Tapas 2: Empanadas

These are popular all over Spain and Latin America with Argentina and Colombia playing notable roles. Literally meaning “encased in bread” they are little filled pastries dating back to medieval Spain where shepherds enjoyed them as a hearty lunch time snack.

There are open and closed varieties and sweet as well as savoury. They can be fried or oven-baked.

Empanada dough is somewhere between a pastry and a dough, traditionally using oil for shortening, though we prefer butter or a mixture of the two. You can also use pure vegetable shortening.

The amount of shortening (fat) is an open topic.

  • Fried empanadas need less fat and always turn out beautifully crisp.
  • Baked empanadas need more fat. The lightest pastry uses a 2:1 weight ratio of flour to fat (!)

experiment, experiment, experiment …

If you’re using non-gluten flours things that will help your dough hold together are

  • Eggs
  • Xantham gum
  • Agar Agar
  • Guar gum
  • Chia seeds

You can buy gluten-free flours ready mixed with binding agents

experiment, experiment …

savoury baked empanadas

Empanadas With Two Fillings:

Choose one or both: Onion with Parmesan and Fennel / Escarole with Hazelnuts and Prunes
Course Appetizer, lunch, Main Course, Snack, supper
Cuisine Latin American, Spanish


Empanada Dough

  • 2 cups flour (wholemeal, of course)
  • 4-6 oz butter OR
  • 1/2 cup good oil
  • 1/4-1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg for baked empanadas
  • 1 tsp baking powder for fried empanadas

Filling 1: Cheese & Onion

  • 2 large white onions
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • insane amounts of cheese(s) eg parmesan, cheddar, manchego, gruyere ...
  • 1 good glug best olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp horseradish sauce or grated fresh root optional
  • 1 tsp arrowroot, cornflour or other thickening agent OR
  • 1 sachet Agar Agar or similar gelling agent

Filling 2: Escarole (Vegan)

  • 1 head escarole
  • 2 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 6-8 prunes
  • 1 large handful hazelnuts
  • 1 small handful capers salted are best but you can use them pickled in brine


Make The Dough

  • Using a food processor pulse the flour, salt and baking powder (for fried empanadas only) with the butter, oil or a mixture of the two until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. 
  • Add the water (plus egg for baked empanadas), pulsing until the dough comes together in to a clump. The less water, the lighter the dough. 
  • If you're doing this by hand follow the same procedure. Rub the butter into the flour or mix in the oil then add liquid gradually stirring with a table knife until the dough clumps together. Knead lightly keeping the handling a brief as possible. 
  • Leave the dough to rest in the fridge for half an hour

Make The Onion Filling

  • Using a food processor or blender puree the onions with the water and fennel seeds
  • Heat a good glug of good olive oil in a heavy based pan and add the onion mix
  • Cook on a low heat for at least 30 minutes, adding more water to avoid browning the onions. The onions should be the consistency of a very soft, mushy puree
  • Mix thickening agent with a little water and add to the onions, cooking until the mixture thickens.
  • Or add the gelling agent and stir until dissolved
  • Add the cheese (s) and horseradish to the hot mix, stiring well with a wooden spoon; adjust the seasoning
  • Cool thoroughly

&/or Make The Escarole Filling

  • If using salted capers soak in water for a couple of hours or longer
    Fresh Escarole for vegan empanadas
  • Put the hazelnuts in a food bag and give them a few whacks with your rolling pin; de-stone and chop the prunes
  • Chop the onions and garlic and saute in a pan with a little olive oil until translucent
  • Meanwhile wash and coarsely chop a whole escarole and the tomatoes
  • Add to the onions and saute over medium heat for about 5 mins until wilted
    Vegan Escarole Empanada filling
  • Add the chopped capers tomatoes, prunes and hazelnuts; season with salt and plenty of black pepper. Allow to cool

Make The Empanadas

  • Roll out the dough thinly and cut out rounds using a pastry cutter. 
    wholemeal dough for empanadas
  • Put a dollop of the cooled filling in the centre of the dough and fold in the edges. If you're shaping them by hand use a fork to seal the dampened edges
  • If baking the empanadas give them a good egg-wash
  • Bake for 20-25 mins at 180 C or deep fry a few at a time in medium hot oil until evenly brown and crisp


In the first, onions are pureed with fennel seeds and long simmered to release the sugars and other aromatic compounds. Only your nose can tell you when this alchemy is complete. Cheeses and other condiments enrich this veritable nectar which becomes the filling for baked or fried empanadas. In the second, escarole - a member of the chicory family - is braised with crunchy hazelnuts and prunes along with capers for extra tanginess

Serve with a dipping sauce such as Romesco (coming up next)

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