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A Crypto-Jewish Honey Cake

The secret Jews of Mallorca have been celebrating Rosh Hashanah surreptitiously with a cake called an 'ensaïmada' since 1492. The word 'saïm', derived from the Arabic 'shahim' (fat), means “lard” in Catalan.

Jews arrived in the Balearic Islands more than 1,000 years ago. They imported the tradition of baking sweet rolled yeast cakes, called 'bulemas', from the Middle East. Traditionally, bulemas were made with sheep's milk butter. After 1492, butter was replaced by lard and the Crypto-Jews of Majorca renamed the bulema. They called it ensaïmada, which means, “with lard”.


Ensaïmadas are traditionally served at Carnival, baked with pork and candied pumpkin. The most intriguing thing is that the oldest cookbooks in Mallorca, from the 14th century, contain a recipe for ensaïmadas in which the lard was replaced by extra virgin olive oil. They were fried and sprinkled with orange blossom honey. These ensaïmadas were served during the celebration of 'Tots Sants', All Saints' Day, on November 1st. As the Jewish lunar calendar does not have a fixed date for Rosh Hashanah, this date is very approximate, giving the secretive Jews of Mallorca perfect cover to celebrate.


Olive Oil – Honey Ensaïmada

Ingredients for dough

  • 4 ½ cups high gluten flour

  • ½ tsp. fresh yeast

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 egg yolk

  • ¾ cup sugar

  • ¼ cup water

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil

  • 1 ½ tsp. salt

  • 1 cup butter

Ingredients for honey syrup

  • 1 cup water

  • 1 cup honey


Prepare the dough

Mix ½ cup flour, ¼ cup water, ½ tsp. fresh yeast in a bowl.

Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and place in a warm place to ferment overnight.

The next morning, mix all the remaining ingredients except for the butter in a large bowl.

Knead the dough for 45 to 60 minutes (you can do this part with a mixer).

Allow the dough to rise for 1 hour.

Divide the dough into 2.

Cover 1 piece of dough with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out.

Melt the butter.

Knead the dough a little and spread half of the butter over it.

Stretch out the dough with your fingers as thinly as possible.

Roll the dough up like a snake, and then coil it.

Place it on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.

Cover the ensaimada with saran wrap and let it rise again overnight.

Prepare the honey syrup

Heat the water and honey in a pot.

When the honey and water are mixed well, turn off the flame.

Fry the ensaimada

Heat some olive oil to 360 degrees Fahrenheit in a large, deep, heavy pot.

Carefully place your ensaimada in the oil.

When one side is golden-brown, turn it over to cook the other side.

Carefully remove the ensaimada from the pot.

Place on a platter lined with paper towels.

Drizzle with some honey syrup.

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