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At Palma airport, sharp-eyed visitors may be perplexed by the mysterious hexagonal boxes many people are carrying. They’re not for odd-shaped hats, but ensaïmadas Mallorquina, the Balearic island’s unique pastry.
This spiral of dough is thought to date back to the 17th century when it was fiesta food, but its exact origins are unknown. Some people believe its coiled shaped was inspired by Moorish turbans, or that it has Jewish roots, influenced by the Sephardic pastry bulemas, even though it contains lard, or saïm, which gives it its name.
Imagine a brioche crossed with a croissant, and biting through a slightly crunchy exterior to layers of light, flaky pastry. Small ones are eaten for breakfast, often with a cup of chocolate so thick you could stand your spoon up in it, at cafes such as Palma institution Ca’n Joan de S’aigo . Supersized ones are made to order and can feed a family. It’s a popular treat after midnight mass on Christmas Eve and always a mainstay at festive markets.
The most traditional is the plain, sugar-sprinkled ensaïmada lisa. But they also come topped with apricot and apple, or stuffed with pumpkin jam, known as cabello de ángel or angel hair because of the strands that pop out of the pastry when it’s cut open.
Ever versatile, ensaïmada de sobrasada is a fusion of two of Mallorca’s most iconic products. Sobrassada, a spicy cured pork sausage made from native black Iberian pigs and a hefty hit of paprika, soaks into the sweet pastry, staining it orange and transforming it into a savoury treat.
Taste them at Forn Fondo, which has been in the Llull family for four generations and stocks 20 varieties, or Fornet de la Soca , an old-school panadería that specialises in authentic recipes and organic ingredients.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010