I have been inspired lately to explore empanadas and master the Argentinian style pastry. Traditional empanadas from Argentina are baked or fried with white flour and, when done well, come out with a beautiful flaky texture and have plenty of filling without being hollow or greasy.
I have had empanadas in many restaurants in Costa Rica, such as Donde El Ché, and have been enamored with how beautiful and delicious they turn out. This post is to fill everyone in on the mistakes I’ve made and discovered throughout my exploration in search of the perfect dough and filling recipe. I’d like to share with everyone some tips and tricks as well as things to avoid when making empanadas. Has anyone else had as much trouble as I have getting things right? Once you’ve read the tips below, make sure you try out the recipes I’ve posted for vegetarian empanadas, chicken empanadas, beef empanadas, seafood empanadas or ham empanadas.
• Never, never, never use processed doughs if you want true empanadas. This is a shortcut that’s not at all worth it in the end. Once you make your own successfully, you’ll never seek out Pillsbury again.
• When using a recipe with baking powder, know that your empanada will grow in size, but will be very hollow inside. I prefer to have a pocket full of filling rather than air.
• Never use more than one stick of butter or 1/2 cup of shortening for every three cups of flour or you’ll end up with dense, crumbly dough.
• Know that when you have a dough recipe with yeast, you’ll end up with a different texture more like pita bread. If you like this type of dough, great. But don’t expect a recipe with yeast to produce authentic results.
• Jazz up the dough by adding your favorite fresh, dried or powdered herbs and seasonings to the flour before mixing. My favorites include fresh cracked black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, ground oregano, cumin and garlic powder.
• For baked dough use very cold butter and for fried dough use solid shortening.
• Never use oil as this will create undesirable texture of the dough before rolling it out.
• For baked dough, always use ice water, never lukewarm or hot.
• For baked dough, always refrigerate the dough ball for at least 3 hours before assembling your empanadas.
• Make sure your filling in not too watery or juicy or it will make the dough soggy.
• To reduce the moisture of your filling, place it in a fine mesh strainer for at least an hour.
• It is a good idea to let your filling cool or even refrigerate it before assembling. Using warm or hot fillings will degrade the dough before baking/frying.
• The best fillings use high quality meats, produce and cheeses. Don’t skimp on quality.
• You need about 2 cups of filling for 12 empanadas.
• Only place 2-3 tablespoons of filling in each.
• Filling ingredients should be in small or fine pieces for best results.
• Slow-cooked fillings are no-fail. Remember to let the filling cool before using it.
• Roll out the dough on a floured surface without using plastic wrap, parchment or waxed paper. It’s easier to work with the dough on a simple cutting block or countertop.
• Extremely large circle cutters make it difficult to assemble, I stick to 6-8″ circles.
• If your empanada dough is correct, you don’t need to wet the edges to seal them.
• It’s always a good idea to roll out a new piece of dough if you put a hole in it by accident.
• There are many different techniques and styles for closing empanadas and here is a great video that demonstrates many. The family is Latin-American so everything is spoken in Spanish, but she does a great job showing a variety of ways to form the final empanada.