Saturday, February 22, 2014

Death Of A Baker

I haven't always been complimentary about the ensaimada. In its basic form - lard and sugar - it sounds and is less than inspiring, but there again the simple combination for pa amb oli, bread and oil, is similarly uninspiring. There is often (usually) more to the pa amb oli than its basic ingredients, and though it might be no more meritorious than a ploughman's lunch, the local variants of olives, pickles, tomatoes, hams or cheeses, afford it a culinary kudos that the ploughman doesn't really have. So, the pa amb oli, as representative of base-camp cooking in a Mallorcan style, is something I can devour with relish and with its accompanying relishes (optional), whereas the ensaimada, even with fillings - creams, marmalades - is not of personal epicurean essence. It's all a matter of taste of course, and the taste of sweetness, for the ensaimada is primarily a breakfast-time pastry, is unsuitable for this personal palate. This said, the ensaimada can be and is eaten at any time. The Germans, as an example and with their obsession for mid-afternoon cake, embellish their 4pm coffee routine with the ensaimada, though at that time of day, a local, Mallorcan cremadillo might be said to be more enticing.

The cult of the ensaimada is more of a cultural one than a purely culinary one. It is symbolic. It has been designated with an origin award, while its imitation, for example by a certain multinational coffee-shop chain, has been analysed and criticised. Just one reason for the criticism lay with the fact that it was being made the wrong way round. Rather like the Union Jack can be and often is flown upside down (not that anyone typically notices), so the ensaimada can be rolled in the wrong direction. It requires a trained eye and a trained ensaimada maker to see it.

One such trained maker passed away last week. Miquel Pujol shuffled off this mortal coil and joined the great coil of ensaimada in the sky. The reports of his death might have seemed surprising because of their volume and extent. He was, after all, just a local baker. But of course he wasn't. He was celebrated for the quality and excellence of both his ensaimadas and his cremadillos. He ran Can Miquel, a bakery in Palma that had been in existence since 1565. He retired in 2012, and the bakery closed its doors, and last week Miquel d'es forn, as he was commonly referred to (forn meaning oven), died. Tributes flooded in. The Montesión church was packed to the gunwales with hundreds of friends and members of his family.

There was of course very much more on offer at Can Miquel than pastries. There were savouries, pies, the local "cocas", you name it. It was a traditional bakery; indeed, given its history, it was about as traditional a bakery as you could get. Miquel's death was, in a way and sadly, symbolic of something else. In the same week as he died, the Balearics Association of Bakers was drawing attention to the loss of traditional baker's shops. Thirty have closed in the past five years. They have fallen victim to the multinational supermarket and to the market stall, one at which hygiene, so the association maintains, can be less than adequate. Miquel, one might conclude, was a type who might not be seen again. Or of whom less and less will be seen and gradually, just possibly, the ensaimada will fall victim to corporatisation and to non-tradition. But, so long as it's made the right way round, it should be fine.

* Photo and Spanish report:

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