Empanadas are a stuffed, folded pastry that is either baked or fried. Originating in Portugal, they are also popular throughout Latin America, Spain, the Caribbean, Indonesia and the Philippines. Whether savory or sweet, they are easy to make without shortening. Shortening is used in baking primarily to achieve a light-textured dough. You can use butter in place of the shortening with delicious results. An empanada made with butter will yield a slightly denser dough but has an added bonus of enhancing your fillings with a smooth buttery taste.
Shortening, Lard, Butter and Margarine in Baking
Shortening or lard is traditionally used in creating the dough for empanadas. Before the advent of flavorless vegetable shortening, solid animal fat or lard was used in baking to achieve a light and flaky baked product. These fats can contain saturated fats so are not considered particularly healthy. They also can impart a stronger flavor. Although butter is the preferable replacement in baking for shortening, it can change the flavor profile of your final product. Margarine is not advisable to use as a substitute as it has a far higher water content than shortening and may produce a more cakelike dough in addition to yielding a greasier baked good.
To create the dough for empanadas, mix together flour, butter, sugar, salt, an egg yolk and water until well blended. Knead the dough until it's smooth and elastic. Roll out the dough into a cylinder shape and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Once chilled, cut into 1 ½-inch slices. Roll each slice out into small circles, using flour to keep the dough from sticking. Using a round of dough, add the filling to the center of one side and fold the dough over. The edges can be sealed using a fork or by twisting the edge of the dough into a pattern. The top of the pie can also be decorated with a pattern to distinguish what is inside.
The History of Empanadas as posted on the website of El Amanecer restaurant in London, Ontario, illustrates that though empanadas are popular in many countries, their preparations, fillings and cooking techniques can vary widely from region to region. The pies can be either fried, referred to as Tucaman-style, or baked, known as saltenas. An egg wash or melted butter can be brushed on before cooking. For an easy shortcut, store-bought pastry dough can be used though it may contain shortening or lard.
Hugely popular in Argentina, empanadas are eaten as a starter course or served in celebrations and at street festivals. Though the fillings vary in each country, the classic empanada is either cubed or shredded chicken or beef. Season cooked meat with paprika and cumin. Onions, boiled eggs, cheese, olives, raisins or chopped vegetables can be added to the meat mixture. According El Amenecer's history, in the Philippines, a ground meat filling flavored with soy sauce is used. Another popular filling on the island is sausage and egg.
Chilean and Spanish empanadas usually feature fish or seafood and are fried. This empanada is larger than the typical Latin American empanada, and is usually eaten as a meal on its own. Mussels, shrimp, crab, sardines, prawns, tuna or any type of fish can be used for the filling. Cheese can also be added to the mixture for a tasty variation.
Almost any type of vegetable can be used in empanadas. Mushroom and cheese, potatoes and peas, and spinach with cheese are popular combinations available throughout South America. Cooked tofu can be added for extra protein. Cheese empanadas are common throughout Argentina and the Dominican Republic and are usually eaten as a midday snack. In Bolivia, fried cheese empanadas are served brushed with powdered sugar.
Mexican empanadas are on the sweeter side. Fillings include sweet potato, pumpkin and a variety of fruit. Banana empanadas are popular throughout Bolivia and the Caribbean. Any type of sweet filling can be used with pies that are either fried or baked. They are usually served with a generous dusting of sugar. Nuts and spices can also be added to the filling. For these dessert empanadas, additional sugar can be added to the dough to sweeten it.
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