The Road to Empanada Nirvana is Paved with Disaster… :)


A flaky, rich and flavorful crust, visually reminiscent of Herve Leger’s stretch fabric/layered ribbon dresses from the 1980’s, but in empanada form. That was the original objective. No, this actually had a bit more thought to it than that. The more I have explored Filipino food, produce and recipes, the more I am convinced that the Top dishes became top dishes for a reason. And often, that reason is NO LONGER present in the preparation of many of the modern variations of the dish. I am not against evolution or modernity and practicality, but for me, to understand a dish, and what makes or made it work, one has to look back to its “beginnings”… I think the adobos of today for many families are a far cry from a slow cooked pork adobo without soy sauce but rather just salt, spices and vinegar. I also think home or restaurant prepared pinakbet often strays far from the more authentic examples of the dish. Kinilaw, best done as naked and barely bathed in vinegar and spice as possible, is now made to swim in an acidic bath for hours in a fridge, yielding a dish that is altogether different from its recent ancestors. Even sinigang in most homes today is made with an acidic powder in a foil packet rather than relying on fresh souring agents. For years I have tasted mediocre to downright LOUSY empanadas, yet wondered by they were such a crowd favorite. Increasingly they seemed filled with outrageously sweet concoctions, and the crust ranged from good to inedible. So the question is, what was so good about its ancestors that made this such a favorite dish today?


Empanadas were probably introduced during the Spanish times, maybe as long as 300+ years ago, brought from Central/South America, where they were brought probably from the region of Galicia, in Spain, according to Alan Davidson in his book The Oxford Companion to Food. Empanadas were one of the original convenience foods… hermetically wrapped in dough (empanada for enrobed in bread), fried in hot oil, ensuring the contents were sterilized and not likely to encourage bacteria growth for many hours to come. In Central and South America, these became convenient lunch foods/snacks, and they often had protein, starch and even vegetables in a neat little package. In the Philippines, I always thought of empanadas as more of a snack or merienda fare. And even as a kid, most of the ones I tried had ground beef and some raisins, the latter to provide sweetness and some moisture to the filling.


In the last 20 or so years, I have very rarely eaten empanadas, tasting the ones I come across, but often finding them lacking in some regard. Even the baked ones I tried the other day were good, but the crust was a bit bland or boring. I wanted a crust that “sang” like Alicia Keys. So I went back to this previous post on some store bought empanadas, searched out BettyQ’s dough recipe that she seemed to just whip up at a moment’s notice, and realized I had some wonderful flavorful pork lard in the fridge… so armed with recipe, and substituting lard for Marketman aged pork lard, it was time to experiment. :)


My hypothesis was this. The empanadas made during the Spanish times here in the Philippines, had doughs that were probably made with pork or other lard. And they were also likely deep fried in more lard. It was the PORK LARD that made these so incredibly special, so tantalizing to the taste buds, and therefor a favorite food. As the decades passed and vegetable oil was invented (or vegetable shortening) and or butter or margarine was brought to market, the crusts evolved away from the rich, flavorful predecessors to more practical, more healthy but maybe less yummy empanadas…


So here is what I did. I followed BettyQ’s dough recipe except that I used PORK lard. I made the “slurry” of lard and flour and “grafted” it onto the main dough. I carefully folded it and rolled it out to a really long rectangle.


I thought it was thin enough, but in retrospect, I think I should have rolled it even thinner.

From the “closed” end of the dough, I rolled that up into a “log”…


Make sure to remove any air pockets.


Notice that distinct layers of dough and fat are visible from a cross-section of the log.


I let the logs rest in the fridge for some 3 hours, before taking them out, and cuttin them into 1.5 inch mini-logs, which when pressed down on, turned into discs with concentric alternating circles of dough and fat.


Roll this out to the desired thickness, and lift and transfer to a empanada mould, if using.


I went out earlier in the day to buy the plastic empanada mould, thinking uniformity in size was highly desirable.


To be honest, I hated the mould– it was cheaply made, didn’t quite seal the empanadas and cost a relative arm and a leg for what it was.


