensaimada recipe will follow in a second post later. Our ensaimada must be in some way related to the bread/delicacy from Mallorca of the same name. Their version is quite large and filled with a sweet cream of sorts rather than smaller individual servings more common in the Philippines. Their version is made with lard and though I havenâ€™t tasted it myself, has been described to me as being significantly different from the ensaimadas now sold commercially in Manila today.
While I have scoured dozens of cookbooks, the internet, etc. for a decent ensaimada recipe, I decided to revert to the family expert, my sister who resides in New York. She grew up â€œplayingâ€ in my grandmotherâ€™s bakery in Cebu and with unlimited supplies of butter, eggs, flour, sugar, several experienced bakers as her mentors, and a proper wood fired oven, she was the best bet for a really good recipe. Her initial answer? She didnâ€™t have a written recipe and basically does it from memory. Yikes, is right. Thankfully, she hunkered down one day and baked a batch and tried to measure everything for me so we could have the recipe in print. She agreed that I could share this recipe with all of you and I hope you are able to master it over timeâ€¦ it will take several attempts to get it right based on the flour, yeast, butter, humidity and other factors in your neck of the woods. Perfecting this is a labor of love, you will truly understand the “feel of the dough” when it is just right.
My sisterâ€™s email to me that accompanied her recipe is informative as well as poignant and thus worth quoting extensively so those who are really truly interested get a more comprehensive understanding of this fantastic breadâ€¦ She says:
â€œWhat one considers a proper ensaimada depends on one’s frame of reference. If you were born pre-WW II chances are the taste you are looking for will be that of an ensaimada made with lard. Large and flat, single coil, very close to the Mallorcan original, formed freehand and baked on a sheet pan. The everyday ensaimada of Lolaâ€™s Bakery was made that way, without eggyolks, “espesyal” had added eggyolks, and sometimes raisins, and the grated cheese topping for “orders” or for our home consumption as well as for the holidays. It had a shelf life of several days, even without added preservatives. Fiesta versions were sometimes baked in a 6 inch tart pan lined with papel de japon for a perfectly round shape.
Some remember ensaimadas made with canned Danish Brunne butter, a distinctive flavor, and others recall the flavor of Star margarine, commonly used in the 1950’s and 60’s to imitate the color of butter. I make my ensaimadas with unsalted butter, but will occasionally use lard if giving the ensaimadas to the pre-WWII generation. Ensaimadas made with lard have the best texture and have a longer shelf life, important when they had to be made prior to a fiesta. If you have to worry about cholesterol, an ensaimada is out of the question. My personal preference is an ensaimada made with unsalted butter, without the cheese topping, for a delicate flavor and an affinity for jam.
As a teenager, I spent many days making ensaimada, trying to please Mom, who yearned for her own mother’s ensaimadas with a longing I could only imagine was for a life that the war had fractured forever. I never saw Mom even attempt to make a single ensaimada, but she clearly had a definite ideal that I could only guess at, for her mother and father were both killed by the Japanese at the end of WWII, years before I was born. She would say, after trying the sample, “It’s good but it doesn’t taste like Mama’s”. It was only when her brother brought me an ensaimada from Spain that I realized it was the taste of lard she was after, not the tons of butter I had been using, in my quest for an ensaimada that would please her and bring back her childhood. Her last request, when I called from New York on her 70th birthday, was that I instruct the maid over transatlantic telephone, how to make a proper ensaimada. It was not to be, she passed away shortly thereafter.
An ensaimada should be like a croissant married to a brioche, flaky and well browned on the outside, layered and moist on the inside and not like the “mamon” version found everywhere in the Philippines these days, which have not been properly stretched out, buttered, and rolled up prior to coiling, a shortcut that eliminates the traditional airy layers but saves on labour. It wasn’t until the 60’s that bakeries started putting them into muffin pans, reducing them to a sponge-like texture, undercooked so as to remain moist and overly sweet.
I learned how to make ensaimada in the late fifties, with Vicencio and Mariano, brothers, and each head baker of the two shifts at Lolaâ€™s Bakery. A small volcano of primera flour would be poured on the hardwood table, a hole in the middle made and into that the a piece of lavadora was dropped, sugar and water and egg yolks, all that worked with the fingertips until well mixed, flour gradually incorporated and lastly, salt and whatever fat was to be used added. It was kneaded right on the table, formed into a ball and allowed to rise under a clean flour sack. Later after rising and shaping and rising again, they would be baked in the massive brick ovens, after the pan de sal but before the pan Americano (loaf bread). My head was about even with the table when I first started playing in the bakery and the layout, sounds and smells of that bakery will forever be burned into my memory bank. Whenever I have family visiting a request is invariably made for some ensaimada, a delight from one’s past, totally bastardized by bakeries and slowly lost to time.â€
With that as an introduction, you will perhaps understand where I am coming from and the ensaimada I was seeking to recreate. I didnâ€™t want an â€œeasyâ€ recipe. I didnâ€™t want to emulate the fluffy sweet commercial versions that are for sale in the malls. I wanted an honest to goodness mid-20th century version, but still reasonably doable today. This should perhaps be described as one of our familyâ€™s finest recipes (an heirloom of sorts) since it really harks back to our lolaâ€™s bakery in the 1950â€™sâ€¦and the name of that bakery??? Too incredibly appropriate to be true but if I named it many folks from our hometown would definitely nail our identitiesâ€¦ So we will leave you guessing about the name and from our family to yours, courtesy of my sister mostly, we hope you enjoy and appreciate the ensaimada recipe coming up in the next post.