Posts Tagged ‘Empanadas’

The Great Compromise

Hand Pies

Red, white, and blueberry

Warning: What follows is a colossal stretch of logic. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. – The Editors

I love to throw around a big word every now and then. I mean the words no one uses except when jokingly throwing around big words or showing off at the Scrabble board. I’m partial to triskaidekaphobia—the word, and the condition. Yes, I had to use spell check to make sure I’d spelled it correctly, and yes, I was impressed that it was in the Microsoft Word spell check dictionary. Evidently Microsoft’s engineers share my phobic nature.

As you know, triskaidekaphobia refers to the fear of the number thirteen. Friday the thirteenth? Uh-oh.

But many years ago someone pointed out to me that we should celebrate the number thirteen. There were thirteen original colonies, and that whole story turned out okay. Didn’t it? (I’ll leave politics to the politicians. I’ll just keep my big bazoo shut and continue making up facts as I need them.)

Hey, I saw the movie 1776, so I know that creating the United States wasn’t easy. Reason number one: it was 90 degrees in Philadelphia that summer and they wore those powdered wigs without air conditioning. If that were me, you’d be moving me around with a squeegee. Reason number two: all those opinionated, headstrong men had to compromise to make any progress and get the Declaration of Independence completed and signed. Compromise is just so…old fashioned. After all, I think I know what’s best, don’t you agree?

Sidestepping that question for a moment, a few days ago one of my favorite things happened. I had a “What’s that ?” moment. These are moments where I am figuratively thrown off my feet by seeing something unexpected. This is kind of like when Tom Cruise got his first glimpse of the alien spaceship in War of the Worlds, except without the look of horror and the knowledge that Dakota Fanning will mop the floor with him in all their scenes together.

I was walking through Whole Foods and I saw Pearl River Chocolate Hand Pies on display. Definitely a “What’s that ?” moment.

I still haven’t figured out how they made the filling. It was a cross between a brownie and flourless chocolate cake. Not drippy, but not cakey, and with a steady, unyielding semi-sweet flavor. The crust was a little bit shortbread, and a little bit pie crust. Hand pies…I love the concept.

Yet I had concerns, deep, worrying, wrinkle-inducing concerns. (Yes, an exaggeration.)

If I were to substitute fruit fillings would the pies become too drippy or messy to, say, eat them as you walk down the street? Could I make a decent crust? These are basically empanadas, and I have been humbled by past, unsuccessful attempts at making empanada dough. Perhaps a compromise was in order?

After all, if the founding fathers could compromise and create a country, then I could do the same and give up a little of my “from scratch” baking snobbery and make hand pies from pre-made empanada dough. (Is it some kind of patriotic heresy to put hand pies and the drafting of the Declaration of Independence on the same level?)

(See, we warned you! – The Editors)

Pre-made, pre-cut empanada dough is certainly not a foreign object in my neighborhood New York City markets—Goya makes them in two sizes and colors. The question is, Are they any good?

The answer is: they’re just okay, but they have a couple of sparkling advantages over making your own.

Advantage number one: someone else has mixed the dough and cut them into circles for you.

Advantage number two: they are incredibly easy to use.  Because most of the discos were cracked or broken it seemed obvious that the bag I bought had been roughly handled. Yet, when thawed they were easily mended, filled and sealed. The little rolled, crimped edge? The Goya “discos” handled crimping like a champ.

But all of this convenience comes at the price of flavor and texture. I found the discos to be more like a substantial version of wonton wrappers. Not bad, mind you, but just lacking the faintly sweet flakiness of really good empanadas.

Still, the ease and convenience factor are hard to resist. My hand pies were filled with strawberries, but where I think these will shine is if you fill them with something slightly more assertive like spiced peaches, or even pumpkin. (Serve the latter warm with Maple Ice Cream on Thanksgiving.)

I know that Goya isn’t the only game in town when it comes to empanada dough, but here in the big city if you’re talking about neighborhood convenience Goya is a behemoth. Even in my heavily Dominican-influenced neighborhood Goya seems to have crowded out any other brands in my corner bodega.

A quick search on line doesn’t return a lot of competing products in this category. There is another company named La Cubanita, but I couldn’t find a way to order their product. There’s also a Goya empanada shell that is imported from Argentina, and another brand named La Salteña that I need to road test. (If you really know your empanada dough drop me a line with your advice.)

Happy Independence Day!


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