Empanada Dough 101: Everything You Need to Know

Although they originated in the Iberian peninsula, empanadas are a staple of Latin America and are increasingly favored in the United States. The pocket-sized treat is simple to assemble and cook and is ideal for a meal on the go.
 
There are several recipes for empanadas, but this article will focus on traditional recipes for empanada dough.
 
It will include filling suggestions, dipping sauces, and a gluten-free dough for your friends or family who have a gluten allergy.
 

Where Did Empanadas Come From?

The first evidence of empanada making occurred during the medieval period on the Iberian peninsula. Most historians believe that Galicia, Spain was the first location to make the pastries, but neighboring Portugal also began making empanadas around the same time.

During colonial exploration, the pastry made its way around Latin America, and currently, Argentina and Colombia claim to have the best empanadas.

Depending on the region, empanadas are filled with fresh vegetables, fruit, and meat. In coastal areas, you’re more likely to see seafood used than beef, pork, or chicken.

For authentic empanadas, you want to produce a crisp pastry that is not as flaky as pie crusts.

Some cooks suggest using pie crust dough for a substitute, but the empanadas crumple too easily with the pie dough and are harder to transport because of the delicate crust.

How to Masic Basic Empanada Dough

For the following recipe, you’ll need a food processor, rolling pin, sharp knife or pastry blade, and baking sheets.

Empanada Dough Ingredients

3 ½ cups All-purpose flour

½ cup Masa harina

1 ¼ Tbsp Sugar

2 ¼ tsp Salt

12 Tbsp Unsalted butter (chilled)

½ cup Vodka

½ cup cold water

5 Tbsp Olive Oil

Dough Preparation

You shouldn’t have any trouble finding masa harina in the grocery store. Masa harina is a ground corn flour that also contains leavening agents like baking soda and baking powder.

Twenty years ago, it was only available in specialty shops, but now, you’ll see it in every grocery store and superstore.

For the butter, slice ten or twelve slices from the twelve tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) and place on a plate in the freezer for twenty or thirty minutes.

This dough recipe works well with savory and sweet dishes and is the recommended recipe for all the filling mixtures mentioned later in the article. 

Empanada Dough Recipe

1. In the processor, place 1 cup of flour, masa harina, salt, and sugar. Pulse the mixture three times until it’s combined. Add the chilled butter and process for twelve seconds. The resulting mass will have a grainy appearance. Add ¼ cup of the flour (2 cups total) at a time, and pulse three more times or until the mixture is thoroughly combined.

2. Transfer the mixture to a large metal mixing bowl. Add the vodka and cold water to the dough and mix it with your hands. Using gloves coated lightly with flour is the best method for hand mixing, and it’s more hygienic than using bare hands.

3. Place the dough ball on a lightly floured counter or cutting board and cut the dough in half. With each half, cut the dough into six pieces for a total of twelve. Place the slices on a lightly floured plate and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for one hour.

Does Empanada Dough Have Yeast, Dairy, or Eggs?

Yeast 

If you browse online, you may notice that several recipes contain baker’s yeast rather than other leavening agents like baking powder and baking soda. In the recipe above, it doesn’t list any yeast or leavening components.

However, the empanadas achieve the slight rise they need from the masa harina. Unlike other baked goods like French baguettes or pizza dough, empanada dough does not require a lengthy rising period. When you examine the empanadas before and after they’re baked, you’ll notice their shape changes only slightly.

Masa harina has the right quantity of leavening agents, and it adds robustness and a nutty flavor to the dough. If you use yeast or baking powder in your empanadas, try to go easy on it, and avoid allowing the dough to proof for multiple periods. 

A fast-rising empanada may result in a large air pocket in the interior that causes a bubblegum effect above the filling. You want a crispy pastry rather than a dough balloon over your delicious filling.

Dairy

Although this recipe uses real unsalted butter in the dough (it’s a generous amount of butter), you can use other oils, fat-substitutes, or you can omit the fat-content entirely.

