It wasn’t until I was engaged and going to meet my husband’s family, for the first time, that I had the privilege of visiting my mother’s homeland. It was on that inaugural visit to the island of Puerto Rico that I first tried a mallorca, which made me fall in love with the bread; the scenery and the fact that I was on a beautiful, tropical island didn’t hurt either.
My Soldier was born and raised in Puerto Rico; my mother was born on the island, but her family migrated to New York City in 1955, when she was only 5 years old. Because my mother’s last memory of Puerto Rico was of leaving the island with her mother, who later died a painful death, she never wanted to return unless it was to rebury her mother in the land she longed for. Needless to say, my siblings and I were never afforded the opportunity to visit our family’s island home. When the time finally came for me to go to Puerto Rico, I remember thinking amongst the applause of my fellow plane travelers, “Wow! This is where my ancestors lived.” I stepped off the plane and had to stop myself from dropping down to kiss the ground and embarrassing Hector. I actually don’t know if I really would’ve done it- you know, germs and all- but, I would’ve faked it real good.
On that trip, Hector tried his best to be a well-informed tour guide. Like most young adults, he hadn’t really thought about needing to come back home and escort someone around with informative facts. Our tour went a little like:
“Ooooh!! What’s that?!”
“Oh! That’s Plaza del Mercado.”
“What’s in there?”
“Stuff to buy.”
Not the best tour guide in the business, but he tried. I guess. I suppose it’s hard to see your hometown as a tourist spot.
I don’t have the literary prowess to articulate the emotions that filled me as Hector drove us around the island in his Tia Ada’s Suzuki. I just remember feeling overwhelmed at the sight of the ocean, and as we drove by brightly colored shanties framed by red mangroves and flamboyan trees. I had, up until that point, never fully grasped the diversity that is displayed within the Puerto Rican people. I cherished seeing the heavy African influence so predominent in Loíza; then entering Old San Juan, just down the road, and looking into the faces of the descendants of the Spanish conquistadores. Making a special trip to the Centro Ceremonial Indígena Tibes in Ponce was a must, as I needed to learn more about the ancient indigenous tribe of the island, who’s bloodline also pulsed through my veins.
The trip was not only an opportunity to meet my soon-to-be in-laws, but a homecoming of sorts. It was a trip filled with enlightenment, not only about my family, but about my culture and, in it, the food that creates our society.
And food was not something Hector was incapable of showing me with enthusiasm. Every spot he loved growing up was now revealed to me with excitement and anticipation. The two most beloved institutions for my Soldier were the panaderia and the kioskos on the road to Loíza. Every morning we made a stop at the local panaderia (Las Villas). Every. Single. Morning. And every day, I would get something different. Sure, I was familiar with the panaderias we had in the Bronx and in Brooklyn, but this was different! These were breads and pastries made in the motherland! I had to try them to say I did it, you know? I took my job seriously and I do believe I sampled every thing that was on offer.
Between the quesitos and the mallorca…I was ruint. Not ruined. Ruint (had to make up a whole new word for it). Quesitos are, without a doubt, my most favorite pastry in the world. I’ve dedicated a few pages to it in my cookbook; they’re that good. Whereas mallorca wins the prize for favorite sweet bread. Rightfully so, mallorca multitasks as breakfast, lunch or a snack. Versatile doesn’t even begin to describe it.
The mallorca or ensaïmada as it’s referred to in Spain, where it originated, is a pillowy, sweet, enriched yeast bread. The only difference between the two are the use of butter in the former, and lard (or saïm from whence the name is derived) in the latter. In Puerto Rico, and I’m sure in the Dominican Republic and wherever else they are sold in the Caribbean, mallorca sometimes becomes the foundation of a sweeter version of a ham and cheese sandwich; something that one simply must try before meeting their maker. From what I’ve been told by my Filipino friends, their version of ensaïmada is sometimes topped with cheese. Other versions around the world are filled with almond paste, chocolate or a variety of other yummies.
Me? I’m a purest, so I enjoy the unadulterated taste of the sweet, airy buns, without any fluff. My only complaint about the originals I was introduced to in PR were that they weren’t filling enough. After eating one, I’d eat two…then threefourfive…you feel me? My goal was to create a mallorca that wouldn’t need an excessive amount of confectioner’s sugar dusted atop (messy, much?) to make it sweet enough, but also one that was substantial enough to fill you up after eating just one…OKAY!! Maybe two. But, just two! No more than three at the most. Three. That’s all. So, I set about creating my perfect version of a mallorca; this is it.
