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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

Adapted from Spain Recipes.

  • 4 1/2 cups flour

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 1 tsp. salt

  • 4 tsp. active dry yeast

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 cup warm milk

  • 13 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

  • orange blossom honey


Step 1

Combine the first four ingredients in a large bowl.

Step 2

Cover with a kitchen towel, and allow the dough to rise for 1 hour.

Step 3

Roll the dough like a snake, and coil in the shape of a turban.

Step 4

Place the dough on an oiled baking sheet.

Step 5

Cover with a clean kitchen towel, and allow to rise overnight.

Step 6

Heat extra virgin olive oil in a heavy pan.

Step 7

Fry the ensaïmada until it is golden-brown on both sides.

Step 8

Drizzle with warm orange blossom honey.

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