Majorca's windmills, its ancient waterways and springs are founded on structures originally created by the Moors, developments which transformed the agriculture and economy of the island. The Spanish reconquest in the thirteenth century ushered in a fierce campaign to obliterate all traces of the former occupiers, though there have been some survivors: you can still visit the old hammam / banys in Palma, dating back to the tenth century, with its characteristic domed roof and Moorish arches.
The ensaimada, especially the version filled with caramelised fruit or pumpkin, has its origins in Islamic culture of that period, evident both in its flavours and etymologically: the Catalan word, saim, is based on the Arabic word (shahim) for lard, a key ingredient. An archaic meaning of the English word enseamed is "filled or covered with fat" which is pretty accurate overview of this distinctive and ubiquitous Mallorcan treat with its flaky crumb and soft interior.
Although dried yeast is used in modern Mallorcan cookery, the method includes long periods of fermentation, with the creation of something like the Italian biga to start the leavening process. This too would seem to suggest a reference back to a past when sourdough would have been the traditional raising agent.
375g white bread flour
150ml sourdough starter (100% hydration)
120g granulated sugar
a pinch sea salt
2 large eggs
100g lard (softened for easy spreading)
+ extra flour for working the dough
+ icing sugar for decoration.
In a bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, salt and sourdough starter, kneading until the sticky dough forms a rough ball. One at a time, break the eggs into the dough and continue kneading until fully incorporated and the dough becomes smooth. Leave in a warm place for several hours until doubled in size.
Flour a working surface; turn out the dough and roll it, sprinkling with flour as necessary, into a square of approx. 30x30cm. Then smear 75g of the lard over the dough's surface, before folding the dough in thirds, like a letter, and rolling it out back into its square shape.
Roll up the dough, to create a thickish rope. Cut the dough into "wheels" about 2.5cm thick. Take each piece and, using both hands, roll it out into a thin rope, about 30 - 40cm long. This takes a bit of practice! Then coil each piece into the traditional ensaimada shape, as in the picture below, tucking the outside end underneath the coils. Place the ensaimadas onto a floured baking sheet, and brush them liberally with the remaining melted lard. Cover, and leave to rise for at least two hours.
Heat the oven to 180C and bake the ensaimadas until brown, about 15 minutes. Leave them to cool for 15 minutes, then place on a rack dusting liberally with sieved icing sugar.
Eat warm or cold. The Mallorcans dip them in coffee as a mid-morning snack, or eat them on the go.