We first ate an ensaimada, a sweet eggy, yeast roll on a warm day in Puerto Rico, not knowing anything of its history, other than that it looked pretty tasty (it is actually called a Mallorca there). However, we did not put two and two together until we stumbled upon the same sweet yeast roll, with the same spiral top, on a cold winter day in Madrid, except this time it was called an ensaimada. When we got home, we did a little research and sure enough these two rolls, encountered an ocean apart, were actually the same pastry.
Enaismada (center) from La Mallorquina in Madrid
Ensaimadas originated on the Spanish island of Mallorca, and gained their name from the pork fat used to make them, saïm. The pastry traveled with the Spanish around the world, and throughout the centuries have found their way throughout the Spanish speaking world to Puerto Rico, and to the Philippines, where they are particularly popular. Ensaimadas, due to their richness, are popular to eat around Mardi Gras time, before all the sweets and butter are given up for Lent, so why not whip some up now? Check out this Spanish-style recipe from Delicious Days, or a traditional Cabell d’àngel pumpkin jam-filled version from the Gusty Gourmet. Jun-blog has a recipe for Filippino ensaimadas, which are miniature-sized and made with butter.
Calle Mayor, 2
A seemingly endless window display of beautiful pastries, cakes and candies first entices you in to La Mallorquina. Taking the opportunity to have a weekend brunch and try some new-to-us pastries in the process, we quickly entered. The bakery was packed to the gills, it looked like half of Madrid had the same idea for brunch! La Mallorquina’s bottom floor is a traditional bakery, with stand-up counters where patrons quickly enjoy coffee and a sweet. The full tea room is located upstairs with tile floors and wooden tables. “La Mallorquina” means the little woman from Mallorca, and is also the same name of a famous old cafe in Puerto Rico (no relation). The Madrid cafe was established in 1894, and looks like it hasn’t stopped churning out treats since.
La Mallorquina had a huge selection of baked goods, cakes, sandwiches and coffee drinks, and you can order anything in the tea room that is in the front counter. The selection was nearly overwhelming, but we went in with a few recommendations (the chocolate napolitana is a specialty, as are the rosquilla rolls). We were interested to see some of our favorite treats that are popular in Puerto Rico: mallorca and ensaimada. We went to the bakery around Christmas time, so Christmas favorites like Turron were also on offer.
We made our way up to the tea room and were lucky enough to find a spot. We picked an apple tart, a Napolitana and ensaimada. The ensaimada is a rich brioche roll, which was perfect with butter and the apple tart was fresh and had a sweet glaze. However, the chocolate Napolitana was definitely the star of the show, think a rich croissant filled with chocolate custard. Of course, to complement our brunch we had a cappuccino and some chocolate milk (we also hear the orange juice is excellent). Given the sheer variety, there were so many selections we wish we could have tried. The torrija, a Spanish take on french toast looks amazing. If you are looking for a classic Spanish pastry experience, this is definitely the place. Just be prepared for a crowd!
A quintessential Puerto Rican pastry, Pan de Mallorca is rich, eggy and sweet, not unlike a brioche. It is typically served as a breakfast or snack, and comes with a dusting of powdered sugar. The snack has almost iconic status in Puerto Rico – but can you make Mallorca at home that rivals bakeries like San Juan’s Bombonera? A visitor to the site recently asked if we knew of any recipes so we decide to rustle a few up. Meseidy at the Noshery has a good recipe, with lovely pictures to go along with the instructions. RecipeLink has an entire thread dedicated to people in search of a recipe like the Bombonera’s. While we ourselves have never tried making Mallorca by hand – it seems like a worthy future challenge. Do you have any Mallorca tips or recipes?
Pan de Mallorca by Dazed Effect
We ate our fair share of heavy, starchy meals in Puerto Rico, but the island has a lot to offer in the way of between-meal snacks.
On thing the eaters were really excited for in Puerto Rico was the famous piragua – while it is the Spanish-language word for canoe, it also describes a Puerto Rican snow cone. Little push-carts selling piraguas dot most urban squares in Puerto Rico. Inside the carts are tubs of shaved ice, and sometimes even giant cubes of ice that the piragua-makers shave to order. The piragua comes in a plastic cup (or if you are lucky, a little paper cone) and is then doused liberally with flavored syrup. Along with typical flavors like cherry, coconut and strawberry, you can get more unusual treats like tamarind, hibiscus and mango. Our favorite experience was sharing a tamarind piragua in the Parque de Bombas in Ponce. Perfectly refreshing for a hot day.
In terms of quick bites, we also managed to have some excellent breakfasts in Puerto Rico. A typical breakfast in San Juan consists of café con leche and a pastry, a model to which we subscribed. One of our favorite new dishes to accompany our morning coffee was the mallorca-a hot, buttered, fried pastry with a variety of fillings (ham and cheese, etc.). Think panini, but instead of bread there is pastry. Two of the better breakfast places we found for mallorca were Cafeteria Mallorca and La Bombonera. Both boast impressive pastry display cases and big selections of breakfast and lunch items including American favorites like pancakes and fruit salad. Bombonera is the more historic of the two, going all the way back to 1902 (with a vintage Cuban espresso machine to boot). However, we have to give a tip of the hat to Mallorca for friendlier and speedier service.
300 Calle San Francisco
259 Calle San Francisco