For an olive oil or vegetable oil, you can substitute ¾ cups of the oil for the twelve tablespoons of butter. Other butter substitutes include margarine (use 12 Tbsp), non-dairy powdered milk (use ¾ cup and hydrate with water), and Crisco (use ¾ cup).

If you want to keep some of the real butter flavors in the dough, but you’re concerned the recipe’s butter quantity is excessive, you can use half the amount of butter (6 Tbsp) and add ⅓ cup of vegetable oil or olive oil.

Eggs

There are several recipes for empanadas that contain eggs, but the versatile empanada recipe above doesn’t include eggs. Rather than coating the pastries with an egg-wash before they’re baked, the baker uses olive oil to brown the crust.

Eggs can undoubtedly add a richness to the dough, but in the tradition of assembling a low-cost, portable, pastry, the preceding recipe omits the eggs. The enormous quantity of butter enhances the recipe’s rich flavor.

Can You Substitute Water for the Vodka?

You can substitute water or milk for the vodka in the recipe, but it will alter the dough’s texture. You don’t have to worry about an alcoholic aftertaste from the liquor because the alcohol cooks off.

The vodka is a tenderizing agent that makes the dough pliable and produces a delicate but firm crust. Substitutions will create a less workable dough, but not everyone has easy access to vodka.

Chicken stock, vegetable stock, heavy cream, and beef stock are other possible substitutes for the alcohol.

Other Liquor Substitutions

For the best results, you can use a mid-range 80-proof vodka in the recipe. However, any substitutions should not have a strong flavor profile. Expensive, craft bourbons or heavily spiced rums will impart an unwanted flavor in the dough.

High-end tequilas that only have a hint of flavor are suitable and should not change the taste of the dough. Refined moonshine may also be an option, but the liquor should not exceed 80 or 90 proof. 

To produce an empanada dough that doesn’t overpower the filling, avoid using flavored vodkas or liqueurs. A marshmallow or mango-flavored pastry is not a result you’ll welcome.

What Are Some Vegan Empanada Options?

If you replace the butter in the featured recipe with vegetable, peanut, or olive oil, you can produce vegan empanadas. For the fillings, you can use a vegetable stock anywhere you see chicken or beef base. 

Meats can be substituted with tofu or a vegetable protein, or you can stuff the empanadas full of seasoned veggies. To replace eggs in the filling recipe, you can use one tablespoon of flax mixed with three tablespoons of warm water.

Is Empanada Dough Similar to Pie Crusts, Puff-Pastry, Shortbread, or Pizza Dough?

Empanada dough is similar to other baked goods, but its tender and crispy texture make it unique. Pie crusts are often offered as an alternative to empanada dough, but most recipes produce crumbly crusts.

A good crumble is ideal for pies, but for a pastry designed as an easy meal while you’re traveling, it’s not a favorable characteristic.

With its low-rising baking process and golden crust, empanada dough most resembles puff-pastries. Pastries, like empanadas, often rely heavily on butter, but some pastries also include several eggs.

Since it doesn’t require a lengthy rising time (it rests for an hour in the refrigerator), empanada dough differs from pizza dough and shortbread dough. Unlike the other pastries and bread, empanadas do not increase in size as much in the baking process. 

6 Suggested Fillings for Your Empanadas

1. Beef Empanadas

There are infinite variations of filling ingredients, but we’ll examine some of the most common (and delicious) recipes from Latin America. With most ingredients, you can prepare the filling while you wait for the dough to firm-up in the refrigerator.

Beef Filling 

1 slice white sandwich bread

½ cup chicken broth

1-pound lean ground beef

Salt and pepper

1 Tbsp Olive oil

2 cups minced onions

2 Tbsp chopped fresh garlic

1 tsp cumin

½ tsp red pepper flakes

⅛ tsp ground cloves

¼ cup cilantro diced

2 hard-boiled eggs chopped

¼ cup raisins

¼ cup green olives chopped

3 ½ tsp cider vinegar

Filling Preparation

1. In the processor, add the sandwich bread and ¼ cup chicken broth. Process for 10 seconds until a paste forms and add the ground beef, 1tsp salt, and 1 tsp pepper. Pulse the mixture ten times and continue to scrape the sides of the bowl between pulses.

