Honestly, that title was hilarious last night when we were deep into the shiraz. I didn’t think this post would entice as much if I titled it “Ensaimadas”, which is what I’m going to tell you about. The name doesn’t do justice to these slightly sweet, poufy buns of the very best kind, brushed in their innards with homemade lard made of pork fat. Seriously – don’t gag.
(Sorry to have skipped out on you for the weekend – I pulled out my laptop and camera yesterday to summon a post, but discovered I had brought the wrong camera-to-computer cord. So rather than talk about something I couldn’t show you in pictures, I thought I’d wait another day.)
We spent a chunk of the weekend (minus the driving part) on the top of a snowy mountain. W went skiing for the first time (us in our boots, coaxing him toward each other at the bottom of one of the more secluded hills). Beyond that, and watching the Olympics, and drinking vast quantities of wine, we had intense and excited conversations about lard. You can imagine the boys were relentless in their taunting that their wives’ weekend revolved around a side of pig fat. (“It’s Saturday night – what are you doing? We’re rendering pig fat!”) They nonetheless reaped the benefits of our efforts, and liked it.
But first, while I backtrack to the point where we decided to make lard our weekend activity, I should backtrack further. There’s no point being elusive about the friend I’ve come to visit; you may have noticed here here, subtly popping up now and then in the comments. Sue is just an excellent person. The shyest two at our small Junior High school, we were thrust together by teachers playing matchmaker for the ones who just didn’t seem to have much in the way of social standing. It was a good call. We spent our formative years listening to U2 and the Clash, wearing tights and slingbacks, dating British boys and pouring mickeys of rye into Super Big Gulps. And speaking of boys -we met Mike at her big sister’s apartment, and it was up for debate over the course of that first year which one of us would go around with him (I told her she could have him).
Sue had always wanted to be a barnstormer, eventually got her pilot’s license, and snatched herself up her very own pilot in the process. About a decade ago they produced a baby girl (who when she was brand-new looked like a Maurice Sendak drawing – and I mean that in the cutest possible way) and soon after relocated to the top of a mountain in BC, very close to exceptional skiing, he being an ex-speed skier in New Zealand and still thoroughly obsessed with the sport.
Which is all to say I WISH SHE LIVED CLOSER. (No pressure if you’re reading this, Sue.) But as is so often the case I probably see her as often as my Calgary friends, she having access to cheap flights via her most excellent West Jet pilot husband, and conveniently living halfway between Calgary and Tofino. And when we do see each other, it’s good quality time spent.
Who am I kidding? I still wish she lived closer. I think the old adage absence makes the heart grow fonder only applies to romantic situations in which logistics prevent you from being bothered by the facts of domestic life – socks on the floor, annoying bathroom habits and the like – and the, ahem, benefits never stagnate.
There are two things you should know about Sue: 1) she’s an unbelievable cook, and appreciates food in all the same ways I do (when we see each other we invariably make fruitcakes or jam or something, and if not the conversation is very food-centric, which actually works out just fine because the boys are always busy discussing planes), and 2) she’s a brilliant writer. She reads as much as I always intend to. Even her emails are good reads. She’s also very smart – she was the one getting marks in the high 90s in physics and math while math was the bane of my teenage existence and I Forest Gumped my way through English having not actually read Hamlet (but still managed an 83%!). I keep telling her she should combine the two somehow and I don’t know – write a blog or something – but so far she hasn’t, so I thought I’d swoop in and steal her for myself, and ask if she might like to do an occasional guest post here, just to get her toes wet. (I suppose that wasn’t the very best analogy for a food blog, but you get the gist.)
Anyway. We’re equally enthusiastic about food and its preparation, so there’s almost always a cooking project on the table – something we likely wouldn’t bother with if the other wasn’t there to hold our hand and share in the revelry. A couple weeks ago, when it was confirmed we’d be coming to visit, she sent an email saying oh goody – and let’s make these! Using lard we make from scratch! Which I admit is something I’d considered doing in the past, but only briefly – the stigma of pure white pig fat acts as effective deterrent.
But here’s something I didn’t know: lard made from pure rendered pig fat is lower in saturated fat than butter. For real! Although the thought, I concede, is a little gag-inducing, it was a big selling point to go ahead and make some. And it does fall into the whole food category – unprocessed, no additives – I know exactly what’s in it. I’d rather eat pork fat from a farm in BC than most of what comes in a tub and is labeled as some sort of butterlike spread.
