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)
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)
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).
As far as I can see, the real definition of a spring roll is “anything you like that has vaguely Far Eastern flavourings, wrapped in a cigar shape of very thin pastry”. However, this being a baking blog with pretensions of authenticity, I started off with an actual Malaysian recipe – and one that specifies how to bake them rather than the more usual deep fry. If like me, you try to steer clear of deep frying, the use of cooking spray – not something I’d come across before using this recipe – seems to work pretty well, getting a result that’s crisp, non-greasy and holds its filling, even if you don’t get the classic “golden all over” look of the fried version.
The recipe will be very forgiving as to quantities: shown here are what I had easily available. The original recipe specifies jicama, a root vegetable that I couldn’t get hold of, so I substituted with a couple of cans of water chestnuts. I believe that mooli (aka daikon) also makes a good substitute, but with a more distinctive flavour of its own.
500g lean pork mince
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
Ground black pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic
Oil for frying (I used groundnut oil, any neutral oil will do
450g water chestnuts
2 large carrots
3 spring onions
Combine pork mince, soy sauce and black pepper in a bowl, mix well.
Chop garlic and onion finely
Peel the carrots, grate them and the water chestnuts – I did this in a food processor.
Warm a small amount of oil in a wok, add the pork mixture and fry for a couple of minutes
Add onion and garlic, fry until the meat is browned and the onion is soft
Add the water chestnuts, carrots and cabbage, and keep cooking until the vegetables are cooked through and most of the water has been cooked out of them.
Chop the spring onions and add them.
Put the whole lot in a colander or sieve for ten minutes or so (or as long as you like) to allow more of the excess moisture to drain away.
Assembly and baking
Although I usually try to make my own pastry from scratch for this blog, I just couldn’t see a good reason for doing so here – and as far as I know, none of my Asian friends can be bothered either: the supermarket-bought wrappers are just fine. I couldn’t find fresh ones, so I bought a frozen pack: it was important to defrost them well in advance, because otherwise, peeling a wrapper off the frozen block would have been impossible without tearing it.
How many spring rolls this makes is a function of the size of your wrappers and how much filling you want to put into each. If you put a large amount of filling into each wrapper, you’ll have thinner pastry and a less carb-heavy dish; if you put less filling, you’ll have multiple layers of pastry, which will make it easier to get a crisper outside. I used wrappers that were 190mm square and put quite a lot of filling in, so the quantities here made about 20. Next time, I think, I’d go for two thirds of the filling I used here and make 30 rolls.
You want to work as quickly as you can manage, because the moisture from the filling will soak into the pastry faster than you would like.
1 packet spring roll wrappers (20-30)
Cooking spray (I used a sunflower oil spray)
Preheat oven to 225℃ fan
Have ready a baking tray with a rack above it – I used a rack that I would normally use for cooling cakes or biscuits. Also have ready a small bowl of water and a pastry brush.
Place a wrapper on a clean work surface so that you’re looking at a diamond rather than a square (i.e. the thing furthest away from you is a corner, not an edge).
Spoon some filling into a cigar shape in the middle of the wrapper, going left-to-right as you see it.
Tuck the corner furthest from you over your cigar of filling
Tuck the left hand right corners into the middle
Brush the remaining flat part of the wrapper with water, and tuck it over your filling to form the completed roll.
Repeat for half a dozen or so rolls, spray them generously with cooking spray, transfer them onto you rack, turning them outside down as you go. Now spray the other side.
Repeat until your rack is full. You’ll probably need to do the whole process twice: if you have a second pan and rack, you can bake them all at the same time; otherwise, you’ll have to wait until the first batch is backed.
It’s time for the bake from my own country. There are so many to choose from: timeless cakes like the Victoria Sponge, regional specials like the Eccles cake or Bakewell tart, seasonal fruit cakes or hot cross buns, tea time favourites of scones or crumpets, or the humble muffin, which even has “English” in its name (everywhere except, of course, in England). But I’ve chosen to do a pastry style that I’ve hardly seen anywhere else in the world: the hot water pie crust, using it to make the classic English game pie. Since it’s coming up to December and people are thinking about Christmas, I’ve gone for a recipe from the BBC with the seasonal twist of cranberries and chestnuts.
Although you can warm up this kind of pie, it’s more often eaten cold as a lunch dish. It’s a fabulous main course for a picnic, although you’ll need freezer capacity since the game season doesn’t generally coincide with picnic weather in these parts. But the same technique should work for a pork pie or other variants.
The pastry-making technique is a bit like choux pastry without the eggs: boil up fat and water together, then quickly combine the flour and mix. As with most recipes for hot water crust, the BBC’s specifies lard, which is difficult to find right now and, in any case, isn’t to everyone’s taste. I used butter and it worked fine. The key is to work quickly when mixing and rolling the pastry, which is beautifully elastic when it’s still warm.
Cranberry sauce filling
150g fresh or frozen cranberries (buy 200g – we’re using the rest later)
50g golden caster sugar
If using frozen cranberries, defrost them.
Add all ingredients into a pan, bring to the boil and simmer until cranberries are soft and the liquid is much reduced
Pour into a bowl to cool
800g mixed boneless game, such as rabbit, venison, wild boar, pheasant, partridge or pigeon
300g pork belly
200g bacon lardons
150g cooked chestnuts (the vacuum packed ones readily available in UK supermarkets work well)
50g fresh or frozen cranberries
½ tsp ground mace
2 large pinches of ground nutmeg
Small bunch sage
Small bunch thyme
Finely mince the pork belly (or blitz in a food processor)
Chop the game finely. I went for around 5mm cubes, which gives a fairly coarse filling which is well matched to the size of the lardons in the supermarket packet. But you can go finer if you prefer.
Chop the chestnuts coarsely.
Chop the sage and the thyme finely.
Mix everything together as evenly as you can: it takes a surprisingly long time to get the belly mince evenly distributed around the rest of the filling.
Making the hot water crust pastry and filling the pie
200g butter, plus some for greasing
575g plain flour, plus some for the board
Preheat oven to 160℃ fan.
Boil a kettle.
Grease a 20cm springform cake tin.
In a small bowl, beat the egg.
In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt.
Cut the butter into cubes, perhaps 2cm per side.
Get your rolling pin and board ready, spread some flour on them.
Now work quickly: combine the water and butter in a jug and mix thoroughly. If the butter is taking too long to melt and the whole thing has cooled down, top up the temperature with 30 seconds in the microwave.
Pour your wet mix into the flour and rapidly combine it, kneading a little until you have a smooth dough with no dry flour.
Take a quarter of the dough and wrap it in cling film.
Roll the rest of the dough to a circle somewhat larger than the diameter of your tin plus twice its height.
Transfer the dough to the tin, using it to line the base and sides. For now, leave any excess hanging over the sides.
Fill the pie in the following order: half the meat filling, all the cranberry sauce, then the second half of the filling. The top should be slightly domed.
Roll out the remaining dough and slice into 1cm strips.
Make a lattice on the top of the pie with the strips of dough – leaving gaps (or at least one gap) big enough to poke a funnel through. If you’ve run out, cut off some of the overhanging pastry and roll them out to make up the shortfall.
Brush the top with some of the beaten egg (you’ll only need a little of it)
Bake for 45 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 140℃ fan, then bake for another 90 minutes.
4 gelatine leaves, or 1 sachet powdered gelatine
300ml veal or chicken stock
Leave the pie to cool for at least an hour, preferably two.
Warm the stock to close to boiling, then add and dissolve the gelatine in it.
Pour the stock through a funnel into one or more holes in the lattice until it nearly overflows. Discard any excess stock.