"If pan de sal is our daily bread, ensaymada is the bread we indulge in."
For three generations, the women in the Dayrit-Santos family of San Fernando, Pampanga have been making ensaymada and other delicacies from their home kitchens. Their recipes came from Salud Dayrit-Santos (born 1883), fondly known as Imang Salud, an enterprising woman renowned in her hometown for her cooking and baking skills.
While already an accomplished home cook, Imang Salud studied with Rosario Hizon Ocampo alongside the town's other cooks. They gathered round Mrs. Ocampo's kitchen as she demonstrated international cuisine from her training in Paris, France. A spread of these dishes graced Mrs. Ocampo's table for the students to taste and to recreate at home.
While her contemporaries made the recipes just for their families, Imang Salud turned it into a home business which earned her a reputation as one of the best cooks of her time. She tweaked and improved the recipes based on her family's tastes and preferences. Her classic ensaymada was one of these recipes, fragrant with Bruun butter and brushed with the lard that many old-timers still long for. When Imang Salud died in 1970, her only daughter Felicidad "Pising" Dayrit Santos continued her mother's ensaymada-making.
Catalina "Aling" Magat-Santos, Imang Salud's daughter-in-law, took over when Pising passed away in 1995. Aling still makes ensaymada in their San Fernando home oven even at age ninety. Her daughter, Meliza Santos-Henares started selling Imang Salud's ensaymada in 2006 at the Legazpi Sunday Market. She makes the breads and other delicacies like plantanilla with latik in her house in Muntinlupa. As a child, Meliza accompanied her grandmother to the market and spent most of her time in the kitchen watching Imang Salud cook and bake.
The process also utilizes the three-stage sponge-and-dough method. Aling remembers baking only once a day, starting a five in the morning, because the dough will not rise in the afternoon. By 2 p.m., the ensaymada is done and taken out of the kasarina, the tin molds. They refer to the layering as "nagwa-warde," which is similar in sound to hojardi of the Carreons.
Unlike other Pampanga-style ensaymada, Imang Salud's does not use a stick during rolling. But at six inches in diameter, it's as large as a typical Pampanga ensaymada. The bread survives until now as does the memory of the woman whose cooking nourished a household and a delighted town.