Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Guatemalan Empanadas are a Delightful Dessert

Maya Woman selling lunch from doorstep
Antojitos! That is what little snacks are called in Guatemala. And, boy, they really specialized in Antojitos (ahn-toe-HEE-toes) down there. On any street corner one could find little carts selling something. From the wonderful typical candies, to glaceed fruits or vegetables (They made sweet potatoes and squash into a crystallized candy that was to-die-for!), pan dulce, and lots of other things on that order, to just a Maya woman selling pots of a lunch stew with fresh, hand-made tortillas from her doorstep. While I do not recall ever seeing these empanadas in a cart, there were also pastelerias (pastry shops) or panaderias (bread shops) also found easily. Someplace online I read that these empanadas were mostly seen during Holy Week (Semana Santa). This is not my recollection, and I recall buying them any time I saw them. 

Annatto Seeds, called Achiote in Spanish
Most empanadas seen either in recipes online, or in books, are of the savory variety. These Guatemalan empanadas I am going to describe are actually a dessert pastry, filled with a cornstarch pudding called Manjar Blanco, strongly flavored with true cinnamon). The pastry dough is quite orange in color due to the addition of annatto coloring. I don't recall when the first time was that I made these myself, but I had made them at least twice in past. I have not, however, made them for over 20 years! And I was having a snack-attack; a real craving; an "antojito"! So I got out my trusty recipe, copied out in Spanish in a little notebook. 

The first thing I realized is that it called for "harina de Salpor" as part of the dry ingredients. What the heck is THAT, I wondered? And if I don't know what that is, what in the world did I use when I made them before? Thus ensued an exhaustive search on the internet, only to find that apparently, while "harina de Salpor" is called for in more than one version of these empanadas, no one really appears to know what, exactly, it is. More than one site had someone speculating that it was a corn flour, but that it had more "fecula." Great! Another word I didn't know! I found that fecula translates to "starch". Could harina de salpor be cornstarch? I didn't think so, as cornstarch was called "maizena". Still, it seemed I was finally getting somewhere. 

Guatemalan Empanadas de Manjar
My recollection, such as it is, after more than 20 years, is that I used masa harina, the corn flour used for making corn tortillas. I can remember this flavor in the finished empanadas. In making these again a couple of days ago, I decided on splitting the difference and using half masa harina and half cornstarch for that portion of the recipe, thus upping the starch (fecula) factor. It seemed to work fine, though these have always been really good when I made them. If you would like to try something different for a nice little sweet treat, do give these a try - they are most delightful.

I used the combination of masa harina and cornstarch for my empanadas. I also combined butter and lard as the "manteca" component. Margarine could be used also, and any one of these things (butter, margarine, lard, shortening) could be used on their own. The amount of water needed for the dough will depend on how dry your climate. Start with 3/4 cup and add more to bind, if needed. My method of mixing the dough may not be "typical", but it works just fine. ;-)

Guatemalan Empanadas de Manjar

Empanadas de Manjar

makes 26 to 30 empanadas

CORNSTARCH FILLING / MANJAR:
2 cups milk
1 (3-inch) stick true (soft-stick) cinnamon
3 tablespoons (1 ounce / 30 g.) cornstarch
1/2 cup (3.8 ounces / 108 g.) granulated sugar 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

EMPANADA DOUGH:
1 pound (3 1/2 cups / 453 g.) all-purpose flour
1/4 pound (scant 1 cup / 112 g.) Masa Harina
1/4 pound (3/4 cup / 112 g.) cornstarch
7.3 ounces (1 cup / 207 g.) granulated sugar
5 ounces (9 tablespoons / 142 g.) unsalted butter
5 ounces (3/4 cup / 142 g.) shortening or lard
1 1/2 teaspoons ground annato powder
2 large eggs, whisked lightly
3/4 - 1 cup water

Manjar ingredients mixed   |      cook & stir         |    cooked and thickened    |           strained         |  covered with plastic film 
MAKE THE MANJAR: In a saucepan combine the milk, cornstarch and sugar until combined. Add in the cinnamon, separated into pieces. Set the pan on medium heat and whisk almost constantly until the mixture comes to a boil and is thickened. Once thick, continue to whisk and cook for about 5 minutes longer, to remove any raw cornstarch taste. Remove from heat, add the vanilla and then strain the mixture through a sieve into a bowl (to remove the cinnamon bits). Immediately set a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pudding. This eliminates a skin forming on top of the pudding while it cools. Let cool completely to room temperature before proceeding.

MAKE THE DOUGH: First take a small portion (2 - 3 tablespoons) of lard, shortening or butter and melt it in a small pan, adding in the annato powder. Once melted, set aside. 
Dry ingredients mixed with lard & butter  |     lard with annatto powder     |     eggs & water added     |      finished dough

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, masa harina, cornstarch and sugar. Add the "manteca" of choice: I used butter and lard. Cut in the butter and lard with a pastry cutter, with a fork, or fingers as for pie dough, until the mixture is in crumbs. Whisk the eggs with 3/4 cup of the water, then add to the bowl, moving around gently and quickly with a fork, again, as for pie dough. Add in the melted fat with the annatto powder and stir well. Begin to bring the dough together into one mass. If it will not cooperate, add in a few drops of water at a time, as needed to make the dough come together.
 
cut rounds with bowl  |  top with pudding  |  moisten edges and fold to seal  |  crimp with fork  | on sheet

Divide the dough into two parts, working with one at a time. Roll out one section of the dough, slightly thicker than for a pie. Use something round to cut approximately 5-inch circles. I used a dessert bowl. Use a 1 tablespoon measure to portion out the Manjar pudding onto the center of each round piece of dough. Have a cup with water handy and moisten the edges of the circle with a pastry brush or fingers. Fold the dough over and press the edges to seal into half moons. Use the tines of a fork to press the edges, crimping to seal well. With cooking spray, lightly grease a cookie sheet and place the empanadas onto the sheet as they are finished. Poke small vent holes in the top of the pastry using the tip of a knife and bake the empanadas for about 30 minutes, until slightly golden and set. Repeat with the second piece of the dough.


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
 

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