Goldilocks vs Red Ribbon: Ensaymada

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When pressed for a full-sized birthday cake or a carb-filled quick fix on the go, you are faced with the age-old question: Goldilocks or Red Ribbon?

Both are local bakeshop businesses with small beginnings and tremendous success stories. Goldilocks began as a tiny bakeshop along Pasong Tamo, Makati in 1966; Red Ribbon first opened along Timog, Quezon City in 1979. To this day they’re both still popular with their own respective set of fans, and they manage to save our hungry, cake-hankering asses every time.

For our first round taste tests, we’ll be looking at their take on the panaderia classic: Ensaymada.

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What is Ensaymada?
Filipino ensaymada, a sweet adaptation of Spain’s Mallorcan ensaïmada, is a sweet bread (often brioche) with a salty-sweet topping of grated cheese and white sugar. It has many variations: ensaymada can be bready or soft; glazed with margarine, melted butter, or buttercream; topped with cheeses like cheddar or quezo de bola (Edam).

Purists may shudder at the modern, commercialized breadstuff of their ilk, but for price, convenience, and the simple allure of buttery hedonism on the go, these cheese-topped brioche buns are hard to beat.

Both come pre-packaged and vacuum-sealed, making them ultra-portable and keeping the freshness intact. Both are affordable enough that you can enjoy one (two if you must) every day. And they both follow the same format of ensaymada as this generation would know it: an enriched yeasted dough topped with butter, sugar, and grated processed cheese. We tried the buns untoasted and straight from their packets, evaluating: dough, the topping, and the pastry as a whole.

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Goldilocks’ Cheesy Ensaymada

Goldilocks’ strikes us as the more extravagant-looking of the two, with lashings of sweetened whipped butter. But the cheese is a bit of a letdown, coming in strands that are individually dried out, like the exposed ends of a cheddar block left in the fridge for too long.

The strength of this ensaymada however is in the bread base itself: soft, yolk-y and buttery, just as a proper brioche should be. It boasts of an elastic crumb, the kind that separates into threads when pulled apart. The bread is ‘dense’, offering resistance and chew, and allows it to hold up to the topping. Still, every bite succumbs to a gratifying squish and the texture is consistent throughout.

There’s a bit of a chemical note that’s off-putting, but this is something we’re willing to overlook. Goldilocks captures the perfect ratio of sweet to salty, the quintessential flavor that makes ensaymada what it is.

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Red Ribbon’s Cheesy Ensaimada

Red Ribbon takes on a far more minimalist appearance, bare aside from the cheese. (Butter and sugar are still on the topping ingredient list, we assume it’s melted in underneath.) What it lacks in ornamentation, it makes up for in the cheese, coming in strands that almost meld and become one–physically and texturally–with the bread.

At first bite, Red Ribbon’s bread feels softer and airier. It’s like sinking the teeth into a cloud. But it’s a short-lived dream as the dough gets crumblier and drier toward the center. The crumb is shorter and breaks apart easier—it leans more toward the cake-y end of the brioche spectrum. And the flavor: saltier, yeastier, with less of the sweet richness and we loved in Goldilocks’ ever-so-moreish take.

This ensaymada is more subdued, more savory than sweet. True to its name, it emphasizes the cheese. But this bun suffers from an identity crisis, even though it has all the ingredients, the impression we get is more of cheese-topped sweet bread than ensaymada.

Our Pick: Goldilocks

Neither piece scored a perfect ten. But they seem to complete each other: where Goldilocks’ falters, Red Ribbon excels, and vice versa. Red Ribbon has the better cheese topping, while Goldilocks’ bread base is a standout.

Either way it’s clear: our contenders are different specimens, each special in their own right. Red Ribbon’s is lighter and less sweet; theirs is all about the cheese. Goldilocks’ is richer and heftier, with better balance between sweet and salty.

Given this, choosing the winner is a matter of preference. Red Ribbon’s appeals to the mature palate with their sophisticated take. To us, the essence of ensaymada is in the flavors of butter, sugar, and cheese, the harmony of which is better executed by Goldilocks.

Call us cheesy (no pun intended) but to us, Goldilocks’ is the only one.

This article was originally published in 2016.

Read the rest of our three-part Goldilocks vs Red Ribbon taste tests here: Chocolate Roll, Mamon.