Life in a Northern Town

Beef Empanadas- A Beefy Meal In A Pastry Package

I've always had a thing for anything (sweet or savory) wrapped in a flaky dough. When my parents would go out for dinner when I was young, my sister, Bridget, and I would get to choose what we wanted to eat for dinner. My Mom always made dinner from scratch and anything from the frozen food aisle or in a box seemed exotic and was a treat when the babysitter arrived for the evening. It was always a battle between Swanson's chicken pot pie (me) and Kraft macaroni and cheese (Bridget)— nine times out of ten, chicken pot pies won (I'm the oldest and have always been a little overbearing in the food department). So, when Tom and Jen (my brother and sister-in-law) showed up in Bayfield with empanadas on the dinner docket, I was a happy camper.

I recently had my first pasty in Mineral Point a few months ago and I was excited to try the south of the border version of a self-contained, pastry wrapped meat pie. The combination of currants, hard-boiled egg, flaky pastry and warm South American spices were brilliant and exactly what I was hungry for. I followed the recipe down to the letter and while I'm not exactly sure what the vodka brought to the table in regards to the dough, I have to say the pastry was beautifully flaky. I think I should make these for Bridget when she comes home in July— she ate a lot of Swanson's when we were little and I really should make it up to her. Beef empanadas are a good place to start.

Beef Empanadas (Cooks Illustrated May 2010)

Filling
1 large slice hearty white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
½ cup plus 2 tbsp. chicken broth (preferably homemade or low sodium)
1 pound 85 % lean ground chuck
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped fine
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. cayenne
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
½ cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
2 hard-cooked eggs, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup raisins or currants, coarsely chopped
¼ cup pitted green olives, coarsely chopped
4 tsp. cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Dough 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for work surface 1 cup masa harina 1 tbsp. sugar 2 tsp. table salt 12 tbsp. (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes and chilled ½ cup cold vodka or tequila ½ cup cold water 5 tablespoons olive oil

Filling Preparation Process bread and 2 tablespoons chicken broth in food processor until paste forms, about 5 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.  Add beef, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and pulse until mixture is well combined, six to eight one-second pulses.

Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.  Stir in garlic, cumin, cayenne, and cloves; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add beef mixture and cook, breaking meat into 1-inch pieces with wooden spoon, until browned, about 7 minutes.  Add remaining ½ cup chicken broth and simmer until mixture is moist but not wet, 3 to 5 minutes.  Transfer mixture to bowl and cool 10 minutes. Stir in cilantro, eggs, raisins, olives, and vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate until cool, about 1 hour.

Dough Preparation Process 1 cup flour, masa harina, sugar, and salt in food processor until combined, about two one-second pulses.  Add butter and process until homogeneous and dough resembles wet sand, about 10 seconds.  Add remaining 2 cups flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl, 4 to 6 quick pulses.  Empty mixture into large bowl.

Sprinkle vodka or tequila and water over mixture.  Using hands, mix dough until it forms tacky mass that sticks together.  Divide dough in half, then divide each half into 6 equal pieces.  Transfer dough pieces to plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 45 minutes.

Empanadas Assembly Adjust over racks to upper and lower-middle positions, place 1 baking sheet on each rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees.  While baking sheets are preheating, remove dough from refrigerator.  Roll each dough piece out on lightly floured work surface into 6-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick, covering each dough round with plastic wrap while rolling remaining dough.  Place about 1/3 cup filling in center of each dough round.  Brush edges of dough with water and fold dough over filling.  Trim any ragged edges.  Press edges to seal.  Crimp edges of empanadas using fork.

Drizzle 2 tablespoons oil over surface of each hot baking sheet, then return to oven for 2 minutes.  Brush empanadas with remaining tablespoon oil.  Carefully place 6 empanadas on each baking sheet and cook until well browned and crisp, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking.  Cool empanadas on wire rack 10 minutes and serve.