The 4th of July just might be my favorite holiday. Especially when it lands on a Friday and the rain clouds stay away. We wake up early, pack the food, the coolers and the Bocce set and head to the beach. We set up 3 tents, tons of chairs and a buffet for our friends and family. We open our first beer before noon and we eat empanadas, roast pork and tamales with our toes in the sand all day. The barge with fireworks makes it’s way over to our beach, parks right in front of our party and we drink champagne while they burst over our heads. A perfect day.
I bring the empanadas, which means that I turn my kitchen into an empanada factory the eve of 4th. This year I managed to churn out 80 empanadas in 3 varieties – Guava and Cream Cheese; Sausage, Roasted Red Pepper and Feta; Ham, Cheddar and Green Apple. They were all gone by 3pm, which means that next year I’ll somehow have to make more. I think my favorite was the ham, cheddar and green apple, though the guava and cream cheese were the first to disappear.
Just like arroz con pollo empanadas differ regionally. Cubans generally deep fry their empanadas, creating a flaky, bubbly crust. While these are quite delicious, I just don’t deep dry at home. Too messy. I baked them in batches of 20 – 30 and they emerged golden and delicious.
Empanadas are fairly easy to make and great for large crowds. They’re also hand-held and portable which make them perfect for a BBQ or beach picnic. And they were just perfect for my perfect 4th of July.
Emapanadas three ways: Ham, Cheddar & Green Apple; Sausage, Roasted Red Pepper and Feta; Guava and cream cheese
Alright, so there’s no real recipe here, just some basic instructions for empanada-making and some filling suggestions.
You can really stuff them with anything you like, but bold flavors seem to work best. I like to use extra sharp cheddar, feta, spicy sausages, shredded and spiced chicken, spinach with ricotta and lots of parmesan, etc. If you can’t find guava paste (though I suggest you try – it’s delicious!), try using thick marmalades paired with cream cheese. Anything spicy, salty, sweet or tangy is perfect.
If you’re using something like sausage, bacon, chicken or beef, make sure your cook it through before you fill your empanadas. Sausages are especially tasty when browned well. If you’re using sweet fillings or deli meat (like ham, cheddar and apple), you don’t need to pre-cook anything. Just make sure your apple is peeled.
Forming the Empanadas
I suppose you can make your own dough, but I’m a bit too impatient for that and the frozen Goya empanada shells work perfectly for me. Just remove them from the freezer 4 hours before you plan on forming them, and you’ll be good. Goya makes 2 kinds – a dark yellow corn-based dough and lighter flour-based one. I use the lighter flour-based dough.
As with most dumpling-like things, you want to be careful not to over-fill them or they’ll be hard to seal and may explode in the oven. No one likes a leaky empanada! Usually, 2 heaping tablespoons is enough. For the ham, cheddar and apple ones, I use 2 slices of ham, 2 slices of apple and a big pinch of shredded cheddar. For the guava and cream cheese, I usually use a piece of guava paste that’s about 1/2-inch thick and 2 inches long and then add a heaping teaspoon of cream cheese.
Lay out all of your thawed empanada shells on your work surface, then place the filling in the middle. Now, brush a bit of water along the inner edges. This will make the dough sticky and easier to seal. Carefully lift up opposing sides of the shell and pinch them together in a half-moon shape. You can pinch and roll them, or press fork tines into the edge – really anything works as long as they’re sealed well.
Preheat the oven to 375° and line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place the formed empanadas on the prepared cookie sheet, making sure they’re about 3 inches apart. If they’re too close, they’ll balloon up and merge while they bake – not pretty!
Finally, brush each empanada with egg wash*, ensuring the tops are evenly coated. This will give the emapanadas a beautiful shiny, brown surface.
Bake for 30 minutes, flipping the pan once halfway through baking. Remove to a rack to cool.
*To make an egg wash, beat a large egg with 1 tbsp. water.