Empanadas – a Doughy Exploration

Like the Chinese dumpling, the perogy, the samosa and Cornish pasty, the empanada has many global cousins, each delicious morsels, all wrapped up inside a half moon shape of dough made from rice flour, corn masa, wheat flour or other starchy substances.
The empanada is from the Hispanic clan that garners influences from the Phillipines, Mexico and Latin America, and Spain, each adding its own particular flavour.
I’ve spent the last three days making empanadas, trying three different recipes to get a handle on the ultimate pastry. I’ve still got a long way to go but here are my first findings. I baked all of them as opposed to deep frying, giving them an egg wash to produce a shiny finish. Love that.
The first was a simple biscuity-type dough made with baking powder, fresh lard and butter, milk and egg. Mashed potatoes, chorizo and pickled jalapenos – for a spicy zing – was the filling.

A little dry, I may try this one again without baking powder, but all in all a good basic dough.

Next up was a yeasted Spanish recipe made with olive oil and saffron, sourced from The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen. Exotic with flecks of saffron throughout and easy to make, I chose a filling from the same book that required slow cooked onions and peppers.

The slow cooking creates a mixture that is jam-like, or to a use a more current descriptor, confit- like.

I substituted the requested tuna with shredded chicken from our previous night’s roast.

As a bonus, I’ve found the perfect teacup to mark the pastry.
The filling was topped with sliced green olives to give it a pickley flavour similar to a picadillo, a preparation I’ve seen and made numerous times.
I made small and large empanadas. Just because.
Water doesn’t seal this pastry, it needs to be crimped.

The yeasted dough produced a moist flakey pastry and firmly held the ingredients. This one is a keeper.
And finally on day three – we’re getting kind of full around here – a butter and cream cheese dough that is dead easy to make. The shrimp filling with pickled jalapenos, capers, olives and tomatoes has that picadillo feeling again.

This particular dough was very flexible and sealed wonderfully, pressing together with my hands and a fork tine flourish.
Delicious! You might want to give it a try.

Shrimp Empanaditas
(by permission of author Marilyn Tausend)
For the filling:
2 T. canola or safflower oil
1/2 white onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lb. ripe tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
2 bay leaves
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb.(500g) shrimp (prawns), peeled and chopped into 1/4″ pieces
4 pickled jalapenos or serranos, finely chopped, with 1 T pickling liquid
8 pimento-stuffed green olives, chopped
12 capers, finely chopped
For the dough:
1 cup (8oz/250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 oz.(185g) low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups(10 oz/315g) unbleached all-purpose flour
sea salt
1 large egg
To make the filling, in a large frying pan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and garlic and saute until soft but not browned, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, salt and pepper to taste, reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is dry, 10-15 minutes. Add the shrimp, chilies and pickling liquid, olives, and capers and stir until the shrimp are opaque and the mixture is dry, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, remove and discard the bay leaves, and set aside to cool for at least 30 minutes or, preferably, let cool completely, cover, and refrigerate overnight. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. The filling should be full flavoured and highly seasoned.
To make the dough, in a bowl, using a large wooden spoon, beat together the butter and cream cheese until well blended. Stir in the flour and 1/2 tsp. salt and mix well. Knead the dough just until it holds together and can be formed into a ball. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F(190C). Lightly grease a baking sheet. On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough in half. Roll out one half until it is 1/8 “(3mm) thick. Using a 3-inch (7.5 cm) biscuit or cookie cutter, cut out rounds. Place a heaping teaspoon of the filling in the center of each round, fold the round in half, and seal securely by pressing with your fingers. Use the tines of a fork to crimp the edges.
In a small bowl, beat the egg with 1/2 tsp. water. Brush the tops of the half-moons with the egg mixture and place on baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for at least 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes around 30 empanaditas.

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