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On Spanish Food, Pie Crusts and Leftovers July 28, 2009

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Food.

I promised you empanadas today, and that is what I’m delivering.  Pretty much anyway.

I offer up my usual disclaimer – I am not Spanish, nor am I Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Argentinian, or any other variety of Hispanic.  Is that insensitive or inappropriate?  I don’t mean to be.  What I’m getting at is that, as you know, I’m a midwestern Swede, and, as such, you need to remember that any “ethnic” cuisine that I try is seen through that lens.  I’m just saying, that’s all.  😉

So, I’d never even had empanadas before the first time I visited Juan and Maria’s at the public market, and let me tell you, they are WONDERFUL.  Deep fried, and will probably kill you TO DEATH, but wow, what a way to go!  😆

Anyway, I’ve been wanting empanadas for a while now, and, unfortunately, with our new Saturday morning schedule (getting up at 4:30 so Peeps can get to work on time, walking the dog, getting back by 5:30), the Empanada Stop is never open by the time I get to the market anymore, and, really, I’m not inclined to wait around until someone shows up to open the doors.  I guess I’m just going to have to make them myself then, huh?  Only . . . I have no idea HOW to make empanadas, and really, if I’m going to make them, I should at least pretend to try to make them reasonably healthy, right?

So, summing up all the reading and researching I did, it seems that empanadas are, essentially, little pies.  Savory fillings inside a pie crust and deep fried or baked.  We’ll go with the baking option.  It’s a little less like “death-in-a-crust,” don’t you think?

So, the first thing I did was make the crust,  Now this is essentially a pie pastry, just like anything you’d find wrapped around a pile of apples.  Or pork.

Basically, we start with butter AND LARD.

Yes, lard.  It’s available in your grocery stores, but you’ve gotta know where to look.  In our case, we found it at Tops, not near the butter (which would make SENSE), but with the organ meats and ham hocks – I think there might even be tripe in that section.  Lard is good to keep on hand, though.

PhotobucketSo anyway, empanadas are evidently traditionally heavier on the lard than butter, so I used about 1/4 lb. lard to about 2-3 Tablespoons of butter.  That got cut into chunks and shoved in the freezer to stay chilled.  Just like any shortcrust pastry,  it’s important that it be worked cold.

PhotobucketSo on to the flour component – about 3 cups of flour.  Now, if you’re trying to keep it as non-lethal as possible, and if someone happened to forget to fill the flour canister, feel free to substitute a cup or so of whole wheat flour if you feel the need.  The flour, along with a teaspoon or so of salt, can get whirred in the food processor until they’re just combined.

Take your fat bits out of the freezer and toss them on top of the flour mixture, then let ‘er rip until it’s all about the texture of corn meal.


While the machine is running, drizzle some ice water in through the feeding tube – anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 cup, until the dough comes together into a, well, a doughy, blobby ball.


PhotobucketDump the whole mess onto a (very) lightly floured counter and knead briefly (like 5 kneads) until it forms a nice tidy ball, then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least half an hour.

I actually left it for about 4 hours – I’ve found that the colder the dough is, the easier it is to roll out.


Meanwhile, I went outside to pit cherries, and Peeps started the filling.  The whole thing here was that we had some leftover rib meat from our most recent smoking session, and I’m not about to let that go to waste!  So while the crust was chilling, we had also cooked up some pinto beans, and then he put the filling together, starting with some onions, then some minced garlic, almost, but not quite, caramelized.

Photobucket Let the onions cook until they’re slightly browned, then add some chili powder, plenty of cayenne, and some freshly-dried oregano.

Let that cook a bit, giving the flavors a chance to blend.

And, of course, while the onions are browning, we cut the rib meat off the rib bones and chopped it fairly fine.

PhotobucketAdd the meat to the onion mixture.


PhotobucketAnd some beans.  I happened to have found half a bag of pinto beans in the cupboard, so, while the crust was chilling, and Peeps was working, I went ahead and cooked them.  Or you could just drain and rinse a can of beans.  😉

But I’m just gonna say – freshly cooked beans are really, really good, that’s all.  And, you know, you’re waiting for the crust to chill anyway, so why not?


When the crust was chilled, I rolled it to about 1/4 inch thick.

Then I got out the biscuit cutters and cut rounds in the size of the biggest cutter – I guess they were about 4 inches.

Each round got a couple of tablespoons of filling and about a tablespoon of cheese.


I place the filling just off-center on each round, so we could fold them in half and seal the outsides.  A quick egg wash on the un-filled side will help the dough stick together.

PhotobucketFirst we pinched it together with our fingers, working as much air as possible out, then we went over the edges with a fork.

PhotobucketWe want to make good and sure those suckers are sealed!

We brushed the outside with eggwash before baking.

Oh, and you’re going to want to work on a parchment (or silicone) lined baking sheet – egg wash will stick to the pan.  So will any unintentionally leaked filling.

In our case, we popped the trays into the freezer for a few hours – we weren’t really sure, at that point, what our dinner plans were.

PhotobucketWhen we were ready to bake the empanadas, we baked them from frozen – a 400° for about 20-30 minutes (depending on the size of the pies), rotating halfway through.

The verdict?

We had a ton of filling, and it was fantastic.  Flavorful and rich, not too spicy, but not at all bland.

The crust – delightful texture – flaky and light.  However, the lard was so neutral in flavor the the crust almost tasted bland.  And the empanadas were too small – the crust-to-filling ratio was all wrong.

Which is why we made another batch – we had plenty of filling, so I made another crust, this time using closer to a half-and-half lard to butter ratio (butter = flavor!), and we cut the rolled the dough into 7 or 8 inch roundish shapes –  I didn’t even bother cutting it; I just divided the dough into quarters and rolled each quarter into a reasonable facsimile of a circle.

From there, we proceeded as before, this time with 1/3 cup of filling and something between 1/8 and 1/4 cup of cheese.  Same egg wash, same freezing, same baking.

Now, we’re talking!  The only problem is that they’re no longer “pick up and go food” – they’re “fork and knife” food.

We’ll get there, though, fear not.  😉

I’m submitting this to Home-Ec101.com’s Fearless Fridays because, well, when at first you don’t succeed (or at least succeed to your own satisfaction!), try, try again!

Visit Heather and Ivy for some fun tips and great information.



1. origamifreak - July 28, 2009

mmm. those sound yummy.

Toy Lady - July 28, 2009

Thanks, OF! They were much better in the bigger version – we’ve got a couple left we’re doing for dinner this week. I loved the filling – a little smoky beef, freshly cooked beans, and some spices and oregano. And cheese, of course. 😀

Literally everything came out of either the cupboard or the fridge!

2. Heather Solos - August 2, 2009

These sound amazing. I just may have to try them. One of these days I am going to suck it up and buy a food processor. (I’m getting quite tired of making crust by hand)

Toy Lady - August 2, 2009

Thanks, Heather.

You know, I made pie crusts by hand for . . . a lot of years and did just fine. I was really skeptical about the idea of using a food processor.

Then I tried it, and I’ll never go back!

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