Spiced Pork Empanadas

I’ve realized that I’ve been going through a sugar rush recently – first with the addictively sweet Momofuku Birthday Cake, then with the buttery sugar Captain America shield cookies. I needed something savory – like these empanadas:

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I’ve had empanadas on my cooking bucket list for quite a while. I was introduced to Spanish tapas a couple years ago at El Porron for a birthday lunch with my sister. While Spanish tapas hasn’t made my top cuisine list, I really enjoyed the flavors and spices in each of the tapas dishes we ordered. The one that resonated most with me were the steak empanadas, one of the day’s special tapas. The crust was flaky and tender. The steak was juicy and flavorful. There were only two per order so I savored every bite. Sometimes I still dream about it.

This weekend, I decided to try my own version of empanadas. Since it was my first time, I didn’t want to go too fancy and buy expensive cuts of beef, so I decided to make empanadas with filled with ground pork. Here are some guides I used in my empanada research:

Empanadas are like little savory pie dumplings, although there are sweet versions too. I used the dough from Mollie’s empanada dough and adapted the curried pork filling from Simply Recipes. The dough is similar to dough for a pie crust: flour, salt, butter, and ice water. I added some milk and an egg for some flavor.

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The filling is easy to make too. It can be any kind that you like. For these simple empanadas, I chose a pork filling spiced by cumin and paprika. I also added cranberries and egg.

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After both filling and dough parts are ready, it’s assembly time! I made 20 mini empanadas and 5 medium ones.

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Bake them in a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven and you know they are done when they’re golden brown.

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These were a hit with the fambam! Everyone loved the flavors and crust. We already planned to have the leftovers for Monday’s lunch!

Spiced Pork Empanadas

Dough Ingredients

  • 2 ¼ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup very cold butter, frozen and grated
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar (or Vodka)
  • A glass of ice water; you’ll use a third of a cup, perhaps more

Filling Ingredients

  • Salt
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 egg, hard boiled
  • 2 Tbsp sherry
  • 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup cranberries, chopped

Directions

Whisk together flour and salt in a bowl. Using a grater, grate the butter into the bowl. Toss to separate the pieces and coat with flour. Working by hand, pinch the butter and flour together. Try to have large and small bits.

Mix the egg and milk together. Measure 1/3 cup of ice water and a tablespoon of vinegar. Add the egg/milk mixture and vinegar/water mixture over the flour while tossing with a fork until mostly incorporated. At this point, I placed the bowl into the refrigerator to prevent the dough from becoming too warm.

Meanwhile, prepare a floured pastry board or surface. Once the dough has chilled for about 15-30 minutes, turn it out onto the floured surface and rub the mixture together to form an incorporated dough. You should see chunks of butter throughout.

Flatten the dough into a squarish shape and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 1 hour. It can be refrigerated for longer, but leave at room temperature for about 5-10 minutes to make it more pliable for rolling out. If making this in advance, it also be frozen for 1 month.

While the dough is chilling, prepare the filling. The filling can also be made in advanced since it needs to cool. Heat a frying pan on medium high heat and cook the ground pork. Add the pork in pieces and season with some salt. Let the pork brown without stirring. Once browned on one side, flip the pieces to the other side to brown. Once the pork is nicely browned on both sides, reduce the heat to medium and remove pork to a bowl.

Add about 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan. Add the minced garlic and spices to the pan. After a few minutes, or when you can start smelling the spices, add the ground pork back to the pan and mix to incorporate all the seasonings. Add the egg and cranberries. Add the sherry, soy sauce, sugar, and cornstarch, mixing well. Make sure to break up any large pork pieces. Remove the filling from the heat and chill.

Once the filling and dough have chilled, the empanadas are ready to be made. On a floured work surface, roll out the dough, from the center to edges, 1/8″ thick. Cut into rounds. I used a rice bowl to make medium size rounds and a cookie cutter to make small, mini ones. You’ll need to reroll the scraps, but to keep them tender, layer them on top of one another, and place in the refrigerator to keep it chilled. Fill the others as you wait.

Lightly brush the inside edge of the rounds with water or egg wash. Place about 1 teaspoon of filling in the small rounds and about 1-2 tablespoons of filling in the larger rounds. Fold one side of the round over and press the edges to seal shut. Use a fork to flute the edges, or you can be fancy and pleat the edge. Use a pastry brush to brush the sides with egg wash.

At this point, I placed them back in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to chill. I find them to hold their shape better when baked cold. Preheat your oven anywhere from 350 degrees Fahrenheit*. Place the chilled empanadas in the oven and bake for 15-30 minutes depending on the size of your empanadas. They are ready when the dough is golden brown.

*Most recipes call for a higher temperature of 400-425 degrees Fahrenheit since empanadas are traditionally fried but because it gets really hot in my house with the oven on in the summer, I baked them at 350 for 15 minutes, 375 for another 15 minutes, and 400 for the last 10 minutes. Just keep an eye out for that golden brown point!

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