So as soon as I walked in the door on Saturday afternoon and dropped my suitcase, Sue presented a slice of pig – a giant slab of fat and skin, which we promptly set about chopping – or rather sawing – to set in a cast iron pot and melt in the oven. Our blades didn’t slide through it like butter, as we expected it to – it was more like chewing through leather – we took turns and enlisted Mike’s help to get it into little pieces to put in the pot. (Note to self: get the butcher to grind it next time. Or score and throw in with skin intact, to let the fat melt off? Also: try it in the slow cooker.)
It sat on the stove for awhile before we popped it in the oven at its lowest temperature when it came time to go to bed. (The idea is that you melt the fat without browning it – adding a bit of water helps prevent this, and cooks off as the fat is rendered.) Poor Lola sat in waiting, hoping some pork bits would spontaneously jump from the pot. They didn’t.
In the morning we poured the fat off of the clumpy, sticky bits of skin (is this what’s supposed to turn into cracklings? they never did) and chilled it. It came out solid but spreadable, pure white and fairly benign in flavour. It had an appealing texture – creamy and soft, like whipped Vaseline – softer than butter – evidence of its lower saturated fat content.
There was much hoopla and speculation over the potential pastry and biscuits it might produce. From the two of us, anyway – everyone else in the house looked up from speed skating and moguls (yay Bilodeau!) and rolled their eyes. But I bet if we had made biscuits and pie, they’d have eaten them. It’s probably a good thing we left early enough this morning to not have time for more lard-baking. And can you imagine the roasted potatoes?
We made the dough using fresh yeast (half a pound for a little over a dollar, and it worked swimmingly) – it’s a lovely, soft dough made with eggs and olive oil, rolled it out, brushed it with the lard, rolled and coiled each piece and set them aside to rise as we went to collect the kids from craft night in the village.
We made the mistake of baking them before dinner, and sprinkled them as they emerged from the oven with icing sugar – they were light, soft and ethereal. But oh the possibilities! For this dough (wonderfully light and slightly sweet, with no butter) as well as their shape – I’m dying to make a cinnamon bun in this form; the sugar and cinnamon and nuts enclosed in its spiral and then coiled like a snail shell; in fact, the next time I make a roll of cinnamon buns rather than cut them into rounds I’ll try coiling the lot, baking it and then slicing into wedges. They were just so pretty – and I imagine doing them this way would prevent overly sticky fingers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, unless you’re short on napkins.
Besides cinnamon, we fantasized various cheese blends with garlic, pesto and prosciutto, mincemeat. The very best kind of recipe is that which begets even more creations.
I’m keeping the weight measurements here, because Sue is devoted to her kitchen scale and used that (seriously easy – you plunk the bowl on the scale and add ingredients by weight instead of needing measuring cups and spoons) – but I’ll give you the straight-up measurements too. Adapted from Delicious Days, inspired by Eliza’s recipe.
3 2/3 cups (500 g) all-purpose flour (plus more as needed)
1/3 cup (75 g) sugar
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
2 Tbsp. dry yeast (or 40 g fresh)
1 scant cup (about 7/8 cup – you may need the whole cup) lukewarm milk
2 medium eggs
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup (about 100 g)soft pork lard or butter
icing sugar, for dusting
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Make a hollow in the middle, crumble in the yeast and a pinch of sugar and pour over enough of the milk to cover; stir just the yeast and milk once or twice, then cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let rest for about 15 minutes or until the surface of the yeast milk looks bubbly.
Add the rest of the ingredients (the remaining milk, eggs and olive oil) stir until a dough forms and then knead on a lightly floured countertop for a few minutes, until smooth. (The dough was a little sticky; don’t worry about it.) Put it back in the bowl, cover and let rest in a warm place for 30 minutes to an hour, or until doubled in size.
Punch it down softly, then flip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and sprinkle with a little flour. Cut the dough into 10 equally sized portions and form into balls, then let them rest on a baking sheet, covered with a towel, for another 30 minutes.
Flatten each ball of dough and roll out into a thin circle and brush with the softened pork lard. Roll each up loosely, then coil so that it resembles a snail’s shell; keeping it a bit loose as the dough will rise further. Place about five ensaimadas on each baking sheet, making sure to leave enough space between them. Lightly brush with lard (if you like – we missed this step) and cover up again. Let them rise for 1-4 hours, until nice and poufy; or if you want them for the next morning, refrigerate overnight, which will slow the rise.
Preheat the oven to 390° F and bake for 14 to 16 minutes, or until golden. Dust with icing sugar and eat while still warm. Makes 10 ensaimadas.