A couple of years ago I went on an organised trip to Mallorca to improve my Spanish. The trip was an interesting one, to say the least. In terms of my overall goal of becoming better at Spanish, without doubt, it helped. I also got to see some beautiful parts of Mallorca that I never knew existed.
Those things aside, looking back, unfortunately, the trip was all too reminiscent of being back at school: basic accommodation with shared bathrooms (I don't cope well with shared bathrooms); a scatty teacher who, ironically, seemed to require being kept in check by her pupils rather than the other way around!; and cheap food.
I'm pretty sure Mallorca has some hidden gems for restaurants, should one choose to seek them out, but being on an organised trip, we ate where we were taken: think 'all-you-can-eat' buffet restaurants, churning out vats of low quality slop. One was not amused.
My disappointment with the food was compounded when we were taken to a Spanish bakery. I'm always excited about visiting bakeries abroad and this was no different. I could barely contain myself when we were told about ensaïmadas - coil-shaped pastries made from sweet, enriched* bread dough, which derive from Mallorca itself. A sugary treat, fresh out of the oven and authentic to the place I was visiting! What more could I ask for?!
And yet, just as I was about to wrap my droopy jowls around one, I learnt that they were made with lard...
My disappointment was overwhelming. Whilst this trip was supposedly all about learning Spanish, secretly (or, for those who know me well, not so secretly!), as with all my travels, it was as much about the food.
Fast forward two years and the Hairy Bikers, on their amazing Mediterranean Adventure, presented me with a recipe for ensaïmadas that uses butter instead of lard. The joy! Finally, I would get to have my ensaïmada and eat it!
This recipe adds almond paste into the mix. For extra flavour, and to complement the almond, I also added lemon zest and, in some of the hand-shaped pastries, some chocolate chips. To be honest, a lot of things could work: Nutella and hazelnuts instead of the almond and lemon, or a pistachio paste with chocolate chips. I also think slitting the baked rolls length ways and sandwiching them with whipped cream would work a treat. Whatever you go opt for, I recommend you enjoy them fresh out of the oven, with a big pot of tea!
*An enriched bread dough is a normal bread dough that has butter, sugar, milk and/or eggs added to it.
Adapted slightly from The Hairy Bikers' recipe for Ensaïmadas
For the dough:
- 500g plain flour, plus extra for flouring/dusting work your surface
- 150g caster sugar
- 2 tsp dried yeast
- pinch salt
- 200ml tepid whole milk, plus extra for milk wash (to brush over the ensaïmadas before they go in the oven - this will help to give them a golden colour)
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- oil, for greasing (I used olive)
- 100g caster sugar
- 100g softened unsalted butter
- 100g ground almonds
- few drops almond extract
- zest of one lemon
- 200g chocolate chips (optional)
To make the bread dough, tip the flour, caster sugar, yeast and pinch of salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook (you could knead the dough by hand, but it will take a lot longer and is hard work!) Use a balloon whisk to give the ingredients a quick mix to combine before attaching the bowl to the mixer.
Heat the milk in a pan until tepid, then mix with the eggs in a jug.
Turn your freestanding mixer on and, with the dough hook rotating through the dry ingredients, slowly pour in the milk and eggs. Knead with the dough hook until the dough is soft and smooth and not sticky. This will take a while, so be patient.
Once the dough is ready, transfer it to an oiled bowl and cover loosely with a damp cloth or clingfilm. Leave in a warm place (I left mine by the boiler) for a couple of hours to rise.
To make the almond paste, beat the sugar and butter together with a handheld electric whisk until soft and pale. Add the almonds, almond extract and the lemon zest and whisk again. Put to one side until you are ready to shape and fill the ensaïmadas.
Once the dough has had a couple of hours to rise, transfer it to a floured work surface and cut it with a large, sharp knife into 16 pieces (you could weigh them if you want them to all be exactly equal in size, but I just cut them roughly by eye).
The pieces can now be rolled and shaped, but as you will be working on them one at a time, keep them covered with a damp tea towel to stop them from drying out; removing each piece from below the tea towel only as and when you are ready to shape it.
Taking your first piece of dough, roll it into a ball with your hands (don't worry about it being exactly spherical or smooth). Now, using a rolling pin and on a floured surface, roll the ball out to a very rough circle of 18-2cm.
Take a dessert spoon or so of the almond paste and gently spread it, with an offset spatula or palette knife, over the rolled dough, leaving about a 1cm small border all the way round.
Now roll the circle of dough up tightly. Once rolled, with your hands, gently roll/elongate or massage it into a long sausage, about 25cm long.
Finally, taking one end of the sausage, loosely roll it up into a coil, like a snail shell, tucking the outside end underneath. You need the coil to be fairly loose so that the middle of the ensaïmada has the space to rise/grow outwards in the oven, otherwise it will push upwards. Place the rolled coil onto a clean baking sheet.
Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough, arranging the 16 ensaïmadas evenly over two baking trays. Once you've shaped them all, cover them with a damp tea towel and leave to prove again for another hour, again ideally somewhere warm.
About 45 minutes into the proving time, preheat the oven to 160C (fan).
Once the ensaïmadas have proved for an hour, brush them evenly with milk , then bake for 15 minutes until lightly golden and cooked through.
Allow the ensaïmadas to cool before dusting liberally with icing sugar. Enjoy with a hot cup of chai!