Mallorca’s Easter pies and other pastries are unusual in that they are savoury as well as sweet. One of the great sights of a Mallorcan Easter is seeing bakery windows and shelves with large trays of empanadas de Pascua, as the lamb-filled pies are called at this time of year.
These empanadas were originally baked only at Easter and they were a way of eating the paschal lamb. But they became so popular that bakers were doing them all year long.
Empanadas with a lamb filling are nowadays made only for Easter weekend. At all other times the fillings are veal, veal with peas, only peas, pork or chicken. I don’t know of a single bakery or pastry shop that does lamb-filled empanadas outside of the Easter period.
Some Mallorcans like empanadas made with a sweet pastry instead of a savoury one. These empanadas are marked ‘dulces’ (sweet), but it’s only the pastry that’s sweet, the fillings are savoury. The savoury one are sometimes marked ‘lisas’.
The lamb empanadas are easy to spot in pastry shop windows and display units: they are larger than usual and a good deal more expensive.
But the finest Easter pies aren’t in the bakeries and pastry shops: they are in homes all over the island. If you are lucky enough to receive a family empanada from a Majorcan friend, then you are in for an epicurean treat.
The first homemade empanada I ate was made by doña Paula Marcus, the mother of our late and much missed administrator Margarita Magraner. The pastry and the filling were so splendid I asked doña Paula for her recipe.
I still have her hand-written instructions in my files and when friends ask me for an empanada recipe I give them a copy. It’s one of those recipes that works beautifully if you follow it exactly. This is a translation of doña Paula’s recipe.
You will need: 1 kilo flour (get the harina para empanadas that is in all supermarkets at this time of year), 250 grs pork lard (manteca de cerdo), 150 grs panceta salada, 150 grs best quality sobrasada, 1 medium sized glass fresh orange juice, olive oil and water (allow about 150 mls of each), a pinch of salt and sugar, 1 kilo of boned leg of lamb cut into bite-size pieces and well seasoned with salt and pepper.
Rub the lard into the flour until it is completely absorbed and the mixture goes mealy. Add the pinches of salt and sugar, the fresh orange juice (it must be fresh), olive oil, and water and mix well into the flour until you have a stiff dough.
It should be firm but pliable enough to be moulded. It may be necessary to add a little more oil and water to achieve this state. It all depends on the flour. When the dough is ready let it rest for two hours.
Divide the dough into balls about the size of a man’s fist, reserving a small piece of each for the lid.
Take a ball of dough and make a hole in the centre, gradually making it wider by using both thumbs. You should end up with a circular pie case whose sides and bottom are just under half a centimetre thick.
The vast majority of Mallorcan families do not use tins of any kind for shaping the pie case because the dough is firm enough to stand up without any kind of support.
Some people use the bottom of a bottle or jar to help shape the pie cases, but most cooks find that thumbs and fingers give better results.
Put two or three pinches of sobrasada on the bottom of each pie case and fill them with the well-seasoned raw lamb.
On top put a few small pieces of panceta salada. Make lids with the reserved pieces of dough, slightly larger than the circumference of the pie. Press a lid over the pie, using your fingers to seal it by pressing the lid against the side of the pie. Cut a small hole in the centre of each lid.
Put the pies on rounds of greaseproof paper and bake them in a hot oven for 45-60 minutes. If you don’t have greaseproof paper, use any kind of white paper that has been slightly oiled.
It’s important to use high quality ingredients when making empanadas. Buy porc negre sobrasada — the kind made with meat from the Mallorcan black pig. It’s dearer but much better. You should also pay extra for the best tocino or panceta salada.
The monetary difference is small but the gastronomic advantages are enormous.
And bear in mind that the main role of the panceta salada is to lubricate the lamb, so it should have a high proportion of fat.
Don’t introduce any innovations into doña Paula’s recipe. Follow the instructions as given and you will produce an authentic Mallorcan Easter empanada, or empanada de Pascua.
Nor should you try to freeze empanadas. A friend once baked 30 empanadas, baked eight of them and put the rest (unbaked) into the freezer. The first eight were the best she had ever made, but the freezer experiment wasn’t a success.
