Total transparency: I made these Pumpkin Cheesecake Empanadas last week. I did so in anticipation of a special event that would take up my time this week. Further transparency: I only named these “empanadas” because most people know them by that name. In our family, they’re called pastelillos (pahz-tay-LEE-yos). These flaky pastries are usually filled with savory delights. This time, however, I’m making things a little bit sweeter. You wanna know why? Well, I’ll tell ya’ why!
My favorite Soldier returned from his nine-month deployment this past weekend. The ceremony was nothing short of emotional. Long by most redeployment ceremony standards. The wait during the speeches and the singing of the Army song feel unbearably long when you’re waiting to hug someone. Especially when you’ve waited over nine months for said hug. But, I got it. I thought I was going to choke the crap out of him with that hug; he’s tough though. He survived like a champ. Man! My hair is really gray, isn’t it? No matter.
Now that we’ve come down from our emotional high, it’s back to everyday life. That, most certainly, means fulfilling the Soldier’s every edible whim. I, honestly, think he begins a list of “must-eats” as soon as he starts his deployments. He jots down every hankering and craving, then submits said list to me right after he drops his bags in the foyer (where they don’t belong). I indulge him for about a week before I tell him (and his list) to, “Stick it where the sun don’t shine.” It’s only a honeymoon period, after all.
These pumpkin cheesecake empanadas are chameleons. They make the most delicious breakfasts, but they also double as an exquisite dessert. Here’s how to make them…
Pastelillo dough is extremely easy to make. It’s also very easy to purchase. You can grab my recipe in my cookbook: Taste & See Cooks: Recipes to Inspire, Equip, and Enjoy (available for purchase now)! Or, you can pick up a pack in your grocer’s international foods freezer section. If you choose the homemade route, make sure to allow the dough to rest for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out. This will help to avoid shrinkage (no pun intended, I mean, really!) While you wait, prepare the pumpkin cheesecake filling.
Naturally, we must start with room temperature cream cheese. Working with cream cheese straight from the fridge is a recipe for lumpiness. No bueno. Allow your cream cheese to come to room temperature by leaving it out on the counter for at least 6-8 hours. Read my rationale behind why that’s okay: here. In addition to the cream cheese, we’ll also need pureed pumpkin. Now, you can either roast your diced pumpkin and puree it yourself; or you can use the canned stuff. I’m not judging, just make sure it’s legit pumpkin.
An egg, some brown sugar, and my Pumpkin Spice Blend are all that’s needed to create our sweet pastry filling. Place them all in a mixing bowl. Be sure to use the smallest one you own (<—sarcasm). That’s the ticket. I amaze myself sometimes.
Roll out a disc of pastelillo/empanada dough into a 6″ circle. Using a 2oz portion scoop (also known by it’s less pretentious name: “ice cream scoop”); scoop a portion of the pumpkin cheesecake filling onto the lower half of the circle.
Wet your fingers with water and moisten the lower rim of the circle of dough.
Fold the top half of the dough over the bottom and press to seal. Fold over a 1/4″ border to completely seal in the filling.
Now, I like to create a decorative edge on my pastelillos. What I do is I use the index finger of my non-dominant hand (left) as a sort of “placeholder” for the dough that my right index finger is folding over. Alternatively, you can use the tines of a fork to create a crimped edge. The goal is to make sure your pastelillos won’t break open during frying. If they do, it’s not a show-stopper, it’ll just make for some messy oil. Continue forming the pastelillos until you’ve used up all of the filling.
Heat your peanut or vegetable oil to 350-375°F. You’ll see the oil start to make waves, like pictured.
Carefully, slip your pastelillos into the hot oil- two, or three, at a time, depending on how fast you can flip them without splashing oil everywhere. Fry just until you see a bubble forming in the dough. When you see that, flip the pastelillo using a pair of tongs. If you allow this bubble to grow any larger, it’ll cause the pastelillo to become “top-heavy”. The pastry will want to right itself to the side where the bubble is and will fry unevenly. Fry for a total of 8 minutes, or until a deep golden brown. Remove from the oil and allow to drain on brown paper bags, or paper towels.
While you’re frying, combine granulated sugar and ground cinnamon in bowl. After the pastelillos have drained well, coat them in the cinnamon-sugar- right next to your fake, horribly-colored pumpkin which you had to use because you can’t find real pumpkins anywhere in town. I digress. Coat the dang thang.
Pile them up and keep an eye out for roving hands.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Like I said, these make a perfect breakfast with a side of fruit and coffee. They are also perfect on their own as a dessert! Pin the recipe for later and share with your friends. Oh! And would you be so kind as to welcome my Soldier back home? Thanks!
Pumpkin Cheesecake Empanadas
Make these handheld desserts in a "jiff" with store-bought empanada dough.
- pastelillo/empanada dough recipe follows (or 14 oz pkg of pre-made pastelillo dough)
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 8 oz cream cheese room temperature
- 1 large egg
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp Pumpkin Spice Blend
- water for sealing the dough
- peanut or vegetable oil for frying
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
Pastelillo Dough (yields 12)
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 3 1/2 tbsp shortening or lard
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- 3/4 cup ice water
Begin by preparing the pastelillo dough: in a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder; blend well. Cut in the shortening (or lard) using a pastry blender or your fingers. The dough should resemble a coarse meal.
Finally, combine the egg and water together. Add it to the flour, and mix until the dough comes together. The dough should be slightly stiff, but not floury and scraggly.
If you find the dough is crumbly, add a tablespoon of water at a time until the dough holds together. Different climates can alter the amount of water needed.
Knead for 3 minutes and wrap in plastic. Allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. You can also make the dough a day in advance and store in the fridge.
In a mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin puree, cream cheese, egg, sugar and spice blend with an electric mixer. Beat on low speed until combined, then increase the speed to med to beat until fluffy. Set aside.
Roll out your pastelillo dough into 6" circles. You can roll them all out at once and separate them with wax paper or parchment paper.
Once all of your dough has been rolled out, fill a large frying pan with the cooking oil. Preheat to 350-375°F.
While the oil is heating, and using a portion scoop; scoop the pumpkin cheesecake mixture onto the lower half of your circle.
Wet the bottom half's edge with a finger that has been dipped in water. Fold the top half over and press to seal. Roll up a 1/4" of dough towards the filling to make sure it is well sealed.
Flute decoratively or use the tines of a fork to create a decorative edge.
Continue filling all of the pastelillos and set them aside on a greased sheet pan until finished. If you find your oil is getting to hot while you're rolling and filling, remove it from the stove, carefully, to allow it to cool down.
Prepare a draining station for your fried pastelillos by lining a casserole dish, or pan, with brown paper bags, or paper towels. Set aside.
Gently slip your pastelillos into the hot oil (don't crowd the pan). Fry until an air bubble begins to form, then carefully turn it over with a pair of tongs. Fry on the second side for 3 minutes before flipping it back over to fry for 3 minutes longer, or until deep golden in color.
While you are frying, combine the sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl.
Once the pastelillos have finished frying, remove them to the paper bag-lined dish to drain for a few seconds.
After a few seconds, toss it into the cinnamon-sugar to coat evenly.
Continue in this manner until all of your pastelillos are fried and coated, then...enjoy!!
*Prep time includes making the dough from scratch.
* Using store-bought dough will yield ten pastelillos instead of a dozen.
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