Pumpkin Empanadas: A crunchy, flaky bundle | Food and cooking

Big patent for Le Montana newspaper

I learned how to make these wonderful pastries from Maria Elena Flores, who started making them as a young girl in Chihuahua, Mexico. A tender, flavorful dough baked into a crisp and flaky package that hides a soft, not too sweet spicy filling made of squash or squash. This treat makes eating great.

I don’t spend a lot of time making individual pastries, but these pancakes are worth it. I make the filling one day, I make the stuffing another day, and I shape the empanada and bake it the third day.

The dough is a dream to work with, soft, smooth and just sticky. Add lard or vegetable ghee to the dough. I’ve always preferred lard, but coconut oil works well, too. Pumpkin stuffing flavored with cinnamon and cloves simmers until you reach a thick, smooth jam. I add a little vanilla to bring all the supporting flavors together.

You can choose to shape and bake all the pastries at once or make a few at a time. The dough and filling will be kept in the refrigerator for up to five days.

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Recipe instructions require the chef to pay close attention to the task at hand. To succeed, following the instructions is key. Here’s how Maria Elena works. Because she is afraid of knives, she will ask her grandson to smash the pumpkin into pieces by throwing it on the ground. Then Maria Elena divided it with her own hands into large pieces. Wash the seeds and fibers with a spoon and cook the pumpkin in a large saucepan.

To prepare the dough, Maria Elena makes it by hand in a large bowl placed in the sink. Leaning her little body over the edge of the sink, she beats the ghee with a wooden spoon to cream it, beats in the sugar, spices and eggs, and works in the flour and milk.

She doesn’t measure anything, but she uses her eyes and fingers to guide her through the process. After cooking and baking the same things for over 50 years, I have become very attuned to the food I make and cooking has become an instinctive act.

I am sharing with you the process of Maria Elena so that you can compare it with the instructions I wrote. I took something specific and made it generic. My words are much less exciting than the actions of Maria Elena, but the directions lead you to the desired goal.

Pumpkin Empanadas

2 1/2 pounds pumpkin or squash

1 cup strongly packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (15 ounces), plus more as needed

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup lard or vegetable shortening, such as coconut oil (154 grams, 5.4 ounces)

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 cup warm milk, any fat content

Whipping or heavy cream, for brushing unbaked pastries

1. To cook the pumpkin, cut the unpeeled squash or squash into large pieces. Scrape out the seeds and fibers and discard them. Place the chops in a large saucepan (4 quart size is ideal) and add 2 cups of water. Cover the pot and put it on a high heat. When the water boils, reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking for another 45 minutes, until the pumpkin or squash is tender but not completely mushy. Test it with the tip of a sharp knife. You should feel some resistance as the knife goes deeper. Strain it into a colander and let it cool for 20 to 30 minutes.

2. With a spoon, scoop up any remaining fiber. Cut the skin and cut the vegetables into 1/2-inch pieces. You should have about 4 cups of packed pumpkin or squash. Return the vegetables to the pot and add the cinnamon stick. Sprinkle brown sugar. Cover the pot and put it on a medium heat. The sugar will dissolve slowly and the pumpkin will release some of its juice. When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Uncover the pot and let it boil, stirring occasionally, for a few more minutes, until the pumpkin is completely soft and the liquid is liquid and almost completely absorbed. Lift the cinnamon stick and stir with the ground cinnamon, cloves and vanilla. Remove the pot from the heat and mash the pumpkin with a potato masher to make it very smooth. You will have 3 cups of filling. Cool completely before use. (It may be ready to this point two to five days in advance; when it cools, cover tightly and refrigerate.)

3. To prepare the dough, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt for 30 seconds. In a large bowl, beat lard, shortening, or coconut oil with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth and creamy, less than 1 minute. Add granulated sugar, cinnamon and cloves and mix well. Add the egg and beat for a minute. On low speed, add flour over three additions, alternating with milk on two additions, beginning and end with flour, beating just until each addition is homogeneous. The dough should be firm, non-sticky and soft. If it’s too wet, knead up to 1/4 cup extra flour by hand on your work surface. Cover the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes to an hour. (Can be prepared two to five days in advance, securely wrapped, and refrigerated.)

4. Line two large baking sheets (18 by 12 by 1 inch) or two large (14 by 17 inch) cookie sheets with baking tray liners or cooking paper. Set two oven racks to divide the oven into thirds, then preheat the oven to 375 degrees. To shape the dough, divide the dough into 20 pieces each weighing about 1 1/2 ounces and shape each into a ball. Roll out a ball of dough slightly, and roll it on a wooden board (just a little flour if dough is stuck) into a 5-inch circle. Spread two tablespoons of the filling slightly below the center of the circle, and fold the dough over the filling. Press the seam to close, and press firmly with a fork. Prick the top of the empanada three times with a fork and place the pastry on one of the prepared sheets. Repeat the process with the rest of the dough and filling, spreading the dough 1 to 2 inches apart on the sheets. Grease the tops of the pastries with cream.

5. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the empanada turns dark golden brown. Rotate the plates from top to bottom and front to back once while baking to ensure even browning. Cool for 1 minute on a baking sheet. Using a wide metal spatula, transfer pastry to wired cooling racks to cool completely. These are best when they are very fresh.

6. Storage. Empanadas keep well at room temperature, airtight, for two or three days. To freeze, when completely cooled, substitute the empanadas on lined baking sheets and freeze solid. Transfer the pastries to heavy-duty resealable plastic bags and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw the empanadas completely in its casing. Unroll, arrange on a baking tray, and refrigerate in a preheated 300° oven for 10 minutes. Cool and serve.

Greg Patent is the James Beard Award-winning cookbook author for “Baking in America,” a food journalist, blogger, and radio co-host for “The Food Guys” on Montana Public Radio. Please visit his blog www.thebakingwizard.com and follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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