We did most of the remaining empanadas free form without the benefit of a mould. I am sure there are NICE and efficient moulds out there, I just have to keep my eye out for one.


Things were looking really promising at this point, and we heated up lots of fat in a wok over medium heat. The problems started when we slowly put the first empanada into the hot oil and it basically did a “Challenger-like” bursting at the seams… It was a mess and the contents were burned to a crisp. I figured we may have overstuffed the empanada so we reduced the volume of filling on the second try…


…but the second, third and fourth empanadas still kept falling apart at the areas that were supposed to turn into scales (kaliskis) and I was beginning to worry that something was seriously wrong. It seems that one thing I should have done was make the rolled out pieces of dough REST for a couple of hours in the fridge, probably to firm up the lard and improve the strength of the dough.


Next I tried rolling out the dough intentionally in the “wrong” way, without the concentric circles, and using bits and pieces from earlier attempts, and the dough held together much more nicely, so obviously the dough could be fine. I also wrestled with oil temperature, the volume of filling, the thickness of the dough, etc… yes, just when you thought things were simple, they suddenly got infuriatingly difficult to comprehend. I was sweating so much I may have added a teeny weeny bit more salt to some empanadas than was intended… :) Then I realized maybe the ambient temperature was simply just TOO HOT to be working with pastry dough!


But as we adjusted the thickness of the dough, lowered the heat of the oil, lessened the filling, we started turning out pretty decent looking empanadas, albeit with wickedly fat scales or “kaliskis”… Out of say 20 pieces fried, some 8-10 turned out looking pretty presentable.


But forget the looks for a moment, and sink your teeth into one of these babies, and VOILA!, ABSOLUTELY STUPENDOUS texture and flavor. Brilliant crust. Incredibly flaky with a rich flavor unctuously coating one’s tongue, screaming its porky provenance, and providing a savory hit before you even got to the meat. This was the experience I was looking for, this was personal confirmation that if all empanadas were somehow made this way decades or centuries ago, it is no wonder at all why they became such a crowd pleaser. I must admit, having one or two of these goodies was the MAXIMUM I could take in a given day. And they seemed to sit in one’s stomach like a spongy wet piece of lead, if lead could be spongy and wet…


I am not happy enough with the total package to write a recipe. But I can tell you that if I ever managed to get my act together and wrote a cookbook or compilation of my favorite recipes, this one would have to be included. Even if the book were all about pork, this recipe would sneak in because of the lard. :)

Note: Some photos in this post taken by AT.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest

57 Responses

  1. Hi MM. Roll out the dough thinner before rolling so you get more layersof “scales”. The thinner lard-dough layers will produce a flakier crust.

  2. i suggest using eggwash or water to seal the empanada :)

    maybe you could also make the crust just a little larger
    the ridges are meant to seal the empanada
    if you look at picture#14, you’ll see that the edges dont reach the ridges
    hope that helps :)

  3. hi MM. i hope you can perfect your “traditional” recipe soon but if you want to tweak it a little, i think you will achive the flaky crust when you bake it :)

  4. icebucks, the flakiness comes from the layers of fat sandwiched between the flour… the more layers you have and the more steam or burst of heat between the different layers, I think the flakier. val, I did water to seal the edges, just forgot to write that into the post. And yes, the rounds could be bigger, but oddly, the plastic mould had a cutter for the rounds, and they ended up a little smaller than the mould to seal the empanadas, another sign the mould was next to useless. As for sealing, the crimped edges is wide about half a centimeter or more, so even the piece in the photo should have had lots of room to seal properly. Ging, I think the layers themselves have to be thinner, you are right on that one…

  5. Nakakainis your pics! (lovingly said) My mouth is now watering. Sankaya makahanap ng empanada? Gosh, I’ll even gobble up the putok ones.

  6. Is that you in the photos sir? Its just that I noticed that you (if it is you…) are barefoot. It’s something that I do that my mom used to disapprove… :)

    I am not much of a fan of empanadas, specially the ones with the “bread-like” dough. My absolute favorite is the Empanadang ilokano (with the orange crust/dough) with the malasadong itlog.