2. Add the olive oil to a large non-stick skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the minced onions and cook for five minutes. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, cumin, and cloves and cook for one to two minutes.

3. Add the beef and chicken stock mixture and use a wooden spatula or spoon to break up the pieces. Cook for eight minutes until the beef is fully cooked. Add the remaining ¼ cup of chicken broth and cook for five minutes.

4. Place the mixture in a metal bowl and allow to cool for ten to twelve minutes.

5. Add the eggs, cilantro, olives, raisins, and vinegar. Add a dash of salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.

Assembling the Empanadas

1. Preheat the oven to 425° F. Adjust your oven racks so that you have one in the middle and one directly above the middle rack. Place the baking sheets in the oven to preheat while you assemble the empanadas.

2. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each dough piece into a circle that’s about six inches. After each piece is rolled, place them under plastic so that they do not dry out while you’re assembling the others.

3. Place a little less than ½ cup of filling in the center of each circle. Wet the edges of the circle with water and fold the dough over the mixture.

4. Use a fork to press down on the empanadas and seal them shut.

5. Spread 2 Tbsp of olive oil on each preheated pan and return to the oven for two minutes.

6. Brush olive oil on the empanadas and place them two inches apart on the baking pans. You should have six empanadas on each pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes until empanadas are golden brown. Allow to cool on a rack for eight minutes before serving. 

7. Before baking the empanadas, you can cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to two days. After two days, the dough will become soggy from condensation and will fall apart when you handle them.

2. Chicken Empanadas

Although beef is the most common meat filling for empanadas, chicken is a popular addition. Be sure to use cooked chicken in the empanadas. 

Raw chicken will not reach an internal temperature of 165° F in the required baking time. If the raw chicken cooks to the correct temperature, extra baking time is needed. However, baking the empanadas for over thirty minutes will burn the dough.

For the following filling recipes, you can use the dough recipe displayed at the beginning of the article.

Chicken Filling

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

¾ cup chopped green onions

2 Tbsp fresh garlic chopped

1 pound chopped cooked chicken shredded

½ tsp Cumin

⅛ tsp Cayenne

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¾ teaspoon ground black pepper

12 pieces empanada dough

1 lightly beaten egg

Filling Preparation

1. Heat butter in a large skillet on medium-high heat and cook green onions for two minutes. Add garlic and cook for one minute. 

2. Add chicken, cumin, cayenne, salt, nutmeg, and black pepper. Cook for two minutes while continually stirring. Allow the mixture to cool in a bowl for twelve minutes before assembling.

3. Chorizo Empanadas

Chorizo empanadas are widely served in Mexico and are often fried rather than baked.

You can substitute other sausages like kielbasa, andouille, and smoked sausage for the chorizo. Italian sausage is not a preferable substitute because the fennel seed in the sausage can overpower the other flavors.

Chorizo comes in varying degrees of spiciness, but if you use an alternative that lacks heat, you can add ¼ tsp of cayenne pepper.

Chorizo Filling

1-pound Spanish chorizo diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup green onions diced

1 ½ Tbsp fresh garlic minced

1 cup red bell pepper diced

½ cup diced celery

½ tsp cumin

½ tsp salt

½ dried oregano, 

½ pound red potatoes cooked and diced 

Filling Preparation

1. Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet and cook chorizo for twelve minutes. Remove the sausage and drain off the excess oil from the sausage with paper towels and set aside to cool. Do not remove the oil left in the skillet. You’ll use it to cook the vegetables.

