Easter treats

Easter treats.

10-04-2020MDB files

When I first came to Majorca and saw housewives leaving the bakery with five-kilo bags of flour just before Easter weekend, I always felt rather sorry for them: they would be spending a good part of the holidays in the kitchen making Easter pastries as well as roasting lamb and doing other seasonal treats.

But my vision of a solitary woman in the kitchen sieving all that flour, rubbing in lard, mixing other ingredients and then preparing all kinds of savoury and sweet fillings, couldn’t have been more mistaken.

In traditional homes all over the island, a morning and afternoon can be spent making Easter pastries such as lamb empanadas, robiols and crespells, but it’s never the work of one person — it’s very much a family chore. Except that there’s no element of domestic drudgery involved because the work gets turned into a joyful occasion with relatives and close friends turning up to pitch in and help. It’s very much a case of many hands making light work.

Even at a professional level, empanadas (lamb-filled pies eaten all year round but especially at Easter) are made in the same laid-back way. On Thursday afternoons at the Pastelería Pomar in Campos, one of the island’s best pastry shops, I used to see half a dozen women sitting round a big table in the back shop and making the empanadas for the weekend.

Making empanadas

As they shaped the empanadas, filled them with diced lamb, little bits of bacon and snippets of sobrasada before putting the lid on, they were chatting, joking, laughing and generally having a great time. They also turned a weekly task into a pleasant way of passing the time — and they got paid for it.

Even Majorcan children from as early as four are encouraged to take part in making Easter pastries and they are shown how to knead the dough, get it to the right thickness with a rolling pin and then how to shape it.

The children mark the crespells and robiols they have formed and make some kind of mark so they will recognise their own work when it comes out of the oven. In one family I know, the children make their initials with some of the dough and paste it on top. Designer pastries at no extra cost.

But there will be no family bake-ins this week. The coronavirus lockdown has put the damper on the usual Easter festivities and the frolics round the pastry-making table: each section of the family will be doing its own thing and, I suppose, exchanging pictures and videos on smartphones.

My nearest Eroski supermarket has a section of the floor space piled high with everything that’s needed for the sweet side of a Majorcan Easter: bags of flour for the empanadas, the crespells and the robiols, various jams for filling the robiols plus a selection of takeaway robiols with a variety of fillings including crema, requesón, cabello de ángel and chocolate.

You’ll also see some chocolate Easter eggs although they are not a traditional part of Spanish Easter goodies. Majorca’s favourite sweet pastries for Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are the crespells and the robiols which are on sale throughout the year but which have traditional associations with Easter.

The robiols were at one time a speciality that was baked only for Easter weekend but, like other seasonal treats, they became so popular that bakeries started to make them all year round.

The crespells are shortcrust biscuits that date from the 14th century and were almost certainly of Jewish origin. The original shape was the Star of David but they were eventually baked in a wide variety of forms. Apart from stars you get hearts, crescents and diamonds and, as a special treat for young children, they are sometimes shaped like fish or animals. The bear is a popular one.

This Easter biscuit is so easy to make that first year primary school children do them in class during the days before Easter. That won’t happen this year because of the virus lockdown but I’m sure parents all over the island have the baking of Easter pastries on the agenda to give the young ones something interesting to do.

They are a fun biscuit to make. Children love kneading the dough, rolling it out and cutting into it with the animal-shaped moulds. You can buy these moulds at hardware shops and some of the bigger supermarkets. They are usually available on the fifth floor of El Corte Inglés in the Avenidas.

The robiol is somewhat similar to the jam turnover I remember from my childhood in Glasgow. The favourite jam filling here is apricot, partly because Majorcan apricots are plentiful and very good. The fillings can also be a thickish custard (crema), a kind of cheesecake mixture (requesón) as well as a thick pumpkin jam called ‘cabello de ángel’ which translates as ‘angel’s hair’. It gets that name because pumpkin naturally breaks down into thin threads when it is boiled in sweetened water.

If you have always wanted to bake ‘crespells’ or ‘robiols’ but have kept putting it off for lack of spare time, this is the year to give it a try — we are confined at home during the virus emergency and most of us have more available time than we’ve ever had.

The ‘crespell’ is a truly easy-peasy biscuit to make and even if you have never been competent at doing pastries, your version of this Easter biscuit will be most satisfactory. To make a batch you will need: 1 kilo of plain flour (ask for harina floja), 200grs sugar, 200grs lard, half coffee cups of fresh orange juice, olive oil and water, 2 egg yolks.

In a bowl beat the sugar with the egg yolks, the melted lard, olive oil, orange juice and water. When the sugar has dissolved, mix in the sifted flour in small amounts. Add enough to produce a dough that’s firm and compact, but smooth. The dough is not kneaded.

When the dough is ready, roll it out to about a 1-cm thickness and cut out the shapes of your choice. Put them on an oiled oven sheet and bake them for about 15 minutes in a preheated oven at a little above medium temperature.

The ‘crespells’ are such as simple biscuit to make and so infallible that you’ll want to make them at other times of the year.

