I love the Fall. That first brisk morning when the temperature and dew point dips into the 60’s …it inspires me to bake. Most people may think Halloween when they see the first pumpkins hitting the market but, I think Empanadas de Calabaza (Pumpkin Empanadas)!
This recipe was handed down to me from my paternal grandmother, Zoila and is steeped in tradition. Every year for as long as I can remember, my mother and grandmother would gather and prepare a batch of these empanadas for the family to enjoy during the Fall and holiday season. I have very fond memories of my grandmother (Ula) showing me how to crimp the edges and the joy she had knowing the recipe would live on for another generation. I can now relate as I share the recipe with my daughters and grandchildren.
The star of Empanadas de Calabaza is undoubtedly the pumpkin filling. Fresh pumpkin is roasted or boiled until tender, then mashed to a smooth consistency. The pumpkin puree is then combined with a harmonious blend of spices, including cinnamon, anise, and piloncillo for sweetness. The resulting filling is rich, aromatic, and brimming with the earthy flavors of autumn.
These empanadas de calabaza are a commitment, but well worth the time and effort. They are fragrant, delicately spiced and are perfect with a cup of coffee or a glass of cold milk.
Do not be intimidated by the lengthy process. I find breaking it down into 2 – 3 days much easier to handle especially if doing the project on my own; divide and conquer:
1st Day: Make pumpkin filling
2nd Day: Make dough
3rd Day: assemble and bake
Empanadas de Calabaza can be enjoyed in various ways, depending on personal preferences. They make for a delightful merienda (snack), perfect for holiday gatherings or cozy evenings. To elevate the experience, pair them with a cup of spiced tea, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a dollop of whipped cream. Enjoy!
Empanadas de Calabasa (Pumpkin Empanadas)
- 3 pkgs. active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water 105 degrees
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 ½ lbs. all-purpose flour separated
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 1 lb. Crisco
Cinnamon Anise Tea
- 1 ½ cups water
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tablespoons aniseed
- 1 medium large pumpkin 7lbs+
- 5 piloncillo crushed
- 12 Mexican cinnamon sticks 3 sticks per layer
- 3 tablespoons aniseed 2 teaspoons per layer
- ¼ c water
Step 1: Prep your Pumpkin Filling
- Cut pumpkin in half and remove and discard seeds. Leaving the pumpkin skin on, cut pumpkin into chunks roughly 4” x4” in size. No need to be precise here.
- In a large heavy stockpot, place a layer of pumpkin skin side down. Cover with a layer of crushed piloncillo, 3 cinnamon sticks and 2 teaspoons of aniseed.
- Place another layer of pumpkin, flesh side down (sandwiching the piloncillo, cinnamon, aniseed). Repeat, laying pumpkin skin side down, layering with piloncillo, cinnamon and aniseed until all the pumpkin fits into the pot. Note the pumpkin may be overflowing but will cook down quickly so pack it in.
- Add 1/4 cup water, place pot over medium high heat and bring to a simmer. Once you see the steam rising from the pot, cover tightly, reduce heat to medium and cook until tender, approximately 1 ½ – 2 hours. The pumpkin releases quite a bit of liquid. This will mix with the spices and piloncillo and create a beautiful syrup which will transform the pumpkin flesh to a dark mahogany color and become almost translucent.
- Using gloved hands, or slotted spoon, remove pieces of pumpkin from the pot on to a rimmed baking sheet. Allow to cool. Strain remaining liquid into a large measuring cup and reserve.
- Scoop pumpkin flesh, removing the skin, into a large 7 qt saucepan. Mash the flesh and stir in one cup of the reserved pumpkin syrup. Simmer over medium low heat until most of the liquid is cooked out. Place in a bowl and cool/refrigerate until ready to use. Note, the pumpkin puree freezes well.
- The remaining syrup is great served over vanilla ice cream or as a base for a pumpkin latte! Enjoy!
Step 2: Make your starter dough
- In a large liquid measuring cup, dissolve yeast in the warm water and add 1 teaspoon of sugar. Set aside for 5 – 10 minutes. You will see visible changes where the yeast begins to foam and come alive.
- Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine 2 ½ cups of flour and 1 teaspoon salt. Using a wooden spoon, add the yeast mixture and stir until well combined. Cover and set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled. Depending on the temperature in your kitchen this could take about an hour.
Step 3: Make a strong cinnamon anise flavored tea
- Bring 1 ½ cups of water to a boil. Remove from heat and add cinnamon sticks and aniseed, steep 5 minutes. Strain and set aside to cool.
Step 4: Finish the dough
- Once the starter has doubled, add 1 1/2 cups of sugar, 1 lb. of Crisco vegetable shortening. Mix well. Add remaining flour 1 cup at a time alternating with the cinnamon anise tea. Continue to work in the remaining flour and knead until the dough is smooth (see note below). Place in a lightly greased bowl and set aside until doubled.
- Note: if you would like to delay the process you may refrigerate the dough for a day or two. When you are ready to move forward with your bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator, punch down the dough and let rise one hour before shaping.
Step 5: Divide and Shape
- Form dough balls (approximately 62 grams each) and set aside, covered with plastic wrap.
- Once all the dough has been shaped, begin assembly.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll a dough ball into a tortilla shape. On the lower half of the tortilla, add 1 heaping tablespoon of pumpkin filling. Fold over, press lightly to seal and crimp edges. Place empanada on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Continue until you have filled two sheets.
- Fold over, press lightly to seal and crimp edges. Place empanada on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Continue until you have filled two sheets.
Step 6: Bake
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes, rotate sheets and continue to bake an additional 15 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.
Step 7: Store
- Freeze the empanadas on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, place 6 – 8 frozen empanadas in a gallon freezer bag and store until you are ready to use. To reheat, place frozen empanada in a 350 oven for 5 – 7 minutes or until warmed through. Enjoy!