Empanadas de Calabaza (Pumpkin Empanadas)
For Ice Queen, I wanted to share a recipe for Empanadas de Calabaza (Pumpkin Empanadas). My abuela used to run a bakery called Hacienda Sanchez (such an aspirational name!) in South Seattle. She had many other specialties — some quite elaborate — but this humble hand pie is my #1 fave.
In fall, these empanadas can be found in any panaderia worth their salt. The recipe is quite simple, but there are many, MANY variations on the theme. I wanted to share her recipe, but it’s been lost to time and family disputes. In trying to reverse engineer it, I have found many recipes to be overly flaky, overly greasy, and strangely lacking in aroma and flavor.
I’ve largely reconstructed the filling from memory, but the dough has been the missing piece. In looking for inspiration, I found La Piña en la Cocina’s outstanding dough recipe. When I tried it, I found it soft and yeasty in all the right ways. When paired with Abuela’s rich, autumnal filling, it’s a near-perfect reconstruction.
Yield: About 12 empanadas
RECIPE FOR FILLING
• 2 cans of canned pumpkin (please don’t tell Abuela I use canned pumpkin)
• 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon of grated piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar), cracked and grated
• 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon, freshly ground
• 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground
• 1/8 teaspoon cloves, freshly ground
• 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
• Pinch of salt
DIRECTION FOR FILLING
1. Open the canned pumpkin. Put that shit in a pot.
2. Stir in all the things — piloncillo, vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, allspice — and stir them well to combine.
3. Cook until the room smells like your grandmother’s house.
4. Make sure it cools completely before use.
RECIPE FOR DOUGH
• 4 cups bread flour sifted
• 1/2 cup shortening
• 1/2 cup piloncillo, cracked and grated
• 1 tbsp active dry yeast
• 2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
• 1 tbsp cinnamon, freshly ground
• 1 1/3 cups warm milk, at least 110° F
DIRECTIONS FOR DOUGH:
1. Sift the flour into a large bowl.
2. Cut in the shortening until you have small crumbles.
3. Cut in the piloncillo and yeast until well incorporated.
4. Mix in the eggs and cinnamon.
5. Gradually add in the warm milk until dough forms.
6. Transfer to a flat surface and knead for 6-8 minutes. (Protip: Grease your hands if you’re having trouble kneading.)
7. Place in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise at room temperature for 2 ½ hours.
8. Once dough rises, preheat oven to 375° F. (Get that middle rack ready.)
9. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper, set aside.
10. Pull off enough dough to make a 1 ½ oz. dough ball. Roll out to about 4 inches in diameter. Fill with 2 tablespoons of filling. (You never need as much filling as you think.)
11. Fold over and press gently around the filling to take out any air. Gently press with the palm of your hand. (You can leave as is or pinch — but for me, pinching invites disaster.)
12. Transfer finished empanadas onto your baking sheets. Roll, fill, and repeat.
13. Don’t forget: Cut small vent holes with a paring knife.
14. Bake for 20 minutes on the middle rack until golden brown. (My preference is underdone.)