Ensaymada, the Pinoy brioche

Today, I’m going to share with you one of the best things I’ve learned in baking school: How to make ensaymada [en-say-mah-dah].

I’ve been making all sorts of Filipino bread since the beginning of the class. But it was ensaymada, the Filipino version of brioche, that really captured my heart. I can still remember the first time I made ensaymadas, seeing those wonderful pastries looking so perfect fresh out of the oven. I told myself, “My, my, I am not only cute but I am also a good baker!”

Making ensaymada always excites me. So much so, I can’t help smiling and feeling proud each time I bake one. It feels like an accomplishment knowing that I created something so beautiful and truly close to home. Introduced to the Philippines by the Spanish during colonial times, ensaymada is one of the favorite Filipino meriendas today. Each bakeshop in the Philippines offers their own version of this classic delicacy, with flavors including ube, cheese, potatoes to name a few. That’s how popular ensaymada is in the Philippines. Old-timers remember them as a flat concoction –not the puffed up, muffin-like versions of today.

The traditional ensaymada was merely dusted with granulated sugar just like the Majorcan version. Grated queso de bola was added before World War II (legend has it that Pampanguenos were already using cheese even way before). The combination of salted duck egg and cheese were introduced later on in Malolos, Bulacan.

Personally, I love my ensaymadas brushed with butter or margarine and sprinkled with sugar. I like them fluffy and soft, which is how they should be. The butter should not overpower the tastes of the margarine, sugar and cheese toppings. There should be a harmony of flavors.

Did I mention that ensaymada is a popular pasalubong, a Filipino tradition wherein the traveling relative brings some food or non-food items to loved
ones as a homecoming gift of sort?

In my case, it always feels like December whenever I get a box of ensaymadas from the Philippines. When I was young, my aunt used to give us these treats whenever she visits in Christmas. Sweet memories.

Here’s how to bake these little goodies:

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water, 100 to 110 degrees C
6 tablespoons sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour (sifted)
1/2 teaspoon salt
170 g butter, at room temperature, plus more melted butter for brushing the rolls
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup evaporated milk
Vegetable oil for greasing the proofing bowl, baking sheet, and brioche molds

1Dissolve the yeast in warm water. To proof yeast, add one tablespoon sugar and let stand for 10 minutes. The mixture should foam up and double in volume. This means the yeast is active. If the yeast will not foam up and double in volume, discard and repeat the process.

2Sift flour and add salt. Add about 1/2 cup of flour to the yeast mixture and set it aside.

3Place butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat the mixture on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Do this for about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

4Turn the speed to medium-low, adding the egg yolks, one at a time and beating them well after each addition. Add the flour-salt mixture alternately with milk. Mix well. Finally, add the yeast mixture. Again, mix it well.

5Replace the paddle with a kneading hook and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Alternatively, knead the dough by hand on a clean surface dusted with flour until it is smooth and elastic.

6Let the dough rest in a bowl greased lightly with canola oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until it doubles in size. Leave for about one to two hours. Meanwhile, brush 12 brioche molds lightly with oil.

7Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide into twelve equal portions.

8Roll out each piece into a thin sheet, brush with melted butter. Coil this into a spiral-shaped bun. Either put the coiled dough flat on greased baking sheets or in greased fluted brioche molds.

9Set the dough aside to rise a second time, until it doubles in size. Leave for about an hour. When the dough is almost done, preheat the oven to 175°C.

10Bake until the crust turns golden brown. This could take about 12-18 minutes depending on the oven. Brush the baked ensaymadas with melted butter/margarine and dust generously with sugar and top with grated cheese.

Storage: The rolls will not spoil for about two days at room temperature. Refrigerate to make them last for up to five days and simply reheat before
eating if desired. Remember that bread is best eaten fresh.

TIP
Dissolve yeast in warm water with a temperature anywhere between 100-110°F (38°C). Proof yeast, add one tablespoon sugar and let stand for
10 minutes. If the mixture doubles in volume then the yeast is active. It is very important to make sure that the yeast is active. Water that is too hot kills the yeast so make sure that the water temperature is around 100-110°F (38°C). Remember also to be patient. Let the bread rise and you will be rewarded. Trust me.

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Published July 2013 The FIlipino Expat Magazine

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