The 'Ensaimada Mallorquina'
A product with a Protected Geographical Indication, defined by Josep Pla as the "lightest, airiest and most delicate thing in this country's confectionary". Its unique spiral shape distinguishes it from any other cake.
Jewish or Arabic?
In traditional Jewish cooking there were spiral shaped desserts known as 'bulemes' leading some historians to believe their origins were hebrew while others attribute them to the Arabs during their occupation of the Ibizan Peninsula. Arab pastries called “bulemes dolces” were described as snail-like in shape and made with the same ingredients as ensaimadas, although the lard was replaced with butter. There is also a loose theory that the pastry’s spiral shape was inspired by the turbans worn by the Moors, who occupied Mallorca from the 10th century until its liberation by King Jaume I in 1232.
It is impossible to determine the precise history of this sweet bun and there are different opinions on the matter. Tomeu Arbona the master pastry chef who refers to himself as a gastronomic archaeologist believes that the ensaimada is of Jewish origin and not Arab as some have suggested. The idea is that the ensaimaida was made with olive oil before the expulsion of the Jewish people began in 1492 but that Jews who had converted to Christianity began to make the pastry with lard to show themselves as being ‘true christians’ thus escaping the clutches of the inquisition.
The agony of choice! Traditional or contemporary?
The plain ensaimada without filling or topping is the original and along with the version that has a sweet pumpkin marmalade type filling known as ‘Cabello de Angel” they are recognised as being authentic by the regulating board of Ensaimadas. Yes, there is really such a board! It is responsible for controlling the quality of the pastries at bakeries that have been issued the certificate of quality.
Now you can find ensaimadas with many different kinds of filling such as almond and chocolate cream and at carnival time you may well see a version with the sweet jam and sobrassada (cured sausage made with ground pork, paprika, salt and other spices and a speciality of the Balearic Islands)
If you're like me and enjoy a little sweet and savoury combo, that is definately worth a try!