Yes, the spicy beef mixture combined with some gooey cheese makes these empanadas total keepers. And yes, adding a dipping sauce will take them into a culinary stratosphere.
But first things first...
The unsung hero of these empanadas is the dough. A few simple tricks will ensure that you are always pulling out a tray full of tender, flaky empanadas. Spend a few minutes reading this post and you'll be able to bypass tough, dense empanadas and head straight for the flaky, melt-in-your-mouth version.
Beef and Cheese Empanadas Recipe
It can be so discouraging to take a bite of a freshly baked empanada and instead of sheer delight your first reaction is...Wait, what happened? They look good, they smell good, but why are they so dense and tough?
It turns out that pastry dough is a finicky bird and I've learned the hard way on that one. Here's a summary of the mistakes I've made in past versions:
Disintegrating all the fat into the flour. Kneading the dough as if it were bread dough. Using warm ingredients instead of cold ingredients, i.e. cold butter and cold water. Not chilling the dough before rolling it out because you're hungry 🙂
In other words, you have total permission to leave the pastry dough unkept and scatterbrained as long as you are chilling it before use.
The Joy of Cooking says it with a bit more eloquence:
Handle your dough lightly, for two reasons: to incorporate as much air as possible and to inhibit the development of gluten. The aim here is a flaky and tender crust.....Chilling pastry dough after mixing tenderizes it, keeps it from shrinking during baking and makes it easier to handle. Joy of Cooking, pp. 588-89.
So please don't skimp on chilling your dough before rolling it out, it's the key to creating layers of flaky, tender goodness.
One other thing I want to mention before we build a batch. You'll occasionally see empanadas made with lard, but when I tried that it didn't taste familiar to me. I think I was trying to recreate some empanadas I would get from a restaurant in Cozumel so eventually I started over with a butter-based version that is popular on Epicurious. It's a good starting recipe to help get familiar with the basics of empanadas so we'll be adapting that here today. I may go back to using some homemade lard at some point, or combining lard and butter, but this version will use only butter.
Start by mixing 1.5 teaspoons of salt into 3 1/4 cups of flour. Dice up 6 oz. of butter (1.5 sticks) into small 1/2" chunks and plop them into the flour. You can use a mixer here but I use my hands. Use your fingers to mix it in just enough to make the mixture crumbly with a few chunks of butter laying about. No need to worry about disintegrating all of the butter into the flour, leave it a bit shaggy.
In a bowl, combine 2 small eggs, 1.5 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar), and 1/2 cup of ice cold water. Add this mixture to the flour and use a fork or spatula to roughly combine.
Dump onto a work surface but resist the temptation to knead! Just combine it enough to form a cohesive ball.
Admit it, you are tempted to knead that together 🙂
Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least two hours. You could also chill it overnight and use the next day.
This gives you plenty of time to work on the fillings. We're using a fiery beef mixture that we also use in our Hardshell Beef Tacos. It has real kick but you can always dial back on the chipotles if you want a milder version. (You could also use Mexican Picadillo as a filling.)
I'll put instructions for this in the recipe box below, but basically you are cooking off onion with the ground beef and adding garlic, chipotles, adobo sauce, chili powder, cumin, black pepper, and salt. It has great flavor and is a natural fit for these empanadas so it's definitely worth trying.
For cheese we are using Monterey Jack, but Mozzarella is a good option too. One thing to note about the cheese... Cutting the cheese into chunks, as opposed to grating, will help the cheese flavor stand out more inside the piping hot empanadas.
Okay, your empanada dough is chilled and it's time to roll it out. Large work surfaces where you can roll out half the dough at a time will work best, but rolling out 1/4 of the dough at a time on a big cutting board works too. Give it a light sprinkling of flour and gently flatten the dough down to 1/4" or less using a rolling pin.
You've got quite a bit of leeway on the size of your empanadas. You can use a biscuit cutter but I just grab whatever is laying around. A four inch diameter bowl will give you a medium-sized empanada with plenty of room for filling.
Add 1-2 Tablespoons of the beef mixture and plenty of cheese.
I find it easiest to pull up both sides of the dough and let gravity hold the fillings in place as you pinch the empanada shut using your fingers.
Then you can use the tip of a fork to seal the edges further. This will ensure that you don't get any leaks while they bake.
This batch made about 16 medium-sized empanadas.
Brush them with some eggwash and bake in a 400F oven for 20-25 minutes or until they are golden brown. This batch took the full 25 minutes.
Let cool for a couple minutes and then take a bite. If you bypassed all of my mistakes then you are left with a tender, flaky empanada with incredible flavor.
Take a bite. Tender, flaky goodness?
You can gobble these up as is or serve with a dipping sauce. There's an Argentinian chimichurri sauce that was served with the empanadas I would get in Cozumel and I'm hoping to put up a recipe for that in the coming weeks. (Recipe here.)
Remember, the dough is the key! If for any reason your first batch doesn't fulfill your expectations then send me an email or ask any questions in the comments section below. Once you've got the basics of the dough down you'll quickly move onto thinking about the endless possibilities you've got to fill up these beauties.
Beef and Cheese Empanadas
- 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 6 oz. butter (1.5 sticks)
- 1.5 teaspoons salt
- 2 small eggs
- 1/2 cup ice cold water
- 1.5 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar)
- 1 cup Monterey Jack cheese (or Mozzarella)
- 1 egg (for the eggwash)
For the beef mixture:
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1/2 onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2-3 chipotles in adobo
- 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
- 1-2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- freshly cracked black pepper
- splash of water
- Start by mixing 1.5 teaspoons of salt into 3 1/4 cups of flour. Dice up 6 oz. of butter (1.5 sticks) into small 1/2" chunks and plop them into the flour. Use your fingers to disintegrate some of the butter into the mixture but don't worry about getting all of the butter dissolved. Mix it in just enough to make the mixture crumbly with a few chunks of butter laying about.
- In a bowl, combine 2 small eggs, 1.5 tablespoons vinegar, and 1/2 cup ice cold water. Add this mixture to the flour and use a fork or spatula to roughly combine.
- Dump onto a work surface but resist the temptation to knead! Just combine it enough to form a cohesive ball. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours.
- For the beef mixture, saute 1/2 onion in a dollop of oil over medium-high heat for a few minutes. Add ground beef and cook until browned. Drain any fat if you want. Add 2 cloves minced garlic and saute briefly. Add 2-3 minced chipotles, 1 Tablespoon adobo sauce, 1-2 Tablespoons chili powder (I used New Mexican), 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and freshly cracked pepper. Add a splash of water and let simmer over medium heat, stirring well.
- Once the dough has been chilled you can roll it out. If using a cutting board roll out 1/4 of the dough at a time. Sprinkle your work surface and rolling pin with flour before starting. Roll the dough down to 1/4" thickness or less.
- Use a biscuit cutter or bowl to cut out circles of empanada dough. Fill each round with 1-2 Tablespoons of beef mixture and plenty of cheese chunks. Lift both edges of the round and seal the edges using your fingers. Use a fork to seal the edges further.
- For the eggwash, crack an egg in a bowl, add a splash of water and whisk. Brush the empanadas with the eggwash.
- Bake at 400F for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.
You could also try our latest empanada combo: Spicy Chicken and Pickled Jalapeno Empanadas.
And in a pinch you can always use some homemade taco seasoning for the ground beef.