2. On medium-high heat, cook the green onions and celery for two minutes. Add the bell pepper and cook two more minutes.

3. Add the cooked potatoes and all the seasonings and cook for three minutes. Allow the mixture to cool for twelve minutes before assembling.

Assembling and Frying the Empanadas 

Although you can bake chorizo empanadas, they are even better if you fry them.

1. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each dough piece into a circle that’s about six inches. After each piece is rolled, place them under plastic so that they do not dry out while you’re assembling the others.

2. Place a little less than ½ cup of filling in the center of each circle. Wet the edges of the circle with water and fold the dough over the mixture.

3. Use a fork to press down on the empanadas and seal them shut.

4. Heat two quarts of vegetable oil in a large pot on medium-high heat until the temperature reaches 350° F.

5. Carefully place two empanadas in the hot oil and fry for two to three minutes per side. The empanada should have a golden-brown appearance.

6. Drain off the excess oil and cool the empanadas for twelve minutes before serving.

4. Pulled Pork Empanadas

Pulled pork is an essential part of Southern barbecue, especially in the Carolinas, and is an excellent filling for empanadas.

When southerners hold a pork barbecue, they often cook an entire pig. Large quantities of leftovers are a common occurrence, but instead of serving sandwiches the following day, try using the pulled pork in empanadas.

Pulled Pork Filling

1 lb. pulled pork

1 cup carrots shredded

½ cup green bell pepper diced

½ pound cooked red potato diced

1 cup yellow onion diced

1 Tbsp fresh garlic minced

½ cup celery diced

¼ cup Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbsp brown sugar

½ tsp oregano

¼ tsp Cayenne

½ cup beef broth

4 Tbsp olive oil

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Filling Preparation

1. Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat and cook onions for four minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute, then add green peppers and cook for three minutes.

2. Add potatoes, carrots, and spices and cook two minutes.

3. Add beef broth and brown sugar and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer for ten minutes.

4. Pour the mixture into a large bowl and allow it to cool for twelve minutes before assembling.

5. Steak and Cheese Empanadas

Steak and cheese empanadas are a variation on the Philly cheesesteak. This recipe works best when you use cuts of steak that have been cooked medium. 

The steak should be tender with a juicy light-red interior. Sirloin, flank steak, and NY strip are ideal types of steak for the recipe, but ribeye and T-bone steaks can also be used.

Be sure to trim any excess fat from the steak before you assemble the empanadas. Unlike the previous recipes, this one is not spicy.

Feel free to add cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes to spice the cheesesteak up a bit.

Steak and Cheese Filling

4 Tbsp Olive oil

1-pound steak cooked and sliced

½ tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1 cup minced yellow onions

½ cup diced green bell pepper

2 Tbsp chopped fresh garlic

1 tsp paprika

½ tsp oregano

1 ½ cups provolone cheese shredded

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Filling Preparation

1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat and add onions. Cook four minutes and add garlic. Cook one minute and add green peppers. Cook two minutes and add steak, seasonings and Worcestershire sauce.

2. Cook for two to three minutes and pour the mixture in a metal bowl to cool for twelve minutes.

3. Add shredded cheese and mix until thoroughly combined.

6. Seafood Empanadas

Coastal villages in Argentina and Mexico often use fresh seafood for empanadas.

Shrimp and crabmeat are excellent choices for stuffing, but seafood that becomes tough when baked for extended periods should be avoided. Squid, scallops, and mussels are not ideal candidates.

Seafood Filling

1 Tbsp butter

1 cup green onions diced

1 Tbsp fresh garlic minced

½ cup red bell pepper diced

¼ cup celery diced

1-pound large shrimp (Tiger or white shrimp) diced

¼ pound lump crab meat chopped

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

½ tsp Old Bay seasoning

½ tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

¼ tsp red pepper flakes

Filling Preparation

1. Heat butter in a large skillet on medium-high heat and add green onions. Cook for two minutes and add garlic. Cook one minute and add red peppers and celery. Cook for four minutes and add shrimp. Cook three to four minutes until shrimp is pink and add crab meat and lemon juice. 