  7. MM, is the filling still the lechon sisig? did you add something else to the sisig like potatoes?
    (hahahaha! you’re like Jojo, always barefoot in the house!)

  8. joan, yes, I added potatoes and mushrooms to the sisig so it wasn’t so “sum-ul” or too rich. I also tried a more traditional filling of ground meat and potatoes with paprika and spices and tomato paste.

  9. Wow, the Hestonesque experimentation, huh MM?
    I am rooting for those empanadas, minus the Herve Leger dress thingy, ewww, those stretch fabrics of the 80s, hahaha!

    I love going barefoot in the house, too. I don’t like wearing socks or slippers.

  10. i threw away my plastic empanada mold because it didn’t work at all. it’s easier and more effective if you just fold the dough over and seal the edges by pressing down the tines of a fork.

    i think you need to roll the dough thinner (at both the rectangle stage and the circle stage). i don’t make the “kaliskis” dough for empanada, but a friend who does brushes some oil over the rectangle before rolling it to make sure the “scales” form when frying. also, it’s tempting to overstuff them, but an “explosion” is inevitable.

    nonetheless, those look really yummy! it looks like i’d be happy nibbling on even the dough alone!

  11. Kaya yan, MM! konting practice pa :D
    super inggit talaga ako sa palaman ng empanada mo (drool..)

  12. The most perfectly formed empanadas with even scaling used to be made at the UP cafeteria. Mom used to bring her filling there for enrobing, paying for the crust. I asked our aunt who used to be in charge whether she still had the recipe but all she said was that the very stiff dough was rolled paper thin by male employees to a specified size and then brushed with the lard/flour layer and rolled up very tightly. Each cut piece was then rolled into a circle, no mold was used, edges crimped with one’s fingers in successive tiny half circle folds to seal.
    Someday when I have time I’ll work on it, getting the proportions right will take a lot of experimenting. Faster to ask someone who has perfected the art to show you how to do it.The empanadas were fried to encourage the scaling.

  13. We Goans (Portuguese), also make Empanadas, but only as part of Christmas Sweets, we call them Nev’reos.

    Our fillings are
    1) Fresh grated Coconut with melted Palm Sugar (Jaggery ) and Sesame seeds and Vanilla Essence
    2) Roasted Semolina Mixed with grated Copra and Raisins and some sugar.

    A thin crispy crust is made with Vegetable Lard, as we distribute these sweets to our Hindu and Muslim neighbours, who donot consume Non-veg Lard.

    We donot use Moulds to make our Nev’reos but rather a water-soaked swab is used to just dab the edges and we seal them with different types of forks and other implements to give the edges a unique look.

  14. I feel real affection and great longing for the first wave of women cooks who did not resort to scare tactics to make you cook and eat well. Julia Child with butter, Marcella Hazan with pasta and Diane Kennedy with lard. Ever suspicious of skinny cooks, in my estimation, if one lived well, he or she should have something outward to show for it, either in the glow of contentment in the face or a healthy ampleness in the carriage.

    The empanada that mother made in the fifties did not use the Chinese puff pastry method. The discrete layers of flakes were structured into the crust similar to the way Italian pastry chefs prepare their sfogliatelle. That was acceptable since she was doing it only as a hobby and was preparing just a dozen or two. In a commercial setting though, your options become narrowed down to what keeps the cost down. Special fast machines are used, additives are resorted to, traditional shapes are altered. In spite of the profit imperative, it was decided to keep the crimping of our empanada edges the way mother did it. By hand. At high speed.

    We allowed the rolled out crust to rest and relax (this is the single most important trick to employ when rolling out dough), we measured out the filling consistently and accurately with a serving scoop, we did the repulgue (rope crimping) by hand on a tiny turn-table, and we baked them on silicone lined pans.

  15. am always impressed by rope crimping. i love the graceful braids and shells and ropes on the empanada edges. i’ve watched others do it, and it looks very simple – pinch-fold/pinch-fold. be warned, though…it’s not as easy as it looks. mine always end up lopsided and over-handled, so i fork tines are always the easiest and last resort.

