As a begin to write this article, I ponder on where exactly to start when talking about empanadas. These delicious treats come in all shapes & sizes with as many fillings as one has flavors, and the best part of this Latin American pastry is that you find them all the way from Los Algodones (the northernmost town in Mexico) to Cabo Froward (the southernmost town in Chile)! Therefore, pinpointing a typical empanada and the way to making it is in absolutely no way an easy task, nor am I considering stating that this is THE recipe for empanadas. The name itself comes from the Spanish verb empanar, which means wrapped or coated in bread, and they are made by folding the said dough over a stuffing, which may consist of anything your heart desires – but typically includes meat, cheese, or corn! So you can imagine that the many variables that can exist in the making of empanadas – dough, filling, & craftsmanship! – result in all kinds & styles.
As with many Latin American foods, empanadas trace their origins back to Spain…in particular, the northwest region of Galicia. And even though empanadas can be found in cuisines all around the world – for example, as turnovers or hand pies, or as the Italians call theirs: ‘Mpanatigghi’ – and are also an important part of the entire Latin American food community, it’s only fair (and somewhat an obligation) to acknowledge the importance of the empanada to the particular countries of Argentina & Chile. Argentine empanadas are often served during parties & festivals, and take-out shops specialize in freshly-made empanadas, with many flavors & fillings that vary from province to province: chicken, beef, onion, boiled egg, olives, raisins, ham, fish (during Lent), spinach…no limits! They can also be fried or baked, and a fruit filling can also be used to create a dessert empanada. In Chile, it’s considered the most symbolic food of the country and eating empanadas even becomes more popular during September, the month that Chile celebrates their independence.
I want to thank my Argentinian friend, caramelsweetlife, for this authentic & easy dough recipe, that made some delicious empanadas, filled with my delicious picadillo. They were a success and I’m sure you can’t go wrong with it!
For the Dough
- 8 cups (1 kg) of all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 2 cups (500 ml) of warm water
- 1 cup of oil (250 ml)
Being positive & patient is part of the process, but if you have a food processor, it’s so much better! The dough really doesn’t need to be overworked a requires minimal kneading. Mix the flour & salt first and then add the water & oil. Pulse and continue pulsing until a clumpy dough forms. To make the dough by hand, follow the same instructions but knead, knead, knead away! Let the dough sit for about 30 minutes.
Roll out the dough into a thin sheet and cut out round disc shapes for the empanadas. You ca use round molds or a small plate, depending on your preferences. I usually work each empanada out individually, flattening the small ball with a tortilla press.
To assemble the empanadas, place a spoonful of the filling on the middle of each disc. I think a good size is a 5-inch (12cm) disc with a heaped tablespoon of filling. It’s easier to seal an empanada that isn’t overstuffed. To seal them, fold the disc over the filling and seal the edges by pressing the dough with your fingers. This is where the lovely art of craftsmanship gives a personal touch to an empanada; no one makes them exactly alike! I love it!
For best results, it’s recommended to refrigerate the empanadas for about 30 minutes before baking or frying – this also helps them seal better and prevents the filling from leaking out. For a golden finish when baking, brush the empanadas with egg wash. Bake in a preheated oven at 375°F (190°C), and depending on the size of the empanadas for about 18-25 minutes. You’ll be able to see the beautiful golden color when ready!
If frying the empanadas – a guilty treat that one must enjoy once in a while! – be sure to chill for 30 minutes and use enough oil to cover at least half of the empanada. Don’t overcrowd the pan and be sure not touch them too much, they may break & leak. Serve warm & enjoy!