The Perfect Empanada

A very special person (VSP) asked me if I have ever made empanadas. Truth be told, no.
She has been trying to duplicate a pumpkin filled empanada that a friend had eaten and loved out in California. VSP has been having a problem with the dough. I forgot to ask her if she was making a savory pumpkin filling or a dessert filling. Hmmmm, I will have to find out!
For the past three weeks I have immersed myself in empanadas to try to help this VSP in her attempt to recreate the pumpkin empanada.
What I have found through my endless hours of research and development, is that empanada dough is basically flaky pastry dough or pate brisee. When you ask connoisseurs of empanadas about the ingredients they use for their dough, the answers vary as much as asking pie makers what goes into their crust. Some empanada makers use all butter and others use all shortening. Some use a little of each. Some have egg in their recipe and some use masa harina in place of flour. Some fry their empanadas and some go a healthier route of baking.
It was my mission to figure out how to create the perfect empanada!

Let’s start with the dough. I have to admit I am a purest. I don’t like using shortening (with the exception of our family nut roll recipe) After experimenting ad nauseam with different empanada recipes I think the perfect dough is a mix of butter and shortening! It is light. It is flaky. It holds together perfectly while shaping the empanadas. It is perfect!

Perfect Empanada Dough

• 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 6 tablespoons vegetable shortening
• 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
• 10 tablespoons cold water

Making empanada dough is just like making pie crust. The butter and shortening should be cold. Use your hands as little as possible.  I used my food processor.If you don’t have one it is just as easy to use your fingers and a bowl (and then run out and buy a food processor!) Put all of the ingredients except water into the bowl of a food processor and with it running pour water in a steady stream. Pulse until dough pulls together. DO NOT OVER PROCESS AND DO NOT OVER MIX WITH YOUR HANDS. The chunks of butter and shortening make the flaky layers. Chill for 30 mins.

Now on to the filling. I went the savory route. I decided to make a spicy chicken filling.

• whole chicken breast bone and skin
• 1white onion, halved (1/2 onion finely diced)
• 1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds coarsely chopped
• 1 fresh poblano chile, charred over an open flame and sliced into strips
• 6 cups (48 ounces) vegetable oil
• 2 garlic cloves, crushed
• 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 4 canned plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
• 2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, coarsely chopped
• 2 cups shredded Queso Blanco cheese
• 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

1.  Place chicken breast in a pot with 1/2 onion and cover with water. Poach for 15 mins. Cool until it is easy to handle. Remove skin and shred meat. Reserve 1 cup of the poaching liquid. In a skillet heat 1/4 cup olive oil. Add the finely diced onion and chopped garlic.Cook until translucent and tender.
3. Add the cumin and cinnamon and cook 1 min. Add the tomatoes, chipotle peppers, shredded chicken, poblano pepper and reserved cup of poaching liquid. Cook over medium flame until liquid is reduced and has thickened.
4. Remove from heat and stir in chopped almonds and fresh cilantro
Take a ball of dough (1 1/2 tbsp) and roll out into small circle
Place a small amount of chicken filling on lower half of circle. Top with 1 tbsp of the shredded Queso Blanco cheese and with a pastry brush and water moisten the bottom edge. Fold over into a half moon shape.
Heat the 6 cups of vegetable oil to 375 degrees. Carefully fry empanadas until golden brown. 30 seconds on each side. Drain on paper towel. I served them with Cabots Sour Cream with Salsa and a wedge of lime!
These are perfect party appetizers!
 Hey VSP when do I get one of your pumpkin filled empanadas???

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