  16. MM have you seen the trip to Spain of Mario Batali on TV with Mark Bittman and Gwyneth P. and Claudia B.? They went to different parts of Spain and they went to I am not sure if it was Galicia and had a taste of the empanada. But the empanada that was cooked here was different from the half-moon shaped we are used to seeing. The empanada was very big and round like a stuffed pizza.

  17. O!k…your dough looks a bit on the dry side, MM…it sould have the consisitency of a smooth ball….kneaded briefly only. This is not pie doughthat you have to be gentle. Your paste is a bit dry too. You can roll the dough a bit thinner but not as thin as strudel dough. The baston looks like my arm…you can roll it a bit longer. Then refrigerate before cutttin into pieces… easier to cut.

    If you want crimp edges, make the center thicker than the edges, pinch the edges thinner stretching them out a bit and start crimping. Icannot explain …but pinch and crimp but turning the edged over and in…Do I make sense?

    I need to do errands now in the morning and will tell you in much greater detail this afternoon….so sorry!

  18. the best empanadas i’ve had were from my hometown in arayat,pampanga. (marc’s too i suppose) i could still remember the mid morning breaks in highschool and would look forward to the freshly delivered empanadas in the canteen. they were still even hot! and yes i remember that they were fried not baked. flakey and rich dough that melts in the mouth. the filling is not too sweet and have the right proportions. it had pieces of pork and chicken, some diced potatoes, raisins and a quarter of a boiled egg. m still hoping that the next time i go back in arayat i could trace who makes those wonderful empanadas. and i promise mm that i would send you some :) , im quite sure you’ll get to like it too!

  19. This post just reminded my of my dear aunt from Vancouver who recently passed away. It did seem that her life was devoted to cooking for and entertaining people. She would always have empanadas that were so good – her freezer was always stocked with those along with lumpia! I once stood with her to learn the ropes of folding and pinching – I got one good looking empanada out of 20 attempts.

  20. Triple AAA for best effort, MM! I know you will keep at it, just because I know your persistence in getting things aright!!

    The best empanadas go back to childhood memories – used to have people in Bacolod nga ‘nagalibod’ with big bilaos – and empanada was one of the delicious things they sold. The fluting at the edges was exquisite, so too the ‘pleated’ body of the empanada. I would always examine it and marvel at the handiwork befor biting into the delicious content!! It was a work of art!

    I know these empanadas can still be obtained from a kitchen in Silay – pero medio makunat the dough – but since we cannot replicate the culinary skill of those cooks of old – puede pasar na.

  21. OK, bettyQ, you are back! I was wondering what you had to say to MM’s quest for his empanada perfection, always over the top.

    If I had the time, I would try your dough recipe ( it is in my bettyQ/MM files) which sounds like a cinch as you describe it….and in more experienced hands like yours. For me, I soft mix the dough ( flour, sugar, water, oil and eggs mixture) lifting the mixture with my fingers, not work the dough too much to get a light pastry, lightly pressing to form a ball then tearing off pieces then roll and press to form circles; not so crunchy after deep frying but has enough bite and light and yummy as well… easier to handle especially in the hotter climate and the dough does not need to be refrigerated before forming the baston and cutting to form the circles.

    And yes, I have learned to fold and press the edges: left index and third finger and thumb lightly grasping and folding the edges of the circle towards the center of the dough then alternately pressing with my right index finger and working my way towards the other end of the semicircle…..fold and press till the whole thing is crimped…..perhaps better seen than described?

  22. I’ve been pretty busy of late & so am a little late re reading your blog. But the posts on lard piqued my interest.

    Have you heard of a Tuscan regional specialty? in the Apuan alps? Specifically in the area of the Carrara marble quarries? I’m talking about “lardo di Colonnata” – a staple of the quarry workers’ lunch pail. It was featured in the magazine “La Cucina Italiana” but I couldn’t find the exat link.

