Their delicate texture, distinctive flavour and unusual spiral shape have travelled all around the world: Mallorcan ensaimadas are one of the world’s most international pastries. They are a common sight on flights leaving the island, but only very few know the true story behind their delicious recipe. So, at Zafiro Hotels we have decided to tell you about the legends around this traditional recipe.
Table of contents
- The origin of the Mallorcan ensaimada
- The key ingredient of an ensaimada
- The classic ensaimada, the most traditional recipe
- Ensaimadas with filling
- The recipe of ensaimadas around the world
The origin of the Mallorcan ensaimada
The traditional Mallorcan ensaimada is a bite of history that contains centuries of gastronomic heritage. Its real origin is a secret long forgotten these days, however. The first written sources about this dessert date back to the 17th century, but it would seem that this delicacy – convincing even the most demanding of palates – actually originates from further afield.
One of the most convincing legends is that it has a Jewish origin, taking into account the large presence of Sephardic Jews on the island and what remains of their traditions and culture. The story even goes that when King James I reconquered the island in 1229, a Jew offered him a sample of this sugary treat.
The key ingredient of an ensaimada
This legend does raise certain doubts, since Jews would not have been able to eat this pastry for religious reasons. One of the main ingredients of a Mallorcan ensaimada is lard, or in Catalan el saïm, which is where the name comes from. In the past lard from black pigs was used, and only for very special celebrations.
This lard is precisely what makes the ensaimada dough so tender and juicy. It adds flavour and differentiates it from all other doughs around the world. Well, that, and the skill it takes to prepare these traditional Mallorcan delicacies.
The classic ensaimada, the most traditional recipe
If we look at the original recipe for ensaimadas, the most traditional and the one still favoured by the islanders, is the unfilled ensaimada (llisa as they call it on Mallorca). The dough is made with lard, arranged in a spiral and baked with all the care in the world. Light, airy and delicate, as the author Josep Pla put it – and, of course, no filling.
The Mallorcan ensaimada is one of those items you can always find at breakfast in Zafiro Hotels' hotels on Mallorca and Menorca. It is a nod to our islands and their gastronomic richness and we want to share it with our guests.
Ensaimadas with filling
It might come as a surprise that we speak of this ensaimada as the classic ensaimada, when the most famous of them all has always been the ensaimada filled with angel's hair (pumpkin jam). But the truth is that ensaimadas with filling did not appear until Mallorca started developing tourism in earnest, back in the 60s.
Crème brûlée, whipped cream, custard, chocolate and even ensaimada filled with sobrasada (Mallorcan sausage). These days the best pastry shops on Mallorca offer all kinds of fillings inside that precious spiralled dough. Whichever you choose, it is sure to win you over at first bite.
No wonder the pastry has a Protected Geographical Indication. This is something to keep in mind if you visit Mallorca on holiday and want to return home bearing gifts in the shape of that essential ensaimada tucked in under your arm: its octagonal box must carry a guarantee seal or a label from the Regulatory Board.
The recipe of ensaimadas around the world
Travellers by nature, ensaimadas have toured the world with Mallorcan people who have gone abroad to work or study. That is why you can find different versions of the ensaimada in other countries – especially in Puerto Rico where the ensaimada is called "mallorca" and is a very common breakfast item.
The ensaimada is also present in other parts of the Americas, but featuring different flavours. The Argentinian version, for example, which apparently looks almost the same but with a touch of aniseed and a much spicier flavour.