Friday, April 2, 2010


I have always had a "thing" about turnover/hot pocket type foods. I don't know exactly what caused it, but for whatever reason, ever since I was a kid, I've been turned off by savory pastries of all kinds. I suspect that the deal breaker was that you can't see what's inside... I mean, what exactly is that dough is hiding? Could be monkey brains... you just don't know... sure they say, it's beef, but you can't know that. Weirdly paranoid, I know. Unfortunately, like many of my picky eater habits from childhood, I have carried this into my adult life. Even in Jamaica, I completely eschewed their famous patties for no particular reason... Anna loved them of course, and while I was not swayed by her incredulity, I knew I was being silly.

So when I saw a beef empanada recipe(sub required) while browsing the latest Cook's Illustrated, I figured it was finally time to try and to conquer my irrationality here. After all, if I make the filling myself, then it's really not that mysterious right? Perhaps my first step towards a savory pastry filled future!

The cool thing about empanadas is that, while they are fairly labor intensive, you can make them over the course of several days... and even freeze them uncooked, which is pretty handy. While they're quite delicious, I didn't really want to eat a dozen empanadas all at once... so being able to pull a pair out of the freezer to bake on a random night is pretty sweet.

We decided to make a double batch of the Cook's Illustrated empanada dough, where I would make their beef and chorizo filling(sub required) for mine, and Anna would do Emeril's grilled vegetable and goat cheese filling for hers. Since I didn't think our aging food processor could handle a straight up doubled recipe, I made the following twice, but obviously YMMV.
  • 15 oz (3 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 5 oz (1 cup) masa harina
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons table salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
  • 1/2 cup cold vodka or tequila
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  1. Process 1 cup flour, masa harina, sugar, and salt in food processor until combined, about two 1-second pulses. Add butter and process until homogeneous and dough resembles wet sand, about 10 seconds. Add remaining 2 cups flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into large bowl.
  2. Sprinkle vodka or tequila and water over mixture. Using hands, mix dough until it forms tacky mass that sticks together. Divide dough in half, then divide each half into 6 equal pieces. Transfer dough pieces to plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
Now, I found that Cook's liquid measurements were not nearly enough for the dough to come together. The first batch I used volume measurements and the second I used weights, and in both cases the dough was way too dry... with me needing to add 1/4 to a 1/3 more cups of water to make it happen. I mean, you are talking about what is (with the masa harina ) essentially 4 cups of flour to 1 cup of liquid... and I could just not form a "tacky mass that sticks together" with that little liquid. Possibly that is because I suck at doughs and pastries, but if you share that fault with me, feel free to add water to loosen it up, since that's what I did and it was still great.

If you're familiar with Cook's current pie crust/pastry shell trends you'll notice a pretty common theme with the vodka, cubed butter, and everything chilled. If not, understand that as weird as the vodka usage seems, it has been their thing for a few years now... under the theory that the alcohol burns off faster than water and leaves a flakier product behind. I can't say how it compares to other empanada doughs, but they delivered a flaky and tender crust with a strong corn flavor... which is hard to argue against.

On the second night, I made the filling... dough still chillin' in the fridge. Anna made hers day of... and since Emeril's recipe only makes enough for about 6 empanadas... then improvised a second batch on a whim. Her second batch worked so well that I tend to think the primary hurdle here is the dough, and that you can do well filling it with pretty much anything. That said, here is the meaty filling I used:
  • 1 large slice hearty white sandwich bread , torn into quarters
  • 6 oz chorizo sausage , cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 can tomato sauce (14.5 ounces)
  • 1 pound 85 percent lean ground chuck
  • Table salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium onions , chopped fine (about 2 cups)
  • 4 medium garlic cloves , pressed through garlic press
  • 1 tablespoon ground chipotle chile pepper
  • 1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves , coarsely chopped
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs , coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup raisins , coarsely chopped
  • 4 teaspoons cider vinegar
In retrospect, looking at this ingredient list... I think I forgot the vinegar... but it was still really good anyway! Whoops. Next time.

Here's how you put it together, stolen directly from Cook's:
  1. Process bread and 2 tablespoons chicken broth in food processor until paste forms, about 5 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Add beef, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and pulse until mixture is well combined, six to eight 1-second pulses.
  2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil and 6 ounces Spanish chorizo or Portuguese linguiça, cut into ¼-inch dice (about 1 cup), in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove chorizo or linguiça, leaving rendered fat in skillet.
  3. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and chipotle chile pepper; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add beef mixture and cook, breaking meat into 1-inch pieces with wooden spoon, until browned, about 7 minutes. Then, add chorizo or linguiça back to skillet along with tomato sauce and simmer until mixture is moist but not wet, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to bowl and cool 10 minutes. Stir in cilantro, eggs, raisins and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate until cool, about 1 hour. (Filling can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
No complaints or clarifications about how this comes together. It worked well in my estimation, and was quite the tasty filling. Chipotle chile powder may be hard to come by for many... I have a bit of a dried chile "problem", so I actually had a bag of chipotle chile flakes ready to be ground up. You'll lose the hint of smokiness if you use standard chile powder, but that's probably not too large a price to pay for the convenience of not having to go to a spice shop. On the other hand, spice shops are awesome. Up to you.

And finally, on the third day, we assembled the empanadas. I made half of my share, and froze the rest. Anna baked all of hers and froze the already baked leftovers. Both of us have been pretty satisfied, so you could probably do it either way. They reheat really well in a 325 degree oven too, so you don't need to have a family of six or an "empanada party" to do this... they're essentially the perfect leftovers. Frozen and unbaked just take a minute or two longer... though our oven sometimes runs a little hot, and we found ourselves more on the 22-24 minute side rather than the 25-30 minutes listed below.

Note that all of the above photos are of Anna-made empanadas, as she has bakery and pastry experience and rolls a damn fine 6" circle. However, I did roll and assemble all my own... they're ugly, but they're perfectly functional and delicious... so don't be afraid to try this if you don't really know how to roll out dough.

Also, I was able to make a couple of extra empanadas from the scraps... just use some water so that the pieces came together. Presumably these won't be quite as tender as the others, but I was unable to detect a difference... maybe I'm just not that picky.

Anyway, here's how you assmeble and bake them, as per Cook's Illustrated:
  1. Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions, place 1 baking sheet on each rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees. While baking sheets are preheating, remove dough from refrigerator. Roll each dough piece out on lightly floured work surface into 6-inch circle about ⅛ inch thick, covering each dough round with plastic wrap while rolling remaining dough. Place about 1/3 cup filling in center of each dough round. Brush edges of dough with water and fold dough over filling. Trim any ragged edges. Press edges to seal. Crimp edges of empanadas using fork.
  2. Drizzle 2 tablespoons oil over surface of each hot baking sheet, then return to oven for 2 minutes. Brush empanadas with remaining tablespoon oil. Carefully place 6 empanadas on each baking sheet and cook until well browned and crisp, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking. Cool empanadas on wire rack 10 minutes and serve.

I have no idea whether all that rigamarole with the preheated cookie sheets and oil is really all that necessary... but I like that it skips the egg wash many other recipes call for.

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