My mallorca, like the original version, is an enriched yeast dough. For many people they can be slightly frustrating to work with because although doughs which contain high amounts of fat are utterly divine, that same high percentage of fat is the very thing that creates one of the most discouraging things about working with them: they’re sensitive to high heat so they take time and patience to work with. I like to encourage my friends (you) to try recipes like this because the final outcome makes the effort so worthwhile; and because I know you can do it. I’ll walk you through the tricks to make the process less harried and exasperating.
Every bite that I take of these mallorca take me back to my first trip to the land of my forefathers. I hope they will evoke a great memory for you to reflect back on after you’ve enjoyed your first bite as well.
Speaking of memories…ultimately, Hector and I took my mother (whom you’ll remember left Puerto Rico at the age of five) back to Puerto Rico. Hector’s precious Abuela Leria was terminally ill, so we returned to the island to let her know how much she meant to us and to receive her blessing. Mami was living with us and we took her on the journey to her homeland. She celebrated her 55th birthday in Puerto Rico. While everyone on the plane broke out in applause when the plane touched down at Luis Muñoz Marín airport (you have to make the trip to understand), Mami cried. She never thought she’d see her beloved island again. During the trip, Mami mustered up the energy (she was suffering from advanced stages of Multiple Sclerosis) to make the trip to her aunt’s home. They hadn’t seen each other in over 40 years and the first time they laid eyes on each other, I ’bout died. This picture says a thousand words (if not more)…
Oh, my heart.
Mallorca: Sense & Edibility's Way
A rich, buttery sweet bread perfect for beginning the day.
1 cup whole milk, scalded and cooled
2 1/2 tsp instant dry yeast
3 1/2 cup bread flour
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp cold water
1/4 cup water
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup granulated sugar
confectioner's sugar, for dusting
In a medium size mixing bowl, combine the milk, yeast and 1 3/4 cups of the bread flour.
Stir to create a thick dough.
Cover and allow to ferment for 1 hour, or until double in size.
Towards the end of the fermentation time, begin creaming together the butter, sugar and salt in a mixer's bowl using the paddle attachment. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition.
After the final addition and scrape down of the bowl (the mixture will look like it has curdled, but that's good), add the sponge. Mix for about 4 minutes to fully incorporate it into the dough. Switch to the dough hook and add the remaining flour. Mix to incorporate well and create a well mixed dough (about 4 minutes).
Lightly spray a sheet pan with baking spray or grease it with butter (don't use flour as the moisture in the fridge may cause it clump and stick to the dough). Scoop the dough onto the sheet pan and spread into an even layer, covering the sheet pan with the dough, using your hands. Cover with plastic wrap and retard in the refrigerator for at least one hour, or up to 24 hours.
Remove the sheet pan from the refrigerator and turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a rectangle (approx 24" x 16" big). Using a pizza cutter or a sharp knife, cut the dough into 2" wide strips (you should get 12 or 13 individual strips).
Using a floured bench scraper or spatula, if needed, loosen an individual strip of dough from the counter and begin rolling it into a cinnamon roll shaped bun. Place your mallorca onto the sheet pan and continue rolling each strip in the same way.
*The reason for not rolling the entire sheet of dough and slicing as you would regular cinnamon rolls is you want to maintain the snail shape of the dough in the final product. Because the dough is so enriched, the structure is more delicate and slicing individual rolls will "squish" (technical term) the surface of the dough*
Create an egg wash by whisking together the egg yolk and the water. Brush the tops of the mallorcas with the egg wash and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Allow the dough to ferment in a warm, draft-free area of the kitchen, or a cold oven, for 45 minutes. Preheat your oven to 375°F 15 minutes prior to the end of fermentation (remember to remove your mallorcas from the oven if that was your proofing box!).
Brush an additional time with egg wash and bake for 20 minutes or until the mallorcas are a golden brown.
While your mallorcas are baking, make your clear glaze by combining the water, corn syrup and sugar in a small saucepan. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes or until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside for later use.
Remove the pan of mallorcas from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack.
Brush the mallorcas lightly with the clear glaze (if the glaze has thickened while it has been sitting reheat it, or thin it with warm water). If you prefer a sweeter mallorca, brush it with a second layer of glaze. allow to cool completely before sprinkling them with your desired amount of confectioner's sugar.
Enjoy immediately or save for up to two days, covered at room temperature.
Cuisine Latin American