Butter, sugar, cheese, and a dab of flour....what's not to like?
While a lot of folks of my generation (“Gen X”, “Martial Law babies” or whatever other tag is given to us born between 1965-1975) are finding their (fleeting) passion for running, swimming and biking or all three, I’m still at the height of my love-affair with food. Exercising to me is only a means to an end –I exercise so I can eat the food I want!
So it was with great anticipation that after almost 6 months in the making, my small circle of foodie friends finally set our ensaymada horizontal tasting. And we can't have ensaymada without its best partner: hot chocolate or tsokolate -- hmmm, imagine all that chocolate, milk, butter and sugar! So we needed to find a venue that serves good hot chocolate. Enter “Heavenly Chocolates,” that chocoholics’ wet dream (pun intended!) on Roces Avenue. It serves hot chocolates from single-source beans, a novel but very much welcome idea in Manila, and maybe for that reason alone, the rest of the group unanimously agreed to venture to far-off Q.C. even if Heavenly Chocolate doesn’t serve the Philipine-style tsokolate.
With the venue ID’d, the line-up of candidates had to be firmed up. In deciding what ensaymadas to taste, it became obvious that there are at least 2 camps of ensaymada lovers: those who like the old-style, airy bread-like consistency (the most famous of the commercially available ones is Hizon’s), and those who like the cakey, moist kind (like the Mary Grace and Muhlach/Super Melt type). But we all agreed that we must have each kind’s best or at least the best among those known AND available to us. Oh, and we limited ourselves to those that use quezo de bola and not cheddar cheese, and only plain, traditional ensaymadas will do -- no flavorings or other add-ons like ube (que horror!). With these criteria, Cyrene narrowed down the choices to 6 -- 3 from each style. And the contenders are:
1. Pastelleria Mallorca (from the culinary Gonzales family of Pampanga)
2. Imang Beatrice Rodriguez of Pampanga
3. Medina family from Makati by way of Pampanga (come to think of it, the heritage of all three old-style ensaymadas is from Pampanga, so we can call the old-style as Pampanga style too!)
1. Mrs. Cunanan (of Valle Verde)
These were the mini-sized ones, and not the regular-sized ones.
2. Tender Trap
These were voted the best-looking: petite and uniformly sized.
3. Nic’s Bakeshop
Thick Parmesan (they claim) cheese elicited yummy sighs
On the day of reckoning, Lanny and I arrived in Heavenly Chocolate before 3pm to get everything organized. Micky was already there with her surprise entry: a traditional panaderia ensaymada bread of our grandparents’ (or even great grandparents’) time, bought from Café Uno but with an up-to-the-minute twist: it was made of whole wheat.
Cafe Uno's entry: the dark horse. Its whole wheat flour gave it a darker color, nuttier taste, and more definitive texture. It was a pleasant surprise!
Though it didn’t fit in either of the 2 categories we had, we still included it so we can rate it against the others. And the ensaymada from Nic's Bakeshop was a non-conforming entry under the new-style category. It had parmesan cheese instead of quezo de bola! Hmmm…. should be disqualified. But since it was there, what the heck, we just served it anyway.
As with previous tastings, we tried to do a blind one as much as we could. So as the ensaymadas came, each batch was sliced and placed in identical platters and only I had the “codigo” though, of course, those who picked up a certain ensaymada knew which one he/she brought (hey, who said we had to do this scientifically and methodically? We just want to eat!).
While the ensaymadas were being prepped for service, discussions were ongoing on the origin of ensaymadas and how the Philippines’ version compares to those in Mallorca (the supposed birthplace of ensaymadas, if I heard and remembered right). Since I was busy with the slicing and secret marking, I didn’t hear much more of the conversation so will just hope someone in the group adds a comment below. Anyway … now to the tasting!
The old-style/Pampanga-style ensaymadas were placed on one side of our communal table, new-style ensaymadas on the other side, the surprise entry in the middle, and hot chocolates were ordered.
Who wouldn't be excited to taste these beauties?
Someone reminded the group about Coco’s theory on what I now call the “first-taste advantage.” But without any pretense of a scientific tasting (heck, we didn’t even have any score sheets this time), each taster just chose what he/she wanted to try first and the individual tastings were done randomly.
For the old-style entries, though they were almost identical in consistency, the tastes did vary. Some tasters found a faint odd taste in the Medina ensaymada. I read in some blog that quezo de bola is mixed in the batter and not just sprinkled on top so maybe that explains the “odd” taste. Unfortunately, CJ and Bom had to get the gargantuan Mallorca ensaymadas a day before so the ensaymadas had been refrigerated. I’ve had it fresh as well as 1-day old but without refrigeration and this batch did taste differently, mainly it wasn’t oozing with butter in the bottom as it usually does and it was a tad bit dry. But for me, its “bone structure” could still be detected and I still liked it very much. The others didn’t quite agree, and the top dog for the old-style entries was the Imang Beatrice ensaymada – soft, airy and buttery with just the right amount of saltiness from the quezo de bola on top.
As for the new-style ensaymadas, I do remember people liking the parmesan-topped ensaymada of Nic’s mainly because it had a strangely appealing thick parmesan cheese topping. But as expected, the Cunanan ensaymada was everyone’s favourite in this category, so much so that Sophie had several servings of the Cunanan ensaymada and clearly out-ate all the adults in the group (including Dad Chito and Mom Lorna).
Micky’s surprise entry was indeed a surprise, a delicious surprise! It may be the memories that the taste stirred up which made us all like it, most specially Kat who took home all the remaining Café Uno ensaymadas. It was the most bread-like in texture and taste but, pleasantly, didn’t have a margarine taste (I guess we’ve outgrown Star Margarine!) but still had the comforting solid sugar topping. And at P30 a pop, it was the best deal in the house.
At the end, the over-all choice of the group, voting viva voce: Cunanan ensaymada. The sweetness of the dough combined with the not-so-salty quezo de bola topping plus the subtle butter taste got the majority’s nod. Jenny even brought home the left-over Cunanan ensaymada for her hubby to taste-test for himself.
It’s too bad that I’m writing this more than 2 months since the tasting happened so I don’t recall what specific comments were made and who made them, which would have made this blog more informative and certainly entertaining. I guess this makes me a bad blogger, a late blogger or both. I do know now I can’t make a living out of this!
Where to find or order:
1. Pastelleria Mallorca – 18 Scout Fuentebella, Quezon City; 373-2789/373-2790
2. Imang Beatrice – Pamangan stall in Salcedo Market, Makati; 0917-5399861 (Des Rodriguez-Torres)
3. Medina – a no-name stall in Salcedo Market, on the inner row across the French food and fresh seafood row; 896-5523
4. Mrs. Cunanan - 44 Jasmin Street, Valle Verde 2; 631-0798
5. Tender Trap – 681 Lee St., Addition Hills, Mandaluyong; 722-9844
6. Nic’s (can't find the info right now)
7. Cafe Uno - 195-C Tomas Morato cor. Scout Funtabella St., Quezon City; 374-0774
Special thanks to Heavenly Chocolates @ Unit 1, Roces Centre, 127 Roces Avenue, Quezon City (Tel. No. 666-2208) and Cyrene for the pics!