When I am not having a brilliant classic pinoy breakfast of tuyo, tinapa, tapa, tocino or lamayo with rice and fried eggs, I happily turn to a freshly baked ensaimada served with extra butter and superb homemade jam. Imagine rising early one cool morning, heading out to the garden, greeting your attention deficient labrador â€œgood morningâ€ and sitting down to the breakfast setting in the photo aboveâ€¦ it doesnâ€™t get much better than that! Add a nice ripe cebu mango, a hot cup of tea and I am in a much better frame of mind to tackle the trials of the dayâ€¦ The following ensaimada recipe is based almost entirely on the one provided by my sister. However, I have changed some of the measurements due to the quality of flour in Manila and the humidity and temperature while baking here. I have baked it 6-7 times and still havenâ€™t “perfected” it.
You may have to practice a few times until you achieve the kind of ensaimada you prefer so this recipe is only a guideline, to be adjusted to one’s frame of reference and the quality of ingredients in your neck of the woods. Do not take shortcuts, look at the process as part of the grand journey to ensaimada nirvana. And if you like the fluffy commercial types of ensaimadas…STOP reading this post now, you will be sorely disappointed. This recipe should yield an ensaimada with some heft, yet light and flavorful. It will have a “crusty” browned exterior, not the soft blond mush that is “zippedeemelt” or other mall sourced concoctions… A cross-section of the bread should show layers of dough, bubble spots for trapped air and butter… it shouldn’t slice like a light cake.
Lavadora or Sponge
3.5 cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon yeast
6 cups unsifted bread flour
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water and wait a minute or two to make sure the yeast is alive (it should bubble a bit). Make sure you use fresh yeast or you will have made a fatal error. Add flour and beat for 5 min until you have a heavy batter. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and allow to rise at room temperature for 1.5 to 2 hours. Use the shorter time in warmer climates, longer time in cool dry climates. It will rise and fall, that’s okay. Even better, if you are in a hot climate, you can refrigerate this for 3-4 hours, but do not freeze, yeast is a living thing. A sponge is necessary so as to give the yeast a chance to produce lactic acids and expand before the addition of other ingredients. At Lolaâ€™s bakery, the lavadora was made by the previous shift and was anywhere from 6-8 hours old. Any bread recipe that eliminates this step will not produce excellent bread. Another traditional way to increase gluten and lactic acids is to use
a piece of raw dough (10-20 % by weight) from the previous day’s batch added during the kneading process. It’s okay to go to the movies or iron your laundry, one doesn’t have to spend time with the sponge to make it happy. Marketman prefers the refrigerator version for about 3.5 hours or so.
After the lavadora has risen and fallen, add the following:
1 1/2 c. fresh egg yolks (since eggs vary in size it is best to measure, about 18-20 egg yolks)
1 1/4 c. sugar (you can go up to 1.5 cups if you want it a tad sweeter)
And mix gently until incorporated. Gradually add 6 cups more of unsifted bread flour and 1 tablespoon of salt and mix some more. Do not reduce salt or the bread will taste â€œflat.â€ Salt also tempers the rise of the yeast which is why it is added later rather than earlier. Only experience and feeling the dough will tell you when you have added enough flour. Do not be tempted to add a lot more flour because you will end up with a hard and dry ensaimada. Marketmanâ€™s first attempt had a REALLY soft dough that seemed to grow in front of our eyes â€“ I had too much yeast and too little flour! The dough should be soft and malleable not hard and dry-ish.
Beat for 5 minutes with a dough hook (best if you have a heavy duty Kitchen Aid or similar mixer, otherwise, you are in for some serious kneadingâ€¦) or knead with your hands on a clean counter or in a large basin. Now add 1 cup of soft unsalted butter, or lard or margarine, or a combination thereof, if that is your preference. Knead butter into the dough. Dough will be very sticky and soft, let it rest for 10 -15 minutes, as this will make it easier to knead. The dough will gradually become very elastic and satin smooth after 5 more minutes of kneading. Knead on a greased surface if your mixer starts to complain or overheat. Drizzle with 1/2 c. corn oil and knead another couple of minutes until you have a smooth ball. Grease a large bowl and place the dough in it, it should fill the bowl less than half full. Cover with a clean damp cloth and allow to rise at 70 F for 2 hours or until double in bulk. In a hot kitchen, it will double in 1 hour. You may want to refrigerate for 2 hours, it will make the dough behave better when you shape the rolls. Refrain from placing the dough in a warm oven, with the pilot light on, as some who are impatient are tempted to do. A slow rise results in a better roll. Marketman prefers a 2-2.5 hour rise in the refrigerator as the dough is easier to handle afterwardsâ€¦ It sounds counter-intuitive that the dough would rise in the fridge but it does. Best way to make pizza dough too.