    But here is a link providing good intro to this specialty:

    There’s a Facebook page for lardo di Colonnata & I hear it is available in NYC. But haven’t checked either out!

  23. Good, bettyq is back. Had been wondering where she was.
    MM, I must say you get and Aplus for your persistence. I would like to try the dough with the lard that they sell at the grocery stores here. Will that be pork, you think. Lots of Latinos where I live. Those finished empanadas look good.

  24. I remember my mom used to make empanadas, but simple dough lang, it would end up like fried pan de sal with filling, which isn’t half bad if you like pan de sal…and we would help close it up, we used the tines of a fork, but she then bought something similar to your mould MM, but it was just like less than a hundred each (2 different sizes), not sure if from Divi or Marikina Market

  25. The issue of La Cuina Italiana featuring Lardo di Colonnata is the October 2009 issue. The article is not online – here’s the preface to it:

    “Woven into the narrative of Carrara’s marble-quarrying culture, Lardo di Colonnata is
    the culinary fruit of heavy work.”

  26. hi marketman! have you ever tried PANARA from bacolod? it’s like miniature empanadas but the filling is made from monggo sprouts, shrimp and pork. the crust is more crunchy, and when you eat it, you take a bite first, then dip it in sinamak! it’s so good! or you can break it in half and put sinamak in the middle. :D

  27. I am already queing up for a signed copy of your cookbook. MM, remember my cookbook library was reduced to nothing by Ondoy, including my signed Julia Child book (sigh). Please start talking to a publication. Please, pretty please. Hello bettyq.

  28. I have a kaliskis recipe which turns out great, will have to write it down. Crimping the edges by hand is better, fold n twist and final tuck at the corner. You actually need to fry twice, once for 10 minutes in not so hot oil, then 3 minutes or so in hot oil until beautifully golden and ‘kaliskis’ flaky.

  29. @sister : yes, the empanadas at the UP Cafeteria were flaky and yummy… brought back a lot of fond memories when I read your comment. We also used to order garlic bread from them, too. I wonder if they still sell empanadas today.

    @MM : I could understand why your daily limit for these babies will only be two. :) flaky crust and all… parang sobrang linamnam.

  30. I saw the photo of the empanada and its not what it looks like, its what it tastes like that matters, presentation is 2nd lang so drool on. For those that want perfection, just air brush the photo and re-print. Congratulations!!

  31. Hi MM, I am one of those lurkers for few years now who enjoys your blog, funny witty and very informative. the dough you were trying to achieve is similar to an italian pasty called sfogliatella (lobster tail).the base dough made with flour, water, salt, sugar is rolled out to paper thin that you can almost see your hand through it, then smother it with lard (pork fat – is the best for a very flakey crust). roll it tightly to a cylinder/log, this will create the multiple layers you need, cut your log to half an inch thick disks. lay the disks flat on table or palm. flatten with your hand helping it with your finger to make a small bowl to accomodate your filling. add your stuffing then crimp it to close by tuck folding adn twisting on the edge. you can either fry or bake it. We made this dough when I attended CIA but i find pork fat is the best for a very flakey dough. After a few experiments on oil vs pork fat, frying vs baking, still pork fat and baking is the best. Hope this helps you with your quest to the empanada dough you are looking for.

  32. And once you get your flaky pleated crust mastered, you can continue experimenting with the filling. Of course, your sisig is already a great start in a field fertile for experimentation. An Argentine baker asked me once to do the crust with him and proceeded to fill them with minced steak sautéed with a surprising amount of chopped chives accompanied with a quarter of hard boiled egg and a green pitted olive. In the boarding section of Guarulhos and Ezeiza, the Argentine company Havana, famous for their industrially made alfajores maintains stylish snack kiosks that serve two kinds of empanada. Chicken which are filled with diced roasted chicken bound with either a velouté or Bechamel sauce and the beef which are stuffed with sautéed minced steak noticeably seasoned with smoky pimenton or it can just be plain chile potle. This semana santa, at the Mercado Municipal of São Paulo, I avoided the temptation of Anthony Bourdain’s favorite mortadella on a kaiser and quashed qualms from my good Catholic education and ordered instead fried empanada with bacalao filling. All of them great, and only of course our empanda crust is in a completely different league.

