I fell in love with Barcelona.
My friends and I spent five very short days soaking up as much of this amazing city as we possibly could. The people, the architecture, the history, the atmosphere and, of course, the food were just beyond. I really can’t describe – just go there, at some point in your life. If you only take one piece of my advice, make it this one (and it’s not even food related).
I will stop rambling. We are here to discuss sangria, seafood and pastries, after all.
So, to the food.
I ate very well in those five days, most of the time at least attempting to order in Spanish. There was my first proper paella, big juicy cherries, fresh orange juice, manchego cheese, fruity (and sometimes very strong) sangria and an abundance of seafood tapas.
At home, I have tried to recreate a perfectly puffy pastry that we actually discovered by accident on a quest for churros.
In a gorgeous little cafe down one of the many winding alley streets of Barcelona, we were told there were no churros available for ten days (what? how? why?!). Instead, we were given ensaïmadas served with the famous spanish hot chocolate, which turned out to be better than any churro I’ve ever had.
Ensaïmadas are sort of like a croissant, but less flaky, sort of like a brioche in sweetness, but more fluffy and light. They’re shaped like big snail shells (think Princess Leia hair) and dusted with a very generous coating of icing sugar. The one I had was flavoured ever so delicately with cinnamon, which complemented the thick, melty chocolate completely. I had previously had a rule “never eat anything bigger than your head”, but breaking it at this time was a very logical decision.
I won’t lie to you, the ensaïmadas took a long time to make – including an overnight rise. They also used every baking tray I own. I finished making them to find my entire kitchen covered with bits of dough, flour and icing sugar. But they were so worth it.
Recipe adapted from El Aderazo
750 grams strong white bread flour
3 1/4 tsp. dry active yeast
300ml whole milk
4 large eggs at room temperature
180 grams caster sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
200 grams vegetable shortening*, softened
Icing sugar for decoration
*in the UK under the brand names Trex and Cookeen
Heat the milk until it is lukewarm in a glass measuring jug (30-45 seconds in the microwave) then stir in the yeast until there are no lumps.
Place half the flour in a large mixing bowl. Pour the milk and yeast mixture into the flour in a steady stream whilst mixing. Continue to stir until a smooth dough is formed.
Tightly cover the bowl with cling-film and leave in a warm place to rise for 1 hour until doubled in size.
Once the dough has risen, remove the cling-film then mix the eggs into the dough, one at a time, using your hands.
Stir in the sugar and cinnamon until combined, then add the remaining flour. Knead the flour into the dough for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic – it may still be a bit sticky. Re-cover the bowl with cling-film and set in a warm place to allow the dough to rise for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, lightly flour a large work surface or table (you will need at least 2 square feet).
When the dough has risen again, scoop it out onto the floured surface. Roll out the dough into a 24″ square.
Spread the softened vegetable shortening evenly over the rolled out dough (if it is too hard to spread, try microwaving for 10-15 seconds at a time and stirring in between). Roll up the dough into a sausage, and slice into 18 equal pieces.
Roll each piece into a long sausage (9-12 inches) on the surface using your hands, then roll up the sausage into a snail-shell shape.
Place the shaped dough onto baking trays lined with greaseproof paper, spaced very well apart to allow for growth. Then leave to rise for at least 6 hours (preferably overnight). Hopefully they will double/triple in size.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180°C. Bake the ensaïmadas for 12-15 minutes in batches, then leave to cool.
Sprinkle heavily with icing sugar before serving with thick hot chocolate. Best eaten on the day they are made.
Makes 6 teacups
3 full teacups of whole milk
300g good-quality milk chocolate, broken into small chunks
1 tsp. cornflour
Dissolve the cornflour in the cold milk in a saucepan, then bring just to the boil. Remove from the heat then add the chocolate. Stir until all the chocolate has melted. If the chocolate isn’t melting completely, you can return the pan to a very low heat and stir until smooth. Pour into cups and drink* immediately.
*also excellent for dunking ensaïmadas in