Punch down the dough and divide into 36 pieces, approximately 4 oz each or about 3/4 cup in size. Have 1 1/2 cup very soft butter or lard ready for spreading. Line up pieces on a greased surface. Take one piece and roll it out with a rolling pin until 1/8 ” thin. Spread with 1/2 tbsp. butter. Pull edges gently with your fingers and stretch to a very thin large triangle, don’t worry about holes, practice will eliminate the problem. Roll up starting with the wide edge or end; it should be about 12″ long. Coil inside a muffin pan or coil on a foil lined cookie sheet, tucking end under. You can also twist 2 together for a larger, braided look. Place ensaimadas 3″ apart on a cookie sheet. Or fill a greased muffin or ensaimada pan half full. Marketman had problems with the twist. I am certain it is a â€œgirl thingâ€ (and I donâ€™t mean that badly, I just canâ€™t get it) and I had trouble twisting and tucking but that was simply an issue of aesthetics, it didnâ€™t affect the taste. Allow ensaimadas to rise again at room temperature until double in bulk, about 1-2 hours depending on the temperature of the room. Watch carefully after 1 hr. Ensaimadas are ready to bake when they are double in bulk. They will rise further in the oven. Do not allow them to over rise and deflate or you will have ensaimadas with a fermented flavor. Beat 1 egg lightly and brush tops gently before baking.
Bake in a preheated 375 to 400 F oven on the center rack until golden brown in color, about 12-15 min for muffin size and 15-20 min for braided ones. I prefer it darker in order to caramelize some of the sugars in the crust. Remove and cool. After it has cooled gently brush with 1/2 c. more butter and sprinkle generously with sugar. Wrap each one in parchment or wax paper. If you want to freeze them do not butter and sugar before freezing, do so after defrosting. If you want grated cheese on top you can sprinkle it generously with grated Queso de Bola (or aged edam if you are elsewhere). Makes 36 muffin sized singles or 18 large braided ensaimadas.
YEAST – Use the freshest yeast you can find. Best to go out and buy a fresh can or pack as the cost is miniscule relative to the other ingredients in this recipe. Do not use “RapidRise” yeast as that is primarily for bread machines, not slow rising recipes like this one. More common granular yeast or yeast cakes would do well.
FLOUR â€“ I thought I was brilliant in that I found hard wheat flour at a bakery supply store. However, I find all flours in the Philippines to be less ideal than say American bread flour. I am not sure if Philippine flour is adulterated with cassava or other ingredients but I find that I had to use more local flour to approximate the recipe made with imported bread flour. The flour and its volume is critical to this recipe. My sister sent two bags of Bread Flour from NY and this recipe worked brilliantly.
BUTTER â€“ My sister uses unsalted French or European style butter (Plugra, I think) that is utterly brilliant. Use the best unsalted butter you can find. I use imported with the main advantage being a lower water content, I think. Using Star margarine or lard will have noticeably different taste results but use what makes you happy, I guess. Total butter or lard needed in this recipe is approximately 2.5-3.0 lbs or close to 1.5 kilo. For the topping, you can whip the butter slightly for a lighter touch.
EGGS â€“ I use the finest organic eggs I can find in Manila. At PHP8 a piece they are expensive but the yolks are a brilliant orange yellow. The whites have viscosity and look like they should. Use the best eggs you can afford. I use roughly 19 egg yolks in my recipe.
SUGAR â€“ While I use regular granulated sugar for the bread itself, I find that using caster sugar (finer grind) for the topping is nicer. Many times I donâ€™t put cheese, but definitely add lots of good butter on top.
RAISINS – Soak 1 pound of raisins in 1/2 cup rum or warm water in a bottle for a couple of hours. Drain any liquid not absorbed. After buttering each rolled out piece sprinkle with 1 tbsp raisins and then roll up and coil
HAM -Use julienned fine pieces of country ham instead of raisens. Marketman tried this variation and it was really delicious. Use good ham.
PHEW! That took a while. Good luck folks and happy baking! And a disclaimer, if you fail miserably please do not blame it on usâ€¦you just have to keep at it till you get it right.