  33. MM, maybe you can try refrigerating the stuffed pieces again before frying to further set the folds.

  34. I use the store-bought pie crusts (Pillsbury is the best I tried). I also bake the empanada with egg wash. Makes a flakier empanada.

  35. hahaha… mom’s having a hard time with empanadas too… but that was before, my aunt from OZ brought a huge chunk of pop pastry. lol… made life easier… :)

  36. “I think the adobos of today for many families are a far cry from a slow cooked pork adobo without soy sauce but rather just salt, spices and vinegar.” You echo Doreen Fernandez in this one MM as she points out that indeed adobo started this way, with Chinese traders influencing the dish with soy sauce.

    I also tried making Empanada de Kaliskis before and like you, handling the dough in this heat made it quite impossible. I also should have known to make multiple, thin layers as much as possible, like making croissants.

    By the way, how did you make your lard MM? I wanted to make a batch of my own but the recipe I got required a 12 hour cooking time.

  37. By the way, I recently went on a trip to Bicol. And in Legaspi, I think they have their own secret on Empanada de Kaliskis. I scoured various carinderias and found the same Kaliskis de Empanada, as if sold by concessionaire. And unlike the recipes I used before, their empanadas are not frail to the touch nor were they soggy. They were really solid but flaky at the same time. I wish I could have shown you the picture but alas, only the memories remain. Sorry.

  38. Now that I took a second look at the Mould….MM…
    1) the dough circle should be bigger than the mould,
    2) The edges of the dough should be thicker and
    3) you have to swab the edge with water before pressing the edges….I dont know if you tried that.

  39. Nice idea there that instead of using butter or margarine, you used pork lard. The result isn’t perfect though. I appreciate you for your patronage on the true heritage of the recipe. I have an idea to share: what if they didn’t used pork lard before? Instead they used coconut milk in making the dough? It makes sense knowing that coconuts were abundant in our country. Spaniards may have used lard but early Filipinos used coconut as a substitute. Just a thought.

  40. I was lucky enough to find lard in my local bakery supplies store this afternoon so I went ahead and made some chicken empanadas. Gosh, the crust was so flaky, and the kaliskis thin! I didn’t think I could do it on my first try. I didn’t even have trouble handling the dough, and I didn’t even need to refrigerate it! The only modification I made was to roll out the dough using the small scale method of making Chinese flaky pastry, as mentioned in the comments in your previous post on stunning empanadas, since I didn’t have enough space for large sheets of dough. And I did manage to learn how crimp the edges after my tenth empanada. :)

    Hmm, now I am thinking of making apple turnovers in the future since I have a lot of leftover lard. Thanks MM for inspiring me to try this out!

  41. MM,
    i think the way you have rolled out your dough is similar to the Malaysian curry puff “epok-epok”…layered style.

  42. Hi marketmanila, its really difficult to seal the empanada dough esp when it has been smeared with some of the oil from the filling. Try refrigerating the filling so you can get a clean scoop of it and place it at the center of the dough. The filling is easier to handle and easier to portion when refirgerated.

  43. Hi MM! My Mom makes empanadas too. Instead of letting the dough rest for 3 hours, she lets it rest for 1-1.5 hours. She also rolls her dough very very thinly it’s almost paper thin. To avoid the “explosion” she uses two sets of dough. One is plain and it used to hold the filling the other one (with concentric circles) are placed outside for the kaliskis decoration and extra crunch. If you want I can send you a picture of her empanadas.

  44. I hope you have been able to perfect your crust. Actually, you’re on the right track. The trick is to have half of the dough unrolled and which you will form into balls and roll out individually with each piece cut off of the pinwheel. This is the trick I learned from Jane Po (Popular Bookstore family) when I reminisced about the El Gusto empanada. Her crust recipe came very close to the El Gusto one which had chicken and half a boiled egg and was baked. Flaky, but no butas. ;-) PS: I really enjoy your food blog.

Comments are closed.