Filipino Empanadas are easier than you think β€” just follow my tips

Recently I made my first attempt at crafting empanadas from scratch β€” yes, even the pastry. I felt intense pressure to make them perfect…first go. I was bringing them to the Filipino Food Movement Australia community picnic in Sydney. So I didn’t have time for catfish recipes from liars, cheats and online recipe swindlers. I was tossing up between a few recipes…

Then I discovered: Angela Dimuyaga’s beef empanada recipe on NYT Cooking

A darn good looking homemade empanada!

I was sold on Dimuyaga’s recipe and after trying it and would recommend it to empanada first timers and pros alike. They’re flavoursome, straightforward, can be deep fried or baked, very economical (300g beef mince makes 40. If you, like me ‘taste test’ some filling, you’ll have a few less). One caveat β€” Chef Dimuyaga’s recipe was written assuming that you wanted to undertake this lengthy process all at once (read: 2 hours approx…more if you don’t want to screw it up and over google what to do – like me). No shade, but those with less cooking experience or time might find it rather daunting upfront. So after consulting several other recipes and fixing some of my own screw ups on the fly, I have a list of suggestions to troubleshoot any problems you might run into.

Have a read before your fingers are covered in flour and you’re wondering why the heck you started this so late in the day (also for my own reference next time). I’m specifically referring to Dimuyaga’s recipe, not to say it’s not a great recipe β€” but I just made some realisations that weren’t detailed in the recipe. If you’re following another recipe a lot of these tips might apply to that too (compare them before you blindly trust me). I’ve noticed similar questions that I worked through myself in the recipe comments of this very recipe too. You can begin prep 1-3 days ahead to break the 2 hours up, especially if you only have a small window of time after work each day or something real life realistic like an actual life and responsibilities to work around.

Some of these changes might be obvious to some pastry pros, but if you’ve never made pastry from scratch before or handled it you might not be sure what you can and can’t do to suit you. Don’t let that discourage you! This list of tips will hopefully answer your questions (if you have more post them in the comments!) as you try to google answers with your floury fingers. I made these empanadas and googled as I went. Below is a collection of my learnings and observations.

My tips for avoiding common empanada mistakes:

EMPANADA FILLING
– Cook it a day ahead and refrigerate (then you’re not waiting for it to cool)

Is my filling too salty? – When you taste the filling by itself it might seem a bit too salty. However, once it’s in the pastry it mellows out a little and becomes perfect…the resulting empanada is tasty even when eaten cold! If you’re really unsure you can create and cook one 1 test empanada in the oven before you go ahead and make all 40.

Tasty, tasty filling. I made the potato a bit too chunky the first time.

Don’t make the cubed potato or veggie pieces too big…I did a little larger than a 1cm dice. Some potato pieces ended up piercing a few bits of pastry as I folded it over (if your pastry hasn’t been chilled for long enough this can cause it to break too easily – I was also just impatient). No big deal though.

Meat choice – Using the beef mince suggested in Dimuyaga’s recipe created a great flavour similar to Filipino beef menudo or adobo. Some other pork and chicken empanadas felt a bit bland in comparison to be honest, but give them a go if you prefer.

EMPANADA PASTRY

How good is this angry pastry chef brush?!

Using pre-made pastry for empanadas
– Use frozen shortcrust pastry if you cbf (no shame, get a fancy brand like careme if you REALLY want) and assemble empanadas on the day. Sure, they won’t be as authentic, but sometimes you just need a balance of life and homemade empanadas. They’ll still be delicious!

Cutting frozen pastry into rounds – Cut into rounds with a bowl/baking tin or cookie cutter (find a similar diameter to the one your chosen recipe calls for). Consult your frozen pastry packet directions, but generally pastry can be refrozen once empanadas have been assembled, it’s the filling that shouldn’t be frozen and refrozen for food safety reasons.

Chilling dough rounds – To freeze pastry rounds as you make them – put them on a tray lined with flour dusted baking paper. Layer as required, baking paper has to be between each layer of empanadas otherwise they’re more likely to stick and that’ll undo all your hard work. Cover the top layer with baking paper too to stop the pastry drying out.

Making Empanada pastry from scratch
– Make the pastry up to 3 days ahead. It should keep for 3 days tightly wrapped in cling film, so it doesn’t dry out.

Cold dough is harder to screw up – The dough is easier to work with and more forgiving the colder it is. You can tell when it’s not cold enough because it will stretch and break more easily. It’s a nightmare, especially for a first timer or someone that hasn’t handled pastry very much. If you’re finding it hard to mould your pastriesΒ  and they keep breaking or the filling is piercing the dough, then put your pastry rounds back in the freezer to chill further and take a breather, you’re halfway there!

Freeze the pastry rounds as you roll them – it takes forever for them to cool down in my at home fridge. Freezing it till they’re quite cold but still pliable will give you more time to work with them. I roll a stack of 6 or so before transferring them to a baking paper lined tray. Take them out of the freezer one sheet at a time so you don’t warm up the entire tray and have to wait for them to chill all over again.

I think my pastry looks wrong….how do I check it?
I’d create 1 or 2 test empanadas to test out both your finished pastry and the filling. The oven method might be quicker if you just want to test a couple.

Cooking empanadas – frying versus baking
Now that you’ve spent hours making these babies you don’t want to screw them up, right?! Dimuyaga suggests deep frying them, I was down for that because I didn’t want to screw with perfection….till I thought about how much active cooking time it would take to fry them in smaller batches (yes, this is what I think about in my down time)…

5 mins per batch
Each batch is about 7 empanadas or so (large pot, without overcrowding)
Total empanadas is 40 divided by 7 (the amount in a batch) = 5.7 batches.
5.7 batches x 5mins = 30 mins….not too bad, but in an oven I don’t have to stress about bubbling hot oil, cleaning it up, straining it and my cholesterol.

I tested this and you can cook Dimuyaga’s beef empanadas in the oven from fresh or frozen. I suggest 190Β°C for 20-25 mins, put in 2 trays at a time and switch the trays halfway through so they cook evenly.

Team baked empanada – don’t forget egg wash for a golden colour!
Egg wash = 1 egg whisked thoroughly with a few drops of milk.
If baking from frozen – put your empanadas into the oven and then once slightly defrosted (but before they start browning) brush them with egg wash. Some suggest doing the egg wash before freezing, but that just sounded like a headache, because that means waiting for the egg wash to dry so they don’t stick to the baking paper.

What’s with cracked empanadas?
That’s either a result of the pastry not being chilled enough before baking or a really fragile delicate pastry. Dimuyaga’s recipe is pretty forgiving, but I froze my empanadas overnight. I didn’t want to take any chances and they turned out really well! The few empanadas I allowed to thaw out did crack a bit.

Not even half the spread at the last Filipino Food Movement Australia picnic!
My empanada contribution is bottom right, they went down a treat!

I hope this guide was helpful! If you have any further empanada questions or your own tips I missed, please post them in the comments! I’m not an expert by any means, but I wanted to record these learnings so I can apply them next time!

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