At the end of the day, there are only so many basic ways in which you can wrap a piece of dough around a filling, so it’s unsurprising that lots of different cultures have their equivalent of a filled turnover. The Spanish version, which is ubiquitous in Spain and Latin America, is the Empanada. The verb empañar just means to wrap or cover and in no way specifies what the thing is that you’re covering: it can be sweet or savoury, meaty, cheesy or veggie, sticky or chunky.
I could have picked any Latin country for this bake, but I’ve gone East to the Philippines, where they’re extremely fond of their empanadas. What follows is an amalgam of several Filipino recipes: feel free to choose minced pork or shredded chicken in place of the beef, use butter or vegetable shortening in place of the lard and/or play whatever games you fancy with the flavourings: I’ve kept things to a mild, faintly Far Eastern kind of feel.
Empanadas can be baked or deep fried. I baked mine, although I deep fried two of them for comparison. Both were nice: I preferred the deep fried version for flavour, but the baked one had a nice flaky texture that gets lost in deep frier. Eat a couple of them with some salad for a light supper, or they make a fantastic savoury snack dish.
All the weights given here are net weights after peeling. Having said which, the exact amounts really aren’t critical: there’s no point in following them slavishly and it’s far more important that you taste the filling and get it seasoned the way you want.
The filling is best made well in advance – you want it completely cold when you actually start assembling the empanadas.
- Sunflower or other neutral oil for frying
- 180g onion (around one medium to large onion)
- 12g ginger
- 10g garlic
- 500g minced beef
- 180g carrots (two medium to large carrots)
- 1 tbs dark soy sauce
- 2 tbs oyster sauce
- Sichuan peppercorns to taste (perhaps a teaspoon) – substitute with black pepper, paprika etc if you prefer
- 150g frozen peas
- 35g raisins: these are optional. Most Filipino recipes usually include them because they like a touch of sweetness, but others hate the idea.
- Chili paste to taste (I used around a tablespoon of the stuff you get in jars from Chinese supermarkets – this is very much optional but I liked the extra slight kick)
- Chop the onion, garlic, ginger and carrots, keeping them separate.
- Pound the peppercorns in a pestle and mortar.
- Heat oil and fry the onions on medium heat until transparent.
- Add the garlic and ginger and fry for another minute or two.
- Add the minced beef and keep stir-frying until you can’t obviously see any pinkness.
- Add the carrots and stir fry for another five minutes or so.
- Add the soy and oyster sauces and the Sichuan peppercorns, and stir some more.
- Add frozen peas and raisins (if using), salt and Sichuan peppercorns, and cook the sauce until most of the liquid has evaporated.
- Remove from the heat and cool thoroughly. Leave the filling uncovered for the first hour or so to ensure that surplus water evaporates: a wet filling results in the dreaded soggy bottom!
The quantities here made about 670g of pastry, so enough for 16 empanadas using 40g each, with a tiny bit to spare.
- 400g plain flour (if possible, use OO grade flour)
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 100g lard (keep chilled until use)
- 125ml water
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vinegar
- Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and stir until evenly mixed. (Some recipes add sugar to the dough – I really didn’t like that idea).
- Cut the lard into very small cubes, tip them into the flour mix and work with your fingers until there are no big lumps of lard remaining and most of the flour has been absorbed.
- Beat together the egg, vinegar and water and add to your flour mixture. Mix in until you have a smooth dough.
- Knead the dough for five minutes or so until it is elastic and springs back when you press a dent into it with your thumb.
- Form into a ball, cover and leave in the fridge to rest for 20-30 minutes.
Assembly and baking
- More flour for dusting – you’ll need a surprisingly large amount
- 1 egg for the wash
- Preheat oven to 180℃ fan (if deep frying, 180℃ is also a good temperature for your oil).
- Cover a baking tray with a Silpat sheet if you have one, or baking paper if you don’t.
- Flour your pastry board.
- Divide your dough into 16 balls of around 40g each (I actually did four at a time, leaving the rest of the dough in the bowl, covered to stop it drying out).
- Roll out a ball of dough into as good a circle as you can manage, perhaps 10-12cm in diameter.
- Spoon a ball of filling into the middle of your circle. I used about two dessertspoonfuls of filling per empanada.
- Brush the circle of dough around the outside of your filling with water: that’s to help the edges stick together when you seal the parcel.
- Pick up two opposite edges of the circle and fold them together; then squeeze together all the way round the semicircle. You want to get all the air out and distribute the filling nicely while being sure that the dough doesn’t tear and the filling doesn’t leak out of the edge.
- Fold an end of your semi-circle inwards (about 5mm or so), then repeat until you have the characteristic braided pattern around the edge of your semi-circle. Personally, I’m incredibly messy at this, so you’re best not to look at my photos too closely and look at the Instagram video pointed to by this recipe.
- Put the empanada on your baking sheet, and repeat for the next fifteen.
- Beat the egg with a bit of water and brush the pastries with the resulting wash (tip: if you don’t want to waste the leftover egg wash, which will be most of the egg, it makes a perfectly nice small omelette).
- Bake for around 25-30 minutes until golden brown.