For a couple of years, I’ve been interested in the ensaimada (the en-larded), a sweet bread associated with Mallorca and Minorca in Spain that also crops up in the Philippines.
This afternoon, trotting into a confitería in Buenos Aires, in search of sweet things for my husband, I spotted, lo and behold, a shelf of ensaimadas. They looked like those old-fashioned coiled beehives with a confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar) dusting over them. Ah ha.
So of course I bought one and carted it home.
When I cut into it, I discovered that the dough was an ordinary sweet bread dough. It had none of the paper thin flakiness of the Minorcan and Mallorcan ensaimadas. When I tasted it, it left a slightly greasy taste in the mouth. The omnipresent vegetable shortening, I suppose.
But its structure was quite different from the Spanish style. A little excavation revealed that it consisted of a dough base and a conical top with pastry cream inside. So what is this?
Well, whatever it is it is not some ensaimada going w-a-y back in history. A search on the web reveals the claim that Jose Puig, a Catalán immigrant, produced ensaimadas in Argentina in the 1880s. AndMajorca and Mallorca have long been part of Catalonia.
I view such claims with the deepest, darkest suspicion in general. This may make sense though. Four million Spanish emigrated to Argentina in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, three quarters of them not Castilians, but Galicians, Basques and Cataláns, most of whom, if they spoke Spanish, spoke it as a second language.
So my guess is that the ensaimada did arrive then. It would be just the thing for these newly fashionable confiterias, a kind of combination high class sweet shop, cake shop, and bakery, often with coffee available. And of course with the enthusiasm of the period for all things English and French, it would just be the finishing touch to add a filling of pastry cream.
But, if the ensaimada that arrived is anything like what was available in Catalonia in the early twentieth century, then it was not the flaky pastry that we find there today but a straightforward sweet bread. I’ve long had the suspicion that perhaps the highly flaky pastry is recent. Perhaps this is evidence for that.