Article and photos by Richard Frisbie
Mallorca’s Best Bakery: Fornet de la Soca
The most-loved pastry of Mallorca is ensaïmada de Mallorca, a sweet, yeasty spiral of dough made with pork lard called saïm. It can be served plain, but when filled with pastry cream and dusted with powdered sugar it is heavenly. And that is from a man who normally doesn’t eat sweets! On a recent visit to Mallorca I had it with breakfast, lunch, and afternoon coffee, and jumped at almost any excuse to taste its luscious goodness. Ensaïmada is the real comfort food of Mallorca.
I especially liked the ensaïmada de Mallorca at Fornet de la Soca, a from-scratch bakery in Palma. Chef Tomeu Arbona learned pure local Mallorcan baking from the women in his family as he was growing up on a local estate. Although he went on to pursue a different career, when the financial crisis hit Spain more than a decade ago, both he and his wife suddenly found themselves jobless. Remembering his love of baking as a youth, Chef Tomeu, together with his wife, started baking for friends in their kitchen. Word of mouth spread their praises, making the move to a small commercial shop necessary. Soon they outgrew that and took over an old bakery in a busy commercial district where lines of customers out the door are now a common sight.
When I visited, Chef Tomeu was away lecturing on old Mallorcan recipes – the Arbona’s share a commitment to preserve and teach traditional Mallorcan recipes – but fortunately his wife was there. When she learned that I work in a popular bakery in New York’s Hudson Valley and have an intense interest in food, she graciously invited me into their kitchens (plural) to see what they were about.
The first kitchen is behind their shop and a few steps down. It is “U” shaped around a staircase down into a sub-cellar kitchen with ancient proofers and ovens, plus more prep space. The wall between the upper level kitchen and the shop is glass, so from there I could look behind the counter to the back of the display cases to see what pastries needed to be replenished. I was surrounded by racks of cooling trays filled with all manner of goodies waiting their turn to be placed in those front cases.
This wasn’t just a sweet pastry shop, there were plenty of savory offerings called pastelos in the form of meat or vegetable hand cakes to carry off for lunch or dinner. One wall of workspace was dedicated to making these pies when I arrived. Four pastry chefs were each working on a different element of preparing the fillings, crusts and assembly. Their team work and good cheer were as inspiring to watch as the finished pastry was delicious! (The best part of my tour was that I got to taste everything!)
A few months before visiting Mallorca I found my mother’s hand-written recipe for challah bread in an old cookbook of hers. I never remember her making it, and thought it was odd that my mother, with her Irish lineage, had a Jewish recipe. But what was most odd was that it called for a double braid. I made it (it was delicious and striking looking) and forgot all about it.
That is, I forgot about it until I was in Fornet de la Soca and Mrs. Arbona told me about their special Mallorcan challah recipe handed down from Shephardic Jews that called for a double braid! Recently their whole wheat grain bread won the award for the Best Bread in Spain, so any bread recipe of theirs commanded attention. When I told her I also made double-braided challah as well as burekas, meat hand pies from an old Sephardic Jewish recipe using “boiled dough”, she showed me her pastelos, which looked like neat little cakes compared to my half-moon pasties. We realized we had two recipes in common because, even though they looked different, the fillings were similar.
That’s when perhaps the most fantastic thing happened of any culinary trip I’ve taken. She said she was sorry her husband wasn’t here, but I should contact him when he returned to explore the possibility of interning with him for a bit to learn more of Mallorcan cooking and share some recipes. Spending a few weeks in Mallorca cooking in one of Spain’s top bakeries is now definitely on my bucket list.
Bureka Recipe - (adapted from Janet Mendel’s blog “My Kitchen In Spain”) http://mykitcheninspain.blogspot.com/
Lamb is a traditional Sephardic ingredient, but these can be made with any ground meat. I use turkey.
Ingredients for the filling:
2 TBL olive oil
1 medium onion chopped small
1 lb ground meat
1 can (14oz) petite diced tomatoes with juice
3 TBS long grain rice
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 hard boiled egg chopped
Ingredients for the dough:
½ cup olive oil
1 ¼ cups water
¾ tsp salt
4 cups flour
1 egg beaten with 1 TBS water
¼ cup sesame seeds - optional
To make filling – sauté onions in olive oil until soft. Add ground meat, breaking it up as you stir, until cooked through. Add the tomatoes, rice, salt & peppers, and allspice. Cover and simmer until rice is cooked, about 20 minutes.
Remove from heat and add egg and parsley; set aside to cool.
To make the dough - bring the olive oil, water and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat and quickly stir in flour. Turn out on a flat surface and knead until smooth. Shape into a log and cover. One at a time, pull off about a walnut size piece and roll it out to a 4” round. Place a rounded teaspoon of filling just off center, then fold and seal the crescent pastry. Arrange on pastry sheet. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Sprinkle with additional salt if desired. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Makes about 36 burekas.
Can be served hot or room temperature – or freeze to reheat and serve another day.
But you don’t have to commit to learning traditional Mallorcan recipes to enjoy the delicious fare at Fornet de la Soca. Just show up and wait in line for the award-winning breads and wonderfully tasty pastries. And be sure to pick up an ensaïmada de Mallorca to go (in its distinctive octagon box.) You’ll be welcome anywhere you bring it!
Fornet de la Soca http://www.fornetdelasoca.com/
Tourism in Spain https://www.spain.info/en_US/
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