Empanadas

There has been a conspiration against my good will for eating well. For the last few weeks I’ve come across quite a few people mentioning empanadas, which fuelled the craving for eating some.

Empanadas are probably a better choice than tacos for a food that could be considered something typically South American. It’s about time that people learn that tacos are from Mexico and that Mexico is located in North America.

As far as I know, there are empanadas in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Of course each country has its variations. For example, we use black olives and sometimes raisings in the beef ones, Argentinians (and I believe Uruguayans too) use green olives and no raisins. Empanadas in Argentina are often wrapped in puff pastry and deep fried (they have baked ones, too). Bolivian salteñas often feature potatoes in their filling. In Chile the best ones (for me) are made with cheese and ham wrapped in puff pastry and baked. I used to have one for dinner (plus a half bottle of Carmenere courtesy of the hotel) when I was working in Santiago.

It had been years since I made empanadas (because they’re not healthy and if you really crave one there are lots of places to buy a good one in Lima), so I decided it was about time to give it a go. The filling is super simple: you cook onions and chilli on medium-low heat in a generous amount of oil (to keep it moist) until they’re very soft, then add minced beef (or chopped chicken) and sliced olives and raisins (optional) once the meat is cooked. Then you let it cool completely before assembling the empanadas.

The real challenge for me is to get the pastry right, meaning exactly the same as in the best bakeries in Lima. I haven’t been able to achieve that yet. I decided to test Michael Ruhlman’s 3-2-1 pie dough ratio this time (3 parts flour, 2 parts shortening, 1 part chilled water) using lard. He does mention in his book that it makes a pretty good empanada dough. It was a bit stickier than what I’m used to but I could manage.

Here are the steps I followed:

  1. I made the filling (as explained above) and let it cool, first on the pan and then in the fridge.
  2. Step 1: empanada filling

  3. Then I took a portion of the dough (I was planning to be professional and weight it for exact portions but I was too tired for that) and made a ball with it.
  4. Step 2: dough ball

  5. Then I flattened the dough ball with my hand on top of my cling-wrapped chopping board.
  6. Step 3: flattened dough ball

  7. Then I put an extra layer of cling wrap on top of the dough and rolled it.
  8. Step 4: rolled dough ball

  9. Then I put a spoonful of filling plus a piece of hard-boiled egg on top of the dough disc.
  10. Step 5: filling on rolled dough

  11. Then I closed the empanada rolling the edge over itself.
  12. Step 6: closed empanada

  13. Finally we baked a small batch and had them for dinner.
  14. Step 7: baked empanadas

The white thing on top is icing sugar, which is how beef empanadas are sold in Peru. I think it’s to differentiate them from the chicken ones.

As for the dough, I wasn’t very happy with it. It has a strong pork smell when it’s being baked, which some people may love but I don’t. It’s flaky but a bit too fatty for my taste.

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