With a soft, crumbly and almost sweet dough that embraces a moist, tasty and meaty filling, it is hard not to eat one after the other. These Empanadas do have a curious name though. Especially when you consider their addicting nature.
I didn’t choose their name. No.The nuns from the Mexican Convent of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception are to blame.It all began with Beatriz da Silva, the Portuguese woman who founded the order in Toledo, Spain.
Known to be shockingly beautiful, although destined to be the companion to Queen Isabel from Spain, she was locked up because of the Queen’s jealousy and alleged admiration from the King. Legend goes, that when Beatriz managed to flee, she was more beautiful and had a new found strength she used to establish a new Conceptionist order.The three Conceptionist nuns who arrived in Mexico City around the 1540’s, were also known to be strong. If not as pretty.
Aside from trying to evangelize the population, they combined Spanish and Mexican ingredients in their kitchens, as most Spanish nuns, with an intense passion and a ton of imagination. As most Spanish nuns, as well, their cooking instincts were led by an insatiable sweet tooth. That may explain the sweet elements both in the dough and the filling of these Empanadas, that were served time and again to entertain guests in this convent.And now you know, where the name comes from…
The dough can be used both for sweet or savory Empanadas. As its sweetness is so mild, it enhances the flavors in savory fillings, such as the Meat Picadillo in this one, and it dances along sweet dessert ones.
It can be made in a snap by mixing cream cheese, butter, all purpose flour and a pinch of salt in the mixer. Or by hand.
It was originally made with Nata instead of Cream Cheese. Nata, which is a thin layer formed after boiling fresh raw milk, and found throughout Mexico in Haciendas and Ranchos, is sweet, extremely white and thick.
And oh so irresistible.
If you have access to Nata, use it instead of Cream Cheese, as those pioneer Conceptionist nuns did. But truth is, many nuns use Cream Cheese these days too…
The dough is malleable and soft. Juju made one batch with his hands. Proud monster.
It is easy to roll out as it is elastic, soft and not so sticky. But do sprinkle some flour as you roll…
To cut the rounds, you can use a pastry cutter. I found the size I wanted, a 4 inch round, in a Tupperware. Which was also easy for Juju to use.
As you separate the rounds…
…brush the edges with a lightly beaten egg.
Spoon the filling right down the center.
The Meat Picadillo is included in the recipe below. Picadillo, has many variations, but it typically has as a base of ground meat seasoned with garlic, onion, tomato puree, spices and sometimes nuts, olives and sweet ingredients like raisins or dried fruits. A complex version of Picadillo is used in the legendary Chiles en Nogada.
This is a simpler version, that can be made a couple days ahead of time. Just take it out of the refrigerator when you are ready to fill those Empanadas (If you have leftover Picadillo, you can make tacos, stuff chiles, tamales… or eat it with a side of rice or tortillas!)
Close up the bundle in the shape of a turnover.
Seal the edges pressing your fingers.
To really seal the deal, go around with a fork, gently, so as not to make many holes in the dough…
Give the Empanada a final egg wash.
Here we go, one after the other…
Sprinkle with sesame seeds. It makes them look beautiful. I think Beatriz da Silva would approve.
The sesame seeds also give the Empanadas a light nutty and toasty accent.
And in the oven they go. You can also make them ahead of time and place them in the refrigerator (for a couple of days) or freezer (for weeks!) before baking them.
Take them out as you need them and eat them freshly baked. As they should.
I think that you do taste all of the flavor, all of it, behind the history of these Empanadas, in each single bite.
For the dough:
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 8 oz, about 185 g cream cheese or fresh nata, at room temperature
- 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup sesame seeds
For the picadillo (makes about 4 cups):
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 cup white onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 1 lb pork shoulder or butt, or combination of pork, beef and veal, ground
- 3/4 tsp kosher or sea salt
- 1 lb ripe tomatoes, pureed, or about 2 cups tomato puree
- 2 cups chicken broth or water
- Pinch of cumin
- Pinch of ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 1/4 cup Manzilla olives, chopped
To make the dough:
- Beat the cream cheese with the butter in a mixer at medium speed, until it is creamy. Gently add the flour and salt and continue mixing for a minute more. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a minute. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate from 15 minutes up to 24 hours.
- After refrigerating, sprinkle flour over the countertop and roll out half the dough until its about 1/4 inch thick. For medium sized empanadas, cut out rounds of 4 to 5 inches in diameter. Continue until all of the dough is used.
- Grease a baking sheet with butter. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the picadillo filling into the center of each round. Brush the edges of the round with the beaten egg. Fold a side of the circle over the filling across the other side. Press with your fingers as you close. Without breaking the dough, press with a fork over the edges to seal and make a design.
- Place the empanadas on the baking sheet. When you fill the baking sheet, lightly brush their tops with the lightly beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
- Bake the empanadas anywhere from 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops have a golden tan and dough is cooked through. Serve hot.
To make the picadillo:
- Heat olive oil in a large saute pan set over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute for a couple of minutes, until it becomes translucent and soft. Incorporate chopped garlic and saute for about a minute until it becomes fragrant. Incorporate the meat and the salt and let it cook for about 8 minutes, until cooked and lightly browned.
- Pour in tomato puree and let it season, stirring often, for 5 to 6 minutes, until it has deepened its color, thickened in consistency and lost the raw flavor. Pour in the chicken broth or water, cumin, cloves and cinnamon. Stir well and let it cook 15 minutes more.
- Add the raisins, almond and olives, mix well and taste for seasoning. Cook for 5 more minutes. If needed, add more salt. The filling should be nice and moist.
- Just remember, once it cools, it will dry a little more as it will absorb the juices. Turn off the heat. You can make the filling up to two days ahead of time, let it cool, cover and refrigerate.