Empanada is the new Cupcake

There are few foods in this world as perfect as the Empanada.

Also known in some parts as a ‘hand pie,’ an Empanada is sort of like a Calzone.  An incredibly diverse food, the Latin American Empanada has many brothers, sisters and cousins  around the world.  They can be sweet or savory, baked or fried, and are filled with pretty much anything you can imagine.   Although I have yet to eat my way around the world in Empanadas (one day…) and try them all, I have certainly had my share.

Empanadas are up there with pizza, cupcakes and strawberries as one of my all time favorite things to eat.  This goes all the way back to the days when Empanadas meant one last moment of freedom from the school week and relaxation on a Sunday afternoon.  Unfortunately, in the Boston area, unless you know someone who can make them, and make them well they are all but impossible to find.  There is always the Jamaican beef pie which don’t get me wrong is delicious, and I also saw some sketchy looking pies that I didn’t dare try, under a heating lamp in a 7-Eleven, but it just doesn’t have the same pull.   So, a few years ago and through the magic of the internet I decided to try and make them.   Now they’re on my regular rotation.

Typically when I make Empanadas I make a Chilean style lightly spiced beef empanada with raisins etc… . It is quite a labour intensive process and I take my time, but the end result is about 16 sandwich sized pockets of happiness, that I now have to divide up between a demanding group of family and friends.

Since I had already “successfully” made a few types of empanadas that had gone over well, I wasn’t surprised that I was asked to make empanadas for a New Years Day party.   Since the party was Spanish themed with a focus on Tapas it was requested that I make Empanadillas de Atún, or Little Tuna Empanadas.

I found several recipes online that looked delicious but were too South American as opposed to Spanish, which is what I was looking for.  In the end I found what looked like it was going to be a great recipe for “Tuna and Green Olive Empanadas” in Food and Wine Magazine.

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I followed the recipe pretty closely but I did make a few minor adjustments.  I added garlic, for example.   I also added a red pepper and omitted the tomatoes because they’re out of season and I wasn’t feeling it,  also I forgot to get them when I was at the grocery store.   I also added fresh ground black pepper, cilantro and a little bit of oregano.    I also decided not to use puff pastry.  Although I’m sure it would be delicious, I was making a lot of empanadillas and I thought the cost of buying four or five boxes of puff pastry was too much.  So I decided to make dough, and of course that added time.

When I make Empanadas de Pino I use pie crust as the dough.  The slight sweetness of the pie crust works well with the savory filling and I thought with the tuna it would also work well.

The filling was the easiest part.  There was some chopping involved but once I threw everything into my cauldron, it really only took a few minutes to cook.  I used a few cans of tuna in olive oil, pitted green olives and fresh cilantro, parsley and bay leaf from my dad’s garden which I think made a big difference. I mixed it all together, covered it and stuck it in the fridge with the dough so it would be ready the next morning for me to assemble.   (Waiting overnight is not necessary, I just happened to be heading into First Night to meet up with friends.)

Assembly is the real bitch in this process, its time consuming, its frustrating and depending on the size of the empanadas it can be  difficult.  Normally I make about a 7 inch empanada which makes about 12-14 depending on how thin you want the crust.  For empandillas I made them closer to 4 inches.

Things went well.   I made a big pot of coffee (Lavazza) and started rolling out the dough around 9am.  I usually try to roll my dough into a slightly oblong shape, because it’s just easier for me.  Then you just place a tablespoon full of the tuna mixture slightly off center, fold, crimp and repeat.  Before you put them into the oven brush them with an egg wash,  and you’re good to go.  Two short hours later I finished assembling my last empandilla and put the last tray in the oven around 11.   Honestly, assembly couldn’t have been easier but I’m not that picky and I needed to get them done.

In the end I made about 34 empanadillas.  People seemed to like them and I was very happy with the recipe.  I didn’t even miss the tomato although I might make a tomato sauce to go with them next time.  That was part one of my New Years Day Cooking Adventure.

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Part Two, was dessert.

For some reason I got into my head that we needed to have an olive oil cake.   My idea was that someone else would make it, but no…

If Olive Oil cake was what I wanted, then I would have to make it myself.  I found the easiest recipe I could find online and I ended up making two.  The only difference between the two cakes was that in the first one I used standard lemons and in the second I used smaller organic lemons which I think tasted better.   I’m not sure if there’s an actual difference, or if it’s all in my head but the organic lemons seemed to have a brighter sweeter taste which complemented the olive oil better in the second cake.

But then I decided my cakes needed decoration other than powdered sugar, because it was the new year after all.   So, I candied Cara Cara orange slices to decorate. This was a little more complicated  than I thought it would be, simply because I had to get the ratio of water to sugar to orange right, but in the end it worked out and looked pretty cool.

Would I make them again? Totally.

Will I food blog again? It’s very possible, but I can’t say for sure.

Although there is always room for improvement the Empanadas with Tuna and Green Olives were savory and robust in way that reminded me of Spain, and all the reasons why I love Spanish food.   The olive oil cake was fruity and not too sweet which made it a good way to end a meal.  On top of all that candied oranges are totally my new favourite thing.

I don’t know if i’m a particularly good cook or not, but it’s fun trying to make stuff, and I always like eating the food I make even if it doesn’t always turn out perfect.  In the end I don’t think it matters if you are a good cook or not I think if people enjoy what you made, then it’s a job well done.