Posts Tagged ‘sweet bread’

In a few weeks I will be attending a family reunion of the Arbona side of the family. My great-grandfather came to Puerto Rico from Mallorca, in the Balearic Islands (Spain) in the late 1800’s.  In short, he went back, got married, had his children and they returned to Puerto Rico due to the Spanish Civil War during the 1930’s.  We are a large group! (one of my great-uncles had 10 children, they all had children and their children have children, etc.).  In honor of this gathering,  I got inspired to publish my recipe for Ensaimada Mallorquina.

To give you a little background, Ensaimada is a typical sweet bread from the island of Mallorca .  They are usually large (about 12 inches in diameter) and sometimes filled with fruit preserves, “angel hair” (pumpkin confit), sobreasada, almond puree, cream or apricots.  For hundreds of years, like many countries in South America, Puerto Rico had a large group of immigrants that came from different parts of Spain (including the beautiful island of Mallorca) looking for work, fortune and a better quality of life. My grandfather, Papi Bartolo was one of them. Therefore, Puertorican culture is highly influenced by the traditions of many different regions of Spain.

In Puerto Rico there is a version of Ensaimada called “mallorca”, like the island of its origin. It is usually the size the palm of my hand, so no wonder as a little girl, I was in awe of the size of Ensaimadas on my visits to Mallorca.  Also, they can be found in every bakery shop in Puerto Rico and even American fast food restaurants have incorporated it in their breakfast menus to adapt to the tastes of the locals. However, although they have a similar shape, they are not rolled up twice like traditional ensaimadas and its dough is more similar in texture to “brioche” (flaky french bread) or challah bread, depending on the place where you buy them.  The most popular mallorcas in Puerto Rico are the ones from La Bombonera in Old San Juan (to me the closest texture to ensaimada in PR) and from Panaderia Pepin (absolutely delicious, but not similar in texture) in Guaynabo and San Juan.

The name ensaimada comes from the arabic word “saim”, which means pork lard.  The first accounts of ensaimadas are from 17th century writings.  There were not written recipes to make ensaimadas. However, there was a method.  According to Mallorcan Web,  ” to explain how ensaimadas were made 200 years ago and nowadays is one and the same thing. The process is completely artisan and can take up to 24 hours to complete. To make the dough old measures are still used: almudes and ounces. To get some idea, in Mallorca an almud of dough contains a kilo of sugar, a dozen eggs, a liter of water and all the ‘strong’ flour it can take (thereby is the secret, no measurement for the flour!). To these ingredients yeast is added which can be either natural yeast or in powder form, and the kneading starts. In former times this was done by hand. Although nowadays machines are used, to do so by hand the dough is placed in a bowl and kneaded until it is soft. After more or less half an hour, it is smooth.” This dough is kneaded and rolled very thinly, then rolled and spiraled to form the traditional shape of an ensaimada which is like the house of a snail.  Lately, I’ve been told that for some reason the ensaimadas that are sold in large boxes at the airport of Palma de Mallorca are not allowed to fly with you on the plane, you have to put it in your suit case and send it through cargo.

Ensaimadas can be served warm or at room temperature for breakfast, as dessert, with coffee or tea or as a snack. They are a bit crusty on the outside and flaky on the inside. Also, you may heat ensaimada that is a few days old in the griddle with butter or ham and cheese like a panini. I had never found a recipe that I felt confident I could follow, but over a year ago I found this recipe in a german website (germans flock to the island of Mallorca in large groups throughout the year) and adapted it.  It is fairly easy to make, just takes time because of the wait to let dough rise.  Remember the oven must be very hot and to use common sense since ovens vary.  I like to let them rise overnight and bake them on a weekend morning for my family to enjoy. Here is my version of Ensaimada de Mallorca.


Ensaimada de Mallorca

Recipe adapted by:  Aleida L. Arbona from www.deliciousdays.com who adapted it from www.kuechengoetter.de


5 cups bread flour or unbleached all purpose flour

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

1 packet dry yeast(2 1/4 tsp) (1 cube fresh yeast)

1 cup warm milk (add a little over one cup)

2 eggs

approx. 2/3 cup pork lard or vegetable shortening

powdered sugar for dusting


1.  Mix flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  Make well in the center and add 1 packet of dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp) or 1- 40 gram block of fresh yeast (crumbled) , a large pinch of sugar and enough warm milk until the yeast is covered.  Stir the yeast and milk a bit with a fork.  Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let rest for about 15 minutes or until the yeast has bubbles.

2.  Add other ingredients and knead by hand or with your dough hook in your electric stand-up mixing machine.   If the dough is too sticky add a bit more flour.  Cover the bowl again  and let rest in a warm place for at least 30 minutes or until dough has doubled.

3.  Punch it down softly, and place the dough on a well floured surface.  Cut into 10 equal portions and form into neat balls before letting them rest.  Sprinkle with flour and cover with kitchen towel  for at least 30 minutes.