The making of ‘robiols’ is also somewhat basic, but it’s a more complex pastry so there’s more work involved. You will need: 1 kilo plain flour (harina floja), 3 egg yolks, 1 coffee cup of olive oil and another of fresh orange juice, half coffee cup sweet sherry or other sweet wine, 250grs sugar, a very thick jam or 400grs ‘cabello de ángel’, and 100grs icing sugar (azúcar molido) for dusting the baked ‘robiols’.

In a big bowl beat the egg yolks with the oil, orange juice, sugar and sweet wine until the sugar dissolves. Add the sifted flour a little at a time, mixing it well with the other ingredients.

This dough doesn’t require kneading but let it rest for an hour and then roll it out to the thickness of a one euro coin. With a breakfast cup (or pastry cutter) punch out circles of dough. Put a big spoonful of thick jam (it must be very thick) or ‘cabello de ángel’ (which is always extremely thick) in the centre of each circle of dough and fold over in half-moon shape. Gently press the edges of the turnover with a fork to seal in the jam.

Rub a baking sheet with a little oil and place on it as many ‘robiols’ as it will comfortably take. Don’t overcrowd it. Bake in a hottish oven for about 15 minutes. After 12 minutes keep a close watch on them as they are inclined to scorch at this stage.

The ‘robiols’ should be of a pale shade after 15 minutes’ baking. Don’t be tempted to give them a little longer to achieve a nice golden tinge. They are meant to be pale. When the ‘robiols’ have cooled, put them on a flat serving dish and use a sieve to sprinkle them liberally with icing sugar. Each pastry should have a good coating.

Spanish cooking has a pastry called the ‘rosca’ or ‘roscón’ , a ring-shaped bun that crops up in festive fare all over the country, especially for the Three Kings and at Easter. Most readers have seen the Three Kings ‘roscón’ at pastry shops and supermarkets on the days leading up to January 6. It is usually decorated with crystallised fruits on the outside and has trinkets inside.

At other times of the year a ‘rosca’ on the mainland can be a plain bun with a sprinkling of icing sugar, but at Easter the ring-shaped bun is encrusted with hard-boiled eggs. In some parts of Spain this bun is called a ‘torta’ but then it is like a small round loaf with a single hard-boiled egg embedded in the centre and crossed with two strips of dough to hold it in place.

The ‘rosca’ isn’t a popular shape in Majorca, the island’s pastry cooks preferring the spiral (as in the ensaimada) or diverse shapes such as the stars, crescents and diamonds used for the ‘crespells’. But in Manacor, the island’s second largest town, a ‘rosca’ is part of the traditional Holy Week fare.

It is ring-shaped, is called a ‘rollo’ and is associated with Maundy Thursday when children receive it as a present from their godparents. The ‘rollo’ is made with the same ingredients as the ensaimada except that no lard is used. This is, of course, a huge difference, because it is the lard that gives the ensaimada is characteristic texture and taste.

This lack of lard in the ‘rollo’ means it is on the dry side, one of the reasons it is usually eaten for breakfast with coffee or hot chocolate. In recent years some pastry cooks have been using lard and producing a ‘rollo’ that is moister and tastier and can be eaten on its own without a hot drink of some kind.

Most pastries benefit from being eaten with tea or coffee because the hot liquid accentuates their characteristic flavour. This is especially true of those, such as shortbread, that are made with butter.

The Majorcan food historians I know have yet to discover the origins of the ‘rollo’ but the tradition of giving it as a Maundy Thursday gift dates back to over 100 years ago. Some say it was a gift on all kinds of festive dates, but that it eventually became exclusively associated with Maundy Thursday, when it was given to one’s godchild as a little present.

I have never seen ‘rollos’ on sale in Palma but they are available in Manacor. The best ones are said to be those at Pastelería Munar (Carrer Antoni Durán 27) where they have been making them for more than 60 years.

If you don’t want to get involved with making ‘robiols’ you’ll find them at pastry shops all over the island. Those at Pastelería Rivoli, next to the Rivoli cinema in Calle Antonio Marqués 27, are particularly well made, as are those at Pastelería Delice, a couple of doors along the street.

The Panadería Gloria (in the street of the same name that runs parallel to Calle Apuntadores) also makes the full range of Majorcan Easter pastries as well as excellent Majorcan bread. This is now Majorca’s oldest bakery and it’s worth a visit for that reason alone.

Another splendid source of Majorca’s sweet and savoury pastries is Forn La Mallorquina at Avda Juan March Ordinas 12 (on the corner with Calle 31 de Diciembre). They recently celebrated their centenary so they have a good idea of how Majorcan pastries and bread should be made.

The Pastelería Forn Fondo at Calle Unió 15 (along from C&A), which also celebrated its centenary recently, has first class pastries and also a wide range of confectionary to accompany afternoon cups of tea or coffee. Their big ensaimadas are among the best on the island.

You will also find good pastries at other shops, especially those who bake their own. And ‘robiols’ at most supermarkets are more than passable — the ‘robiol’ with an apricot jam filling I have with a cup of tea most afternoons during Easter comes from a nearby Eroski.

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