Conti’s, Mary Grace, Sugarhouse, and More: 5 Ensaymada to Bring Home For the HolidaysDecember 10, 2018
You know it’s the holiday season when families start bringing home boxes and boxes of ensaymada home from work. Traditionally employing an enriched bread base formed into a coil and topped with butter, sugar, and grated cheese, this sweet and savory Filipino favorite (with Hispanic roots) is enjoyed throughout the year but especially during Noche Buena feasts, paired with steaming hot tsokolate. You’ll find numerous versions of different price points—from those sold by the neighbourhood panaderya to the more premium, heirloom versions made to order from private bakers—but in response to the call for convenience, many commercial bakeshops make their own takes that are reasonably-priced and ready for purchase whenever you are. How do they stack up?
Note: we narrowed down the selection to the most basic or default ensaymada from each brand, tasting them both at room temperature and reheated on the day of purchase.
Conti’s – Ensaymada
Conti’s ensaymada comes at a modest size roughly the same as your fist. Forming the base is bread that’s somewhat in between a brioche and white (specifically, Asian-style milk) bread, its soft but dense body carrying just a smidge of buttery richness. More softened butter comes spread on the top, followed by a modest sprinkling of finely-grated cheese (likely queso de bola) that adds a mild pungency, and a minimal sprinkling of sugar. The resulting ensaymada veers toward the mostly neutral-tasting side and can feel heavy, but it makes for a great everyday option that fills you up and doesn’t leave you deluged with sweetness or richness.
Sweetness: 2.5/5 | Butteriness: 3.5/5 | Cheesiness: 3/5 | Softness: 3.5/5
The French Baker – Super Soft Ensaymada
This local bakery chain’s version can only be purchased in trays of six. Its bread base is of an airy, barely-buttery, generic white bread sort which—contrary to its “super soft” moniker—is stiff and dry, unless reheated. Thankfully, you get a generous amount of butter on top, of a smooth, whipped, sweetened kind similar to buttercream frosting (fake vanilla note aside). Coarsely-shredded processed cheese crowns each piece; though it’s not the best, it adds the necessary saltiness that counters the butter’s sweetness.
Sweetness: 4/5 | Butteriness: 3/5 | Cheesiness: 2.5/5 | Softness: 1/5
Mary Grace – Ensaymada
Mary Grace’s is the most expensive of the lot at roughly 80 pesos a pop, but falls on the larger side of the spectrum. The bread alone is a standout: a classic brioche that’s rich and buttery, yet soft and delicate, with a mild yeasty tang and feathery crumb that turns dangerously melt-in-the-mouth when you have the roll warmed. Topping it is more butter (softened and spread across the surface), sugar (left as granules that give a welcome crunch), and a generous amount of Edam cheese, grated so finely it just about matches the brioche’s ethereal character. Purists may argue that its lightness is not quite characteristic of traditional ensaymada; but for what it is, it’s an excellent rendition.
Sweetness: 3/5 | Butteriness: 5/5 | Cheesiness: 4.5/5 | Softness: 5/5
Must Be Mom’s – Cheddar ensaymada
This mall favorite can be underwhelming in the looks department, its short and squat body topped with grated processed cheese in a layer so thin it’s almost translucent. Inside, you get a bread base of the slightly sweet white bread category that isn’t very buttery (save for the edges, from the melted butter brushed onto the bottoms of the pans before baking), but possesses an especially soft, pillowy consistency and short, cottony crumb that feels like a cushion as you sink your teeth in. The cheese on top doesn’t contribute much flavor, and this roll lacks any distinct, discernible layers of butter or sugar, but there’s a notable, savory-sweet, slightly buttery note (somewhat reminiscent of mayonnaise but not in a bad way) that comes through and evokes the characteristic taste of ensaymada.
Sweetness: 1.5/5 | Butteriness: 2/5 | Cheesiness: 2/5 | Softness: 4/5
Sugarhouse’s version is the biggest and tallest of the lot. Bite into it and you get a slightly sweet, slightly yeasty-tasting, lightly buttery bread base that can feel dry at room temperature (we recommend having it heated), but is generally light and feathery with its cotton-like, whispy crumb. Thick as the bread may come, it’s topped with grated processed cheese that’s bland but melts into a creamy, savory sensation in the mouth. A thin layer of butter and sugar crystals surround the top for creaminess and crunch; and though the bread dominates the mix, the overall bite still delivers on ensaymada’s classic flavor profile.
Sweetness: 2/5 | Butteriness: 3/5 | Cheesiness: 3/5 | Softness: 2.5/5
The Verdict: Mary Grace
Mary Grace took home the crown during our cheese roll battle, and unsurprisingly does the same now. It’s the most expensive, but you get your money’s worth with their soft, buttery ensaymada that does not scrimp on the cheese. Should you be on the lookout for a cheaper alternative that still delivers on a similar sensation—just a tad less rich and more filling—Conti’s version stands a fighting chance.