4.  To shape the ensaimadas, flatten dough ball and roll out with a rolling pin (use flour as needed) until you get a thin disc. Brush it generously with lard or vegetable shortening.  Roll up cautiously and set aside on lined baking sheets (either with parchment paper or silicone mats).

5.  Coil up each piece of dough until it resembles the house of a snail tucking the outer end under (some people pull the rolled up dough a bit to make it longer and thiner, but that’s optional). Do so loosely because the spaces will fill up as the dough keeps rising.  Place 5 ensaimadas in a baking sheet, leaving space between them. Lightly brush with lard or shortening and cover up again.  This is the final rise which is done from 4 hours to overnight (you choose, I do it overnight).

6.  To bake, preheat oven 390ºf and bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden (do not let brown too much).  Let cook in a wire rack for a few minutes.

7.  Generously dust with powdered sugar

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For this family recipe I had to travel a long way to get it. One of those dishes that is one person’s trademark and she makes it without a written recipe. When you ask for the recipe he/she lists the ingredients but cannot tell you the exact amounts…  what a nightmare! Ja, ja!

Nieves showing me how to make her traditional lemon bread Summer 1998

It is a simple lemon bread that reminds me of frequent trips to Spain during my childhood. In the summer of 1997 my younger brothers, in their teens at the time, spent about 3 weeks visiting relatives in Spain in which they asked Nieves (my great-grandmother’s housekeeper, family-nanny, cook and companion for over 60 years and whom we consider to be part of our family) everyday to make the lemon bread for them . I only had the chance to join them for about 1 week and a half because of work, but it a was a summer I will never forget.  We got a chance to spend time with our Spanish cousins, listen to family stories and get to know the Spanish countryside.  In addition, our group of about 15 family members travelled throughout the region in a bus and stayed in “turismo rural” or country homes from former well to do families that had been renovated with government money and turned into bed and breakfasts.  It was a well planned family trip full of history and natural beauty.

Monastery on the Galician countryside Summer 1997

When I got back to Puerto Rico, I met my husband Emilio and by next summer we were already married. So, for part of our honeymoon, we decided to go to Spain since my husband had not visited the country.  One afternoon, upon arrival to our beautiful historic hotel, Hostal de los Reyes Católicos in Santiago de Compostela, Nieves called and invited us for a late lunch.  I said I would go but with the condition that she taught me how to make her world famous lemon bread (I could not return to America without the recipe because my brother Joaco would kill me!). She accepted and in June 1998 she showed me (Emilio recorded the event) how to make it.  It was in a tiny kitchen in the third floor of my great-grandmother’s house on Marina Street in Villagarcia with a small gas oven and in a beaten cake pan with a hole in the middle that wobbled.  She took the sugar, flour, salt, vegetable oil and baking powder from her pantry and eggs, lemon and yogurt (her secret ingredient) from the small fridge.  She did not use measuring cups or spoons. Instead, she used the same cup in which the yogurt came in to measure all ingredients and a soup spoon to measure the baking powder. She used a lot of baking powder in relation to the amount of flour used which for some reason (I will be researching that soon!) makes it more rustic and crumbly, like the texture of corn bread but moist at the same time I guess because of the oil and yogurt (which is why I call it lemon bread instead of cake). I have tried using a lot less baking powder and the result is a delicious smooth fluffy lemon cake, but that’s another recipe. Anyway, she mixed all ingredients with a hand mixer and was very specific about not over mixing and first cooking the cake at approximately 400º f for the first 15 minutes and 350ºf for the remaining 30 minutes to get that golden brown finish.  Once I got back home, I converted the measurements and created a recipe that could be measured in cups and teaspoons and the results were very similar to the original according to my “tasters”.  Great for breakfast on a weekend morning (my kids love it!) or as a snack with coffee or tea.  Also, good with a glass of milk or a scoop of vanilla ice cream for desert…yummy!

Here is my version of Nieves’ Lemon Bread.

PS:  As many of you know, I was in the hospital last week for 4 days, I have no words to thank my family and friends for their company, support and words of encouragement during tough times.  However, I can show them by making this lemon bread for some of them to tell them how grateful I am that they are in my life.


Nieves’ Lemon Bread


4 eggs

250 g of lemon or vanilla yogurt

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 tbsp baking powder

pinch of salt

zest of one yellow lemon

1 tbsp butter for greasing pan (approximately)


1.    Turn oven on 400ºf.  Butter standard loaf pan (approx. 10 x5)

2     In a bowl put flour, baking powder and salt and mix well.

3.  In another bowl, beat eggs. Then add sugar, vegetable oil and yogurt and continue to mix with a whisk or mixer until all ingredients are incorporated for about 2 minutes.

4.  Add flour, salt and baking powder mixture in batches of three. Do not over mix.

5.  Add lemon zest and mix by hand with a spatula or whisk.

6.  Bake at 400º f for 15 minutes and lower to 350ºf for the remaining 30 minutes in middle rack. Do not open oven at any time until finished baking.  Ovens vary so pay attention the first time you make it to make any adjustments.

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