Tracing the Ensaymada Trail
Ensaimadas have a curious worldwide distribution from Spain to Latin American countries such as Peru and Argentina, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Following this ensaimada trail will hopefully give us an understanding of this pastry’s past and its presence globally.
Ensaimada is commonly spelled ensaymada in Tagalog, the Philippine language. It comes from the Arab word “saïm”, (pork lard) which was later incorporated into the Catalan language. The ensaïmada (en-larded) is therefore a bun with lard. Some historians think that they have Hebrew origins since in traditional Jewish cooking, there were spiral shaped desserts called “bulemes." It is even said that a Jewish baker offered one to King Jaume I during the conquest of Mallorca.
Others, however, attribute them to the Arabs, during their occupation of the Ibizan peninsula from 740 to 1235. Arab pastries called “bulemes dolces” were described as snail-like in shape, made with the same ingredients as ensaimadas, although the lard was replaced with butter from sheep's milk.
There is even speculation that the pastry’s characteristic coil resembles the turban – the common male head dress at the time.
The first written documents with reference to the ensaimada’s presence in Mallorca, Spain, date from the 17th century. It was a special pastry made only for festivals or gift-giving. Presently, the Mallorcan ensaimada continues to be a product made by craftsmen. The process remains completely artisanal and can take up to 24 hours to complete.
Annual Festivals in Spain celebrate with
La Ensaimada Gigante
The ensaimada was later introduced to territories under Spanish colonization and by the immigration of Mallorcans to South America. Through the centuries, each country’s version of the original ensaimada has evolved into a delectable artisan variant.
“Pan de Mallorca” – Puerto Rico’s ensaimada
San Pedro, Argentina, the National Capital of the Ensaimada
The Filipino Ensaymada is a rather unusual variation. This is unique to the Philippines where it has been a delicacy for nearly four centuries since the Spanish rule of the country.
It is made with butter instead of lard and topped with grated cheese (usually aged Edam, known locally as "queso de bola") and sugar. It is much richer than the Mallorcan original and is extremely popular throughout the islands, especially during the Christmas season.
Noche Buena is the Christmas Eve feast that goes well into Christmas morning after families attend simbang gabi (midnight mass). This Filipino celebration is considered complete only when the classic jamón is served with the special ensaymadas along with tsokolateng tablea (Filipino hot chocolate.)
Tracing the ensaymada's origins tells of people long ago who welcomed a new cuisine and eventually adapted it as part of their own. Through generations, these people remain strongly aware of a sense of connection to the influence of their ancient visitors. It is our hope that Ensaymada Project will continue a centuries old legacy that fosters such global ties – one ensaymada at a time.