2.  Cook crab meat for two minutes and add seasoning and spices. Cook for two minutes and pour the mixture into a metal bowl to cool for twelve minutes.

Gluten-Free Empanadas

Gluten-free empanadas are a great alternative to the traditional empanada dough recipe. The dough is a little challenging to work with due to the lack of gluten, but once you’ve stuffed one empanada, you’ll get the hang of it quickly.

Unlike the previous recipes, the gluten-free dough bakes at a lower temperature for a shorter period. Feel free to use any of the previous filling recipes for your gluten-free empanadas. You’ll need a mixer to make this recipe.

Gluten-Free Dough

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour

1 lightly beaten large egg

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp dry sherry

1 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

3 Tbsp water

Dough Preparation and Baking 

1. In a stand mixer, add flour, egg, olive oil, sherry, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix for three minutes on the low setting.

2. Add water to the mixture one tablespoon at a time while the mixer spins. When a ball forms, remove it from the mixture to a metal bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic and keep at room temperature for one hour.

3. Lightly spread gluten-free flour on the countertop or cutting board. Cut the dough in half with a knife and cut six pieces from each piece.

4. Roll the dough into six-inch round disks.

5. After choosing which stuffing you prefer, place ½ cup of the mixture on the dough and press down to close.

6. Use a fork to crimp the sides of the empanada and preheat the oven to 375° F.

7. Bake the empanadas for thirteen to fifteen minutes and set aside on a cooling rack to cool for five minutes.

Dipping Sauces

Empanadas are delicious on their own, but a tangy dipping sauce adds complex flavors and cools down the heat of spicy empanadas. Most dipping sauces can be finished in under ten minutes.

Cajun Remoulade

3 cups mayonnaise 

¼ cup fresh garlic minced

1 cup yellow onions sliced

4 Tbsp lemon juice

4 Tbsp Frank’s Hot Sauce

½ cup roasted red peppers diced

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Dip Preparation

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend for twenty to thirty seconds. Store in a plastic container and refrigerate.

Chili Lime Sauce

1 cup Thai red chili sauce

2 cups ketchup

2 limes zested and juiced

1 tsp fresh garlic

½ tsp Worcestershire sauce

½ tsp Cayenne

1 Tbsp fresh cilantro

1 Tbsp brown sugar

½ tsp black pepper

Dip Preparation

Add all ingredients to a food processor and blend for fifteen to twenty seconds. Add sauce to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for ten minutes. Allow to cool before you store the sauce in the refrigerator.

Cilantro Lime Sauce

3 limes zested and juiced 

1 ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce

½ cup pickled jalapenos 

¼ cup diced red onion

½ tsp white vinegar

½ tsp black pepper

1 ½ cups sour cream

1 ½ cups mayonnaise

¾ cup fresh cilantro

Dip Preparation

Blend all the ingredients in a food processor except sour cream and mayonnaise. After blending for one minute, pour the mixture in a metal bowl and add mayonnaise and sour cream.

Use a whisk to mix the sauce until it’s combined thoroughly. Store in a plastic container and refrigerate.

Closing Remarks

You have a wide range of options when it comes to making empanadas, and most meat and vegetable combinations work well in the pastries.

The dough recipe is intended to simulate a traditional empanada that’s simple to mix and assemble. It’s a flexible recipe that accepts alterations of your favorite ingredients.

Some pastries are notoriously tricky to assemble, but luckily, empanadas do not fall into that category. Although the empanadas only last two days in the refrigerator, you can freeze them for up to a month before you cook them.

Try experimenting with different combinations, and you’ll discover which empanadas are most delicious to you.

To learn more about empanadas check out our popular articles Golden and Crispy: Your Guide To Making The Most Delicious Empanadas and A Complete History of Argentinian Empanadas.

And to shop for frozen empanada dough and other traditional Argentine foods and drinks visit our online store today.

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