When I was a little girl growing up and hanging out in my Grandma Lupe’s kitchen, I always looked forward to the weather cooling off because then it would be time for her wonderful empanadas. There was nothing better than being in that small but homey kitchen at the old red table half covered with wooden boards dusted with flour, neat little balls of masa (dough), the bowls of chopped apples dredged in cinnamon and sugar, the freshly cooked mashed pumpkin or banana squash and other fruits ready in preparation for those empanadas.
Like my Papa Chava, my favorites were the apple ones and I remember hardly being able to wait till they got out of the oven. I almost always scalded my tongue biting into a too hot apple empanada, the hot sticky juice dripping down my chin. I didn’t care how burnt my tongue got, they were that good. The smell was intoxicating too. Who doesn’t love the smell of baking apples and cinnamon?
The masa or dough was an awful lot like tortilla dough, but instead of lard Grandma used butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon and I can’t remember but I think she added a bit of sugar to the dough and when I make them for my grandkids, I add in a bit to give the dough a little sweetness. Grandma Lupe would make a huge amount of the dough and then pinch of little balls of it and cover them with her flour sack dishtowels to keep the dough from drying.
My very important job as a little girl was to scoop pumpkin or apples carefully into the center of the rolled out circle of dough, brush on a little egg wash along the edges and then pinch over the edges into a neat little pattern, making sure it was tightly closed all along the edge. My Aunt Jessie and Papa helped too and we worked quickly, filling a variety of cookie sheets with lots and lots of ready to go into the oven empanadas. A brush of egg wash went over the top of each empanada, then they were poked three times with a fork. I loved doing that.
Soon enough the house would begin to smell of baked dough, apples and cinnamon, the sweet gingery scent of pumpkin, and whatever other fruits we were making empanadas from. Sometimes we did cherry, pineapple, guayaba, or peaches. It depended on what we had in the house or what we felt like experimenting with. I’ve made them from membrillo (quince), guayaba and cheese, raspberries, strawberries, etc and I love them all. I remember days standing out in the cold waiting for the school bus eating a hot empanada wrapped in a napkin and feeling like I couldn’t have a better breakfast.
To this day, my favorites are the apple empanadas and each time I bite into a too hot empanada and scald my tongue, I remember those chilly days in my grandmother’s kitchen and how happy they made my grandfather, who loved to dip them in his cup of coffee. No matter what kind we made, we always had to include apple for him. My grandmother never once failed to consider how much he loved apples. The memories I have of empanadas make me both grateful to have had that childhood of wonder in my grandmother’s kitchen and wistful as I wish she and my grandfather were still here.
I don’t make as many empanadas these days since my kids are grown and gone and I’m trying to be better about giving the grandkids too many baked goodies. These days I’m trying to give them more fresh fruit and cut up veggies but occasionally sneak in a yummy thing like empanadas.
Grandma Lupe’s Empanadas de manzana
For the filling:
12 baking apples, peeled, cored and sliced
3 tbsps sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Mix together the apples, ginger, sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
For the masa:
6 cups flour
1/2 c butter
1/4 c sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 325.
Sift the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon together until well blended. Add the eggs and cut in the butter then add the hot water, little by little (i do it in sprinkles) till a soft, but not sticky dough forms into a smooth ball. Pinch off small balls (about 3 inches in diameter) and let rest on a floured board covered.
Roll out a ball into a 1/4 inch thick circle and scoop in the apples making sure that when you fold it over, the apples don’t go out to the edge. Brush the edge with an egg wash, using a pastry brush then gently fold over and seal the edges by pinching them closed. Add holes to the center to allow the steam to escape, then place onto a greased cookie sheet. When the cookie sheet is full, brush each empanada with the egg wash and then bake for about 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.