- E Trail
The ensaimadas have a curious worldwide distribution from Spain to Latin American countries such as Peru and Argentina, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Unwinding this ensaimada trail will hopefully give us an understanding of this pastry’s past and its distribution globally. Wheat products are at the heart of Western and Eastern food history. These were tightly woven into the movements of people, the exchange of ingredients and ideas, and the class structure of the times.
The etymology of the word “ensaimada” comes from the Arab word “saim”, (pork lard) which was later incorporated into the Catalan language. The ensaimada (en-larded) is therefore a
bun with lard. Some historians think that they have Hebrew origins, since a Jewish baker seems to have 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. In a Mallorcan recipe book by Jaume Ferrà i Martorell, Arab pastries called “bulemes dolces” are described with a snail-like shape, made with the same ingredients as ensaimadas, although the lard is replaced with butter made of sheep’s milk. Nevertheless, the same book comments that, in traditional Jewish cooking, there are desserts called “bulemes” with the same spiral shape. 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. Because white wheat flour and dietary fat were still expensive commodities, it was a special pastry made only for festivals or as a gift. From the 18th century onwards, Mallorcan ensaimadas became popular among the middle and upper classes, normally eaten to accompany hot chocolate. There hardly has been a change in the recipe and procedure of ensaimada making four hundred years since. Presently, the Mallorcan ensaimada continues to be a product made by craftsmen and, as such, is made by hand. The process is completely artisanal and can take up to 24 hours to complete.
World’s largest ensaimada, Mallorca, Spain
Annual Ensaimada Festival, Mallorca, Spain
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.
“Mallorca” – Puerto Rico’s ensaimada
Ensaimada Argentina, where San Pedro is the National Capital of the Ensaimada
The Filipino Ensaimada, commonly spelled Ensaymada in Tagalog, the native language, 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. It is often also eaten with hot chocolate.
The Filipino Christmas feast is never complete without the ensaymada.
The unraveling of the ensaymada story reveals the legacy that a people can be open to welcoming new food and eventually make it their own. Through generations these people remain strongly aware of a sense of connection to the ancient visitors who bore them. It is our hope that the Ensaymada Project will continue a centuries old legacy that fosters such global ties – one ensaymada at a time.