Monday, January 16, 2012


This is part of an ongoing series, "Tinapay," about local breads found in street corner bakeries across the Philippines.

To me, ensaymada is to tsokolate as the pestle is to the mortar, the chef's knife to the chopping board, salt is to pepper. One's function ceases to exist without the other.

My mother disagreed. A heavenly breakfast to her is a cup of hot tsokolate with suman and ripe mangoes. But I'm a generation down the line, and while I adore suman, I prefer to be chewing on something more insubstantial while imbibing my favorite hot drink. It was my father who introduced me to baked goods and pastries, after all.

I had wanted to write about ensayamada the moment I started this blog. Like all Filipinos, and citizens of other former Hispanic colonies, I am passionate about the pastry. How can anyone not be, when ensaymada in various shapes, sizes, textures, degrees of sweetness, and whether cheesed, buttered, or sugared, exist in every street corner across the country, from the small-time home-town bakery to the most expensive bakeshops in hotels and specialty restaurants?

I have seen balikbayans' eyes glaze over upon seeing a plate of ensaymada. My uncle, after an unbelievable 24-hour flight from New York, declined every sort of food I could think of to offer, but he suddenly brightened up after I said the magic word, and accepted a warmed piece.

When I was growing up I was content to take nice little nibbles on our hometown bakery ensaymada. It had a coiled, slightly underbaked dough, yellow with eggs, slathered on top with margarine, and pressed with sugar. But I went to Metro Manila for college, and I encountered ensaymada made like fairy wings - fluffy and soft, airy but buttery. And topped with grated queso de bola! But there were hometown-style ensaymadas, too, which I also found in the other cities and towns across the Philippines.

Over the years I had been compiling in my mind my "best ensaymada list." But every year I revise it. Some, like the one served at Seattle's Best when the chain first opened in the country, have disappeared. Others have deteriorated in quality. My ultimate best used to be that of Merced's, then Mary Grace Kitchen's.

Because I have already written about my chocolate drinks favorites, I'm going to proceed with my ensaymada list, as well, this year. I won't claim that these are the best in town. Rather these are my favorite ensaymada from all the ensaymadas I have come across.

The list leans towards Metro Manila and northern Luzon because of proximity, and provide a sample of the wide spectrum an ensaymada can be. They are all worth - actually more than - what you pay for, too. I hope to add more to the list as I encounter ones that imbed themselves in my memory.

One thing is for sure - all ensaymada get better with a short stint in the toaster, eaten hot with all the melted cheese and butter. And with a hot chocolate drink, of course. These ensaymada, which I never get tired of eating, are all these - they're fluffy beyond belief but still substantial. Not one sports a crown of cream - just butter and cheese for me, and maybe some sugar. And baked right, not toasted nor underdone.

  • Hizon's (top photo) - one of the most expensive, and among the biggest ensaymadas commercially available. Everything about it - the fluffiness, just the right amount of cheese and butter, not so sweet, and how it toasts well, is what I like in an ensaymada. I like both the cheddar and queso de bola variants.

  • Hizon's Cakes & Pastries Facebook Php90-95 small, Php115-120 large

  • Cara Mia's Parmesan Ensaymada - this was an absolute favorite, a unique ensaymada topped with cheese beloved in Italy. It went out of production sometime in 2010, but I was rejoiced to find it's back - in limited quantities - since Christmas of last year.

    The new version is soft - so soft it wasn't recognized as ensaymada by my kids. I brought home a box, and noticed the following day that it was gone. I asked where the ensaymada was, and the kids replied what ensaymada? I thought they were feigning innocence that stemmed from guilt because they had consumed the entire box. After much hemming and hawing from me, their eyes suddenly lighted up and they exclaimed ah, that? Was that ensaymada? We thought they were mamon!

  • Cara Mia Gelateria by Amici

    • Pinkie's - at Php10 per piece, the best value for money ensaymada. The quality and taste are largely disproportionate to its tag price, and I always get the feeling that I've gotten more than what I paid for when I buy dozens of this (don't we all love feeling that way?). With the hometown, rustic feel, not airy and fluffy, but substantial and bready, yet so soft. The mamon is excellent, too.

    • Pinkie's Perez Boulevard, Dagupan City, Pangasinan beside Victory Liner/Five Star bus terminals

    • NE's Ube Ensaymada - ensaymadas have evolved to be in different variants, mostly ube, also monggo, but also in chocolate, even with bacon and ham. NE, a roadside restaurant in Cabanatuan City offering specialties of Nueva Ecija, makes an impossibly soft ensaymada platter coiled with ube dough. The ube dough tastes like it's been made with real ube, and the purple yam pairs so well with the rest of the buttery dough sprinkled with thin slivers of cheddar cheese.

    • NE Cakes & Restaurant Maharlika Highway & Lakewood City Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija Facebook
    • Chef Laudico's BFAST QDB Ensaymada - small but dense and not so fluffy, this is almost like bread, but still soft and buttery. Order with it the Belgian hot chocolate.

      I almost missed this - it looked hard as stone sitting there in BFAST's display case. But it was offered one time in the lunch and dinner buffet, and I tried a quarter. I couldn't help but demolish the entire tray of it that day, and the waiters remember me for it.

      Don't worry about the sparse sprinkling of cheese on top. The rest had been tucked inside.

    • Chef Laudico's BFAST Ayala Triangle Gardens Makati City Php98 per piece
    • Good Shepherd - how can you resist that mound of cheese? And the soft, chewy crumb? Not so eggy and buttery, but fluffy enough, soft enough, and sweet enough. It's serenity nibbling on this ensaymada in the cold highland atmosphere, while the dewy mountains shimmer in the distance.

    • Mountain Maid Training Center Good Shepherd Convent 15 Gibraltar Road, Baguio City Website Php40 per piece
      • Pan de Manila's Special Ensaymada - topped with flakes of the now ubiquitous queso de bola (here almost melted after toasting), this is so cheesy it is almost savory. I find I am wanting a little sugar while eating this, because I am so used to a sweet dimension to my ensaymada. It pairs well with pasta, and even stews and roasts. Large beyond usual, and siksik. At Php40 each.

      • Pan de Manila Website
    The Tinapay Series


    i♥pinkc00kies said...

    wow i like that ube ensaymada. too bad it's too far :(

    Kai said...

    yes, I only get to have it very rarely