Ham and cheese sandwiches are a culinary ‘given’ in the Western world. Ever since the fourth Earl of Sandwich refused to leave his spot in the poker table, we have been eating and improving upon the simple concept of placing meats and condiments between two pieces of bread. The simple ham and cheese combination evolved into some of the most popular sandwich varieties, from the French croque monsieur, to the (now retro) Montecristo, to the Cuban. Puerto Rico has its own take: ham and cheese pressed on a mallorca roll, with a mandatory sprinkle of powdered sugar.
If you have caught any food travel shows about Puerto Rico in the Food Network or Travel Channel, it is very likely you have seen La Bombonera. La Bombonera is a very popular Old San Juan bakery famous for mallorcas, these soft, sweet, and buttery rolls that can be eaten by themselves or used as the base for a sandwich. Mallorcas came to Puerto Rico through Spain’s Balearic Islands settlers – while we name these rolls after their place origin (the island of Mallorca), they are known as ensaimadas in Spain, the rest of Latin America, and the Phillipines.
Most bakeries in Puerto Rico offer mallorcas to be eaten in all their yeasty fullness, or sliced and pressed into either toast, a grilled cheese sandwich or a full ham/egg/cheese sandwich. My favorite growing up was the simple mallorca toast. The mallorca was sliced in half, buttered and sugared on the inside, pressed, then sprinkled with extra sugar on top. The crunchy topping contrasted to the tender, buttery center. Although I don’t go out of my way to buy mallorcas, when I get them I usually make sandwiches. I am partial to cheddar and butter on mine; Eduardo prefers mayonnaise and Swiss cheese. Either way, it’s a satisfying, sweet, and savory bite.
In addition to La Bombonera, two other favorite stops for mallorca sandwiches are Panaderia Pepín in Guaynabo and Hato Rey, and Ricomini, a growing PR West coast based chain. I swear by Pepín (where I got the mallorcas in the pictures) but Eduardo insists that Ricomini’s are better. I think we’ll have to make it to the Ricomini Bayamón outpost, buy a couple, and finally settle that argument (ha!).
If a visit to Puerto Rico is not in the cards for you, Serious Eats published a recipe successfully tested by my high school friend Beto, who kindly provided this picture of the finished product. Beto also went to college in Louisiana, where he still lives, and regularly documents his adventures eating lunch through the greater New Orleans area on his Foodspotting profile. It’s definitely worth checking out.