How to Make Light and Flaky Empanadas Like a Pro in 4 Steps

Learn how to make homemade empanada dough from scratch with tips from popular chef Marcus Samuelsson.

A beautifully baked or fried golden-brown empanada is the perfect way to enjoy a flavorful snack or meal on the go (or at the table for that matter). Originally enjoyed in Latin American cuisines, empanadas are now a staple dish in countries around the world. Sort of like a mini hand pie, they can be made with sweet fillings such as chocolate and banana or savory such as roast chicken. To help us learn how to make empanadas at home, we turned to James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson. "The pastry is buttery, warm, and comforting, but inside there are new flavors, borrowed from different cultures (Mexican, Thai, Chinese) and that adds an electrifying element," he says. "With empanadas, you get to taste the whole world right at home."

How to Make Empanadas

Before you get started, you'll need to make some empanada dough using milk, flour, yeast, salt, and rendered lard or shortening. It's a lot of the same ingredients bread calls for, only you'll be handling them more like pie pastry. You can find the full basic dough recipe in Samuelsson's shrimp and pork empanadas recipe.

Test Kitchen Tip: Rendered lard is a form of melted-down pig fat. Look for it at butchers, farmers markets, and Mexican markets. Alternately, you can use the drippings from cooking 2 slices of bacon, then add enough butter to make ¾ cup.

Step 1: Mix Your Dough By Hand

Always mix the dry and wet ingredients using your hands. You want to work the dough just until the mixture starts to form a ball. Then turn it onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes until smooth and elastic. Place in a large greased mixing bowl; cover with a damp cloth. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 30 minutes. Punch the dough down by pushing your fist into the center to deflate the dough.

Step 2: Roll and Shape Your Dough (Gently!)

Divide the dough into 24 pieces by rolling the dough into a long thin log and cutting into equal portions using a bench scraper ($12, Crate & Barrel) or a sharp knife. Samuelsson says you don't want to overwork the dough in the shaping phase. He likes to gently roll the pieces directly on the work surface just until they form a simple ball shape. On a lightly floured surface, use a rolling pin ($9, Target) to roll each ball into a 3½- to 4-inch circle. Prick with a fork (poke the dough multiple times with the tip) and brush edges with egg wash.

Marcus Samuelsson

Empanadas are a cook's flexible friend. They are comforting, they are liberating and lovable. I like to say they are clumsy and friendly—in a good way.

— Marcus Samuelsson

Step 3: Fill Your Empanadas

Spoon 1 rounded Tbsp. of desired filling (more on that below) onto the center of each circle. Fold over in half. Press the edges closed, sealing first by using your fingers, then crimping with a fork to make sure that filling stays in.

Step 4: Bake Your Empanadas

Transfer your empanadas to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Prick each empanada twice with a fork to allow steam to escape. Bake in a 425ºF oven until they just begin to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven. Brush with egg wash and bake again until golden brown, about 1 to 3 minutes more.

Shrimp and Pork Empanadas
Andy Lyons

Our Favorite Empanada Recipes

Once you know how to make empanada dough, you can get creative with whatever fillings you like. Try Samuelsson's delicious savory shrimp and pork filling or go sweet with pumpkin-cinnamon for a taste of fall. We've also got delicious empanada filling ideas for every nation, including Mexican-style Pollo Verde and Filipino-style with Spanish sausage or chorizo. For another sweet filling, go for these addicting mini cinnamon-apple empanadas.

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