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The perfect partner for Tsokolate Eh? The ensaymada. Filipinos love this coiled bread as breakfast or merienda fare. To make good ensaymada, the baker must use good quality flour, yeast, egg yolks, salt, and sugar. Butter (or lard) is worked into the dough and brushed on top then sprinkled with sugar. Nowadays, the ensaymada is crowned with grated cheddar cheese or queso de bola for the special variety.
The Filipino ensaymada traces its origins to the ensaimada, a traditional yeast bun from Majorca, Spain, made with pork lard and just a hint of sugar on top. It began to appear in local panaderias during the Spanish period when Filipino and Chinese bakers began to make bread via the government's Royal Bakeshop in Intramuros.
Old-timers remember the ensaymada as a flat concoction, not the puffed up muffin-like versions of today. The traditional ensaymada was merely dusted with powdered or granulated sugar, just like the Majorcan version, notes food historian Felice Sta. Maria. Grated queso de bola was added before World War II, though in Pampanga it could have been earlier as most heirloom recipes we sampled already had the cheese. The combination of salted duck's egg and cheese were introduced later on in the ensaymadas of Malolos, Bulacan.
Recipes for ensaymada are as varied as its bakers. Some ensaymadas have a bread-like structure, more hefty than airy. Other ensaymadas, especially the ones being sold commercially and heaving with a halo of cheese, are soft, airy and almost muffin- or cake-like in texture. And then there's the in-between, a compromise of the two styles. Although most would refer to theirs as an heirloom or old-fashioned recipe, the resulting bread would sometimes be similar to the modern, soft and airy kinds produced today but with a more stable structure.
Variations on the basic flavor include ube, dulce de leche, monggo, and ham mixed onto the filling or as topping. While a cheese-less ensaymada is a rarity these days, we can still find the butter-and-sugar versions in local panaderias. They retain the original topping except that butter has been replaced by margarine and the dough a generic bun--a cheaper, more accessible ensaymada for the masses.
But the crude ensaymada is not the subject of this list--we already know that we can get them at five bucks a pop at the local bakery. The flavored ensaymada deserve another list altogether. We're looking for classic ensaymadas with a little something extra, done with more care and good enough to give as gifts. These are ensaymadas we'd make special trips for, as the best ones tend to be made by home bakers. Not surprisingly, most are made by Kapampangans, who are known for their rich and luxurious dishes. These are available in Metro Manila though I'm certain somewhere in Cebu or Davao a baker has his or her own mouth-watering ensaymada keeping our kababayans there deliriously happy.
So enjoy these top ten classic and special ensaymadas (listed in no particular order) with a cup of hot tsokolate eh. You may expand the list on the comments section, because one can never have too much ensaymada.
1. Café Mary Grace Classic Ensaymada (P52)
Carefully wrapped in wax paper with Mary Grace's elegant gold logo, this ensaymada has the most enticing aroma courtesy of the fine, almost powdery quezo de bola encrusting the top. When you bite into it, the sugar hidden underneath creates a crunch-y sound. Then as you chew, the butter melts along with the dough, which is light and airy. Although the familiar coil is absent and the interior just a couple of egg yolks short of being de rigueur yellow, Mary Grace has created an ensaymada that's focused on providing a soft, buttery experience than being rigidly authentic. You feel that she cares about her ensaymadas with the quality of the ingredients. To most of us mere mortals, that is heaven enough.
Where to buy: Most accessible of the lot, with various store locations and kiosks all over the metro.
2. The Peninsula Manila's Plain Ensaymada (P84.60)
Beneath a toupee of long, thin strands of cheddar cheese, the Pen's plain ensaymada is prominently coiled and golden brown. That brown-ness contributes to the flavor of this ensaymada. The base structure is more of a well-made soft bread, buttery but a little pale in color. The sweetness is just right, muted as it is by the denseness of the bread. The Pen's version is not overwhelmingly rich or moist so get this if you prefer your ensaymada as sturdy as a roll of bread. It would go well with a nice cup of good coffee.
Where to buy: At the Pen Boutique located at the basement of the Peninsula Manila, Makati Avenue, Makati City. Tel. No. 887-2888.