She took another eight from the freezer and let them thaw before baking them. The result, as both she and her husband said, was a total disaster. The others, baked straight from the freezer, were better but far from perfect.
Empanadas can be eaten hot or cold and for most people they are at their best when first baked and allowed to cool slightly.
Majorcans traditionally eat their first empanadas on Easter Sunday, but after a rather copious meal that probably includes roast leg of lamb. I find they are best when eaten at any time of the day other than after lunch or dinner.
Try them as a mid-morning of afternoon snack with a glass of wine. They make a convenient light lunch or supper with salad greens of your choice. They also make a superb starter when served as if they were a pâté en croute.
One of my most memorable empanadas was eaten for breakfast on Easter Sunday morning soon after it came out of the oven.
I have a Mallorcan friend who frequently goes to the Can Joan de S’Aigo café on Sunday mornings to breakfast on an empanada and a café con leche. A most princely way to start the day.
The sweet side of Mallorca’s Easter pies is another regal way of getting the day off to a fine start or for having an afternoon break with a nice cup of tea.
Among these treats are robiols and crespells, pastries we can buy throughout the year but which have special associations with Easter.
The robiol is a crescent-shaped turnover filled with jam, a sweet cottage cheese mixture (requesón), or a thick jam made with pumpkin.
This pumpkin jam is called cabello de ángel, which means angel’s hair. It was given this name because when pumpkin is cooked in water and sugar it naturally breaks down into thin threads.
Robiols these days cost about €2.80 for two at supermarkets or as much as €2.95-€3.20 at top pastry shops.
As a rule, the better the pastry shop, the dearer the robiols and other Easter treats. I prefer good middle-of-the-road places with their more acceptable middle-of-the-road prices.
The best good-value-for-money robiols I know of are at Pastelería Rivoli at Calle Antoni Marqués 27, which is almost next door to the Rivoli cinema. They make a very good crumbly pastry and their fillings are excellent.
Another Majorcan Easter treat is the crespell, a word that means star. They date from the 14th century and are almost certainly of Jewish origin. The original shape was the Star of David.
These shortcrust biscuits now come in a wide variety of shapes including hearts, crescents and diamonds. As a special treat for children they are sometimes shaped like fish or animals. The bear is a popular one.
This Easter biscuit is easy to make and in some Mallorcan homes the children are encouraged to do their own. Children love cutting into the dough with different moulds.
You will find these moulds on the fifth floor of El Corte Inglés in the Avenidas, and also at most supermarkets with a hardware section. And also, of course, at the Chinese bazaars, which seem to stock everything you might need around the home.
If you want to try making your own crespells you will need: a kilo of flour (ask for harina floja), 200 grs sugar, 200 gr lard (manteca), half coffee cup each of fresh orange juice, virgen extra olive oil and water, plus 2 egg yolks.
In a bowl beat the sugar with the egg yolks, the melted lard, olive oil, orange juice and the water. When the sugar has dissolved, slowly add the flour.
Work in just enough flour to make a dough that is firm and compact, but smooth. This dough isn’t kneaded.
When the dough is ready, roll it out to a one centimetre thickness and cut out the shapes of your choice.
Put them on an oiled oven tray and bake them for about 15 minutes in a preheated oven. Have the oven a little above medium heat.
In Manacor, the island’s second largest city, they make a ring-shaped pastry called a ‘rollo’ that is associated with Maundy Thursday.
It is made according to the same ingredients and measurements as the ensaimada but without the lard. This is an enormous difference because it is the lard that gives the ensaimada its characteristic texture and taste.
In recent years some Manacor pastry cooks have been adding lard to their ‘rollo’ recipe and are producing one that is moister and tastier.
More than 100 years ago the ‘rollo’ was used as a little gift on all kinds of festive occasions. But it was eventually associated only with Maundy Thursday and as a gift for one’s godchildren.
I have never seen ‘rollos’ on sale in Palma but you can buy them 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 70 years.