At this time of year, the weather is getting a little colder (just a little; we’re currently in the throes of the El Nino) so there are those of us who start craving for something heftier when mid-afternoon rolls around and it’s time for tea. This means crisps and soda are no longer de rigeur, but it isn’t cold enough just yet for stodgier fare like kakanin (rice cakes) or bowls of champorado (chocolate rice porridge) and congee. No: this time of year calls for things that fall in between: sandwiches, perhaps; cupcakes and biscuits/cookies; and, of course, ensaymada.
Inspired by the Mallorcan ensaimada (soft eggy dough dipped into melted lard [saim] or butter before being coiled and baked), this rich yeast bread is usually slathered on top with butter and sprinkled with sugar and/or grated cheese after baking. That, of course, goes for the regular version of ensaymada. Believe me when I say it can get pretty fancy.
The ensaymada espesyal varies depending on which bakeshop you go to. If you get one from Eurobake in Malolos, Bulacan, you get a version that’s more buttery than the regular kind and has sliced salted duck eggs on top to cut some of the sweetness with a salty contrast. Some of the larger bakeshop chains in urban areas offer ensaymadas that are filled with ham; more bespoke ones tout buns filled with gobbets of rich, dark Belgian chocolate or slathered with sweetly golden dulce de leche.
I prefer my ensaymada more on the savoury side rather than sweet, so my go-to bun is the one from Pan de Manila. Golden with butter and egg yolks, this roll has but a bare scattering of sugar on top and a regular snowdrift of shredded sharp Cheddar. While this is gloriously decadent on its own, it gains further glory by being popped into a toaster oven for three minutes for the outside to crisp up, the cheese toasty in spots and melting in others.
Rather than coffee, though, this is better eaten with a bottle of cold milk tea for a bit of afternoon bliss; a slight pocket in which to relax towards the end of a busy day.