A story about friendship and an ensaymada that’s too good to save just for Christmas.
A little over a year ago, I teach my good friend, Aldwin Aspillera, how to bake bread. Just simple stuff — a round of focaccia, some bread sticks, and I think even a loaf of white bread. As I take him through the awe-inspiring alchemy that occurs with just water, yeast, flour, and salt, his eyes widen, his mind, enlightens. When I show him how to knead the dough we’ve made: push-turn-push-pull, his senses are stimulated as his attention is absorbed. And when we finally bake the bread and it sends out its intoxications of bread and doughy dreams, I see his enrapt expression and know then that he’s hooked.
After our bread baking session, and in quick succession, Aldwin takes up an intensive baking course followed by a week-long, intensive bread baking class. Somewhere along the way, something inside him just clicks and he’s enchanted with bread baking in the same way a photographer is enchanted with light.
Aldwin, you see, is a professional photographer. Proficient and prolific, he’s shot for all the major magazines, and he’s particularly in demand as a food photographer. We met in 2005 at a restaurant shoot for an upscale lifestyle magazine. I was the writer, he was the photographer. Since DCF was just starting out, there I was with my little Canon Powershot G2, stealing Aldwin’s studio light and taking the best food shots I could muster in between takes. In the 15 years that I’ve been a professional food writer, I’ve worked with loads of photographers but Aldwin is one of the few who’s very generous with his knowledge. If you think my photos on DCF have improved dramatically in the past few years, it’s all because of Aldwin. He’s taught me everything I know about photography.
While I consider Aldwin my photography mentor, I’m thrilled beyond belief that he calls me one of his baking mentors. After our bread baking session, I continue to feed his interest in baking by plying him with baking equipment and gifting him with cookbooks, heaps of them. As my good friends can attest, I’m a big cheerleader. His passion for baking inspired him to set up a baking business called A&M Sweets, with his girlfriend, Mich. Their red velvet cupcakes and pineapple upside down cake are hugely popular.
Earlier this year, I’m ecstatic when Aldwin tells me that he’s opened up a bakery, Tito Panadero, a panaderia of his very own. It was originally located in Las Piñas but is in the process of moving to Manila. I’ve never been to Tito Panadero, partly because Aldwin refuses to give me the exact address – for now – saying, “It’s not ready for you yet, Lori!” I’ve been told however that the pan de coco fly out of the oven, as do the pandesal and Spanish bread. I’ve tried the latter two and all I can say is: I want to go to Tito Panadero.
And then there’s the ensaymada which appears to have drummed up quite the cult following. A mutual friend of ours, Kaie, describes it to me once: “Lor, a single crumb fell on the table and I actually picked it up and ate it! It was so good, I didn’t want to waste one bit.” Well. With that kind of description, I know I’ve got to try it. Since the bakery’s in transit to its new location, I make some noise on Aldwin’s social media networks.
This bread roll is what I call a “panaderia ensaymada,” a sweet roll made from the bakery’s standard bread dough. Lean by ensaymada standards, it makes up for that with its heft. A single bite has teeth sinking into its pillowy depths, sending shards of cheese and sugar scattering. Granted, this is a simple ensaymada without the usual fanfare of excess butter and real queso de bola. But it’s a genuine bready roll that satisfies cravings. I feel that it lacks more sugar (ha, I feel that way about a lot of things) so before I tuck into one, I sprinkle on a good teaspoonful or so of granulated sugar and then I heat it up a bit in the toaster oven. When I’m feeling indulgent, I rip off a bit and dip it into some tsokolate for an almost-Christmas in July. Mmm…
Aldwin taught me how to take pictures, and I taught him how to bake. In his case, the student has certainly made this teacher very proud. I hope that one day I can make him feel the same way.
Ensaymadas by Tito Panadero
Plain P30, Ube, Dark chocolate (both P40 each), salted egg (itlog na maalat; P35),
Coming soon: queso de bola, dulce de leche
On Facebook: A.and.M.Sweets
For orders: (0917) 450 4688