“Like heaven in a pocket!” One student exclaimed.

“I want to live inside of this.” Another said.

I was on a quest to make something fun and festive for my students. Something that might quench their forever requests for cookies and cupcakes. More importantly, in this shortened week of heavy cooking everywhere, I wanted something simple. So I walked to the train and had my aha moment — Empanadas.

My students love empanadas. Hand-held treats they can personalize. Nothing could be better.

I’d take my usual butternut squash empanada recipe and make a holiday tweak– A little spice makes everything nice and easy as pie with these Pumpkin Pie Empanadas.

Empanadas are commonly stuffed with ground beef (a student in my class confirmed this was the favored filling of her Cuban mother). In reality, you can stuff them with whatever you like. In San Juan I found a cafe serving lobster empanadas, spinach-feta empanadas and shrimp empanadas. A restaurant in my neighborhood serves mushroom empanadas with a thick marinara dipping sauce. In the past my students have made butternut squash empanadas.

These might be even better to enjoy after Thanksgiving. In class we talked about the upcoming holiday, empanadas and poof! Lightbulbs went off left and right. I mentioned you could add chopped turkey and leftover stuffing inside of these — “And gravy as a dipping sauce!” added a student. Leftover sweet potato mash was another popular idea, as was leftover chopped apples tossed with cinnamon and sugar.

The obvious point here is the stuffing options are as endless as your imagination. But if you want an easy go-to that everyone will love these pumpkin pie empanadas are a winner.

To save some labor you can buy frozen empanada dough rounds. I found them available in the “ethnic frozen foods” of my local not-very-well-stocked grocery. Try to find the ones without coloring added and with as few ingredients as possible. I’ve made dough in the past but since our classes are small just before the holidays (and because even teachers need a break) we used frozen dough. My recipe for whole wheat empanada dough is below if you want to go all out.

Makes about 16 empanadas
3 cups whole wheat flour
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 egg
1/2 cup very warm tap water
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

2 cups pumpkin puree
2 eggs
1 organic orange, zested
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 pinches ground cloves

1 egg
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
coarse cane sugar

1) Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment, set aside.

If making homemade dough…

1) Work the butter into the flour using fingertips until it is granular. Make a well, add egg, water, vinegar, and salt, whisk to combine then work into the dough. Knead together a few minutes until smooth. If the dough is dry, add water 1 tablespoon at a time to add moisture. If too sticky, add a bit of flour.

2) Divide the dough into 16 golf ball-sized portions. Roll into balls, cover, and let rest 30 minutes.

Make the filling…

3) In a bowl, add pumpkin puree, eggs, orange zest, maple syrup, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt and cloves. Mix until evenly combined.

Assemble Empanadas…

4) Whisk the egg in a small bowl with a tablespoon of water. Set out the coconut oil and sugar. If using homemade dough, roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into 6-7 inch round, about 1/8-inch thick. If using store-bought dough, lay ready-dough on your work surface.

5) Wet the perimeter of the dough with the beaten egg, then scoop 2 tablespoons of filling just below center of the dough round, careful not to overfill or get too close to the edges. Fold in half, careful not to smush the filling. Crimp the edges of the dough with a fork and transfer to baking sheet. Continue with remaining dough and filling.

6) Brush the top of the empanadas with coconut oil and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake 18-20 minutes, until golden.


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