Beef Empanadas

March 21, 2011

On the Saturday mornings that we make it to the public market, we always stop at Juan and Maria’s for some of their delicious empanadas. Cook’s Illustrated published a recipe in the May/June issue last year for beef empanadas that sounded very similar to Juan and Maria’s Don Francisco version, and as I was feeling motivated, I decided to give it a go (a minimum level of ambition is required to tackle anything involving pie dough)!

In addition to beef, these empanadas contain raisins, hard-boiled egg, and olives, which all add a variety of textures and flavors to each bite. The vodka in the dough is used in place of some amount of water to make the dough moist and easy to work with without making it tough (gluten forms well with water but not as well with alcohol). All the alcohol burns off in the oven, so don’t worry about it leaving an aftertaste. The empanadas can be assembled ahead of time up through step 5 and refrigerated for up to 2 days before baking, so they can be served as a fast weeknight supper if you’re willing to spend the time for preparation in advance. Leftovers also reheat well in the toaster oven.

Beef empanadas



  • 1  large slice hearty white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
  • 2  tablespoons plus 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1  pound 85 percent lean ground chuck
  • Table salt and ground black pepper
  • 1  tablespoon olive oil
  • 2  medium onions, chopped fine (about 2 cups)
  • 4  medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1  teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4  teaspoon Cayenne pepper
  • 1/8  teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2  cup packed cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 2  hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3  cup raisins
  • 1/4  cup pitted green olives, coarsely chopped
  • 4  teaspoons cider vinegar


  • 3  cups (15 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for work surface
  • 1  cup (5 ounces) masa harina
  • 1  tablespoon sugar
  • 2  teaspoons table salt
  • 12  tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
  • 1/2  cup cold vodka
  • 1/2  cup cold water
  • 5  tablespoons olive oil (for baking)


  1. For the filling: Process bread and 2 tablespoons chicken broth in food processor until paste forms, about 5 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Add beef, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and pulse until mixture is well combined, six to eight 1-second pulses.
  2. Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, cumin, cayenne, and cloves; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add beef mixture and cook, breaking meat into 1-inch pieces with wooden spoon, until browned, about 7 minutes. Add remaining 1/2 cup chicken broth and simmer until mixture is moist but not wet, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to bowl and cool 10 minutes. Stir in cilantro, eggs, raisins, olives, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate until cool, about 1 hour. (Filling can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
  3. For the dough: Process 1 cup flour, masa harina, sugar, and salt in food processor until combined, about two 1-second pulses. Add butter and process until homogeneous and dough resembles wet sand, about 10 seconds. Add remaining 2 cups flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into large bowl.
  4. Sprinkle vodka or tequila and water over mixture. Using hands, mix dough until it forms tacky mass that sticks together. Divide dough in half, then divide each half into 6 equal pieces. Transfer dough pieces to plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
  5. To assemble: Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions, place 1 baking sheet on each rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees F. While baking sheets are preheating, remove dough from refrigerator. Roll each dough piece out on lightly floured work surface into 6-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick, covering each dough round with plastic wrap while rolling remaining dough. Place about 1/3 cup filling in center of each dough round. Brush edges of dough with water and fold dough over filling. Trim any ragged edges. Press edges to seal. Crimp edges of empanadas using fork.
  6. To bake: Drizzle 2 tablespoons oil over surface of each hot baking sheet, then return to oven for 2 minutes. Brush empanadas with remaining tablespoon oil. Carefully place 6 empanadas on each baking sheet and cook until well browned and crisp, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking. Cool empanadas on wire rack 10 minutes and serve.

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