Filipino Empanadas are easier than you think — just follow my tips

Recently I made my first attempt at crafting empanadas from scratch — 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 — 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 — 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 pastries  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 190°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!

Filipino With Puff: Adobo Pie and Banana Catsup

Growing up, my Filipino mum would whip big batches of chicken adobo for dinner each week. This classic mix of chicken, soy sauce, vinegar and garlic makes for a punchy flavour that hits the spot between sweet, sour and salty. 100% comfort food.

This recipe puts a new spin on that classic Filipino taste, by encasing it in a classic Aussie crust. This dish is kinda like me! A mix of my Filipino and European heritage, with banana catsup – the Filipino version of ketchup – a tropical innovation that stemmed from a WWII tomato shortage, and pairs surprisingly well with the pie.

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RECIPE

CHICKEN ADOBO PIE WITH HOMEMADE BANANA CATSUP

Makes 4-6 pies. Cooking time 1.5hrs

INGREDIENTS

Chicken adobo

  • 1.5kg bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (thighs or whole chicken cut into 8)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar (can also use white Filipino cane vinegar or white vinegar)
  • ½-1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 10 large cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 bay leaves

Pie pastry

  • 2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 2 sheets frozen shortcrust pastry, thawed
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Banana catsup (banana ketchup)

  • 2 very ripe bananas, mashed till smooth (approx. 1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup eschallots, finely diced (or brown onion)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 60ml white vinegar
  • 60ml water
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon palm or brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon, ginger finely grated
  • 1 tablespoon fresh turmeric, finely grated (1 teaspoon if using ground turmeric)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste

METHOD

  1. To make the chicken adobo filling place the water, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, sugar, cinnamon stick, peppercorns and bay leaves in a large pot. Place the chicken skin side down in the pan. If the chicken it isn’t covered in liquid add ½ to 1 cup water.
  2. Bring liquid to the boil on medium high heat, then turn down to medium low and simmer with the lid on for about 1 hour (or till chicken is cooked and juices run clear). Stir and turn the chicken every once in a while.
  3. While the chicken is cooking prepare the banana catsup. Heat the vegetable oil in a medium pot and cook the eschallots till translucent, then add the ginger, garlic, turmeric and all spice. Cook till the spices are fragrant.
  4. Add the tomato paste and cook for a minute, stirring well. Follow with vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and mashed banana. Simmer on low heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring often till it starts to thicken.
  5. If the banana ketchup is too thick add a bit of water to reach desired consistency. To store allow sauce to cool and transfer to an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks+.
  6. Once chicken adobo is cooked take it off the heat and allow to cool, however if the sauce is too runny remove the chicken and allow sauce to thicken on medium high heat. Next pull the meat off the bones and into bite sized pieces. Toss it with the thickened adobo sauce ready to go into the pies.
  7. Preheat oven to 220C and place a baking tray into the oven. Grease your pie pans of choice with butter (I used a medium 6 cup muffin tin). For the pie bases cut 6 x 15cm circles from the shortcrust pastry to line the base and sides of your pie tins. Brush the top edges with water. Fill with cooled chicken adobo mix. For the pie lids cut 6 x 15cm circles from the puff pastry. Place over meat and press to seal with a fork. Trim the edges to neaten and brush the tops with egg.
  8. Place pies onto a hot tray and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden. Serve with the banana catsup.

It’s a long one, but I swear it’s worth it! Deliciously crispy pastry, filled with salty-sweet fall-apart chicken, finished with a fresh tang from the banana catsup… As an extra tip for your effort: Make a double batch of the chicken adobo and freeze half of it for more pies later or to chow down with rice. You’ll thank yourself later!

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