Thursday, December 17, 2009


Empanadas are half-moon shaped turnovers, usually small enough to be eaten in two to four bites and full of either sweet or savory fillings.  They originated in Spain and now are made all throughout Latin America.  They are either fried or baked, and because of the amount of work involved to prepare them, they are mostly served for special occasions. 

We tried two different kinds of dough for the crust today in class;  one with cream cheese, and one was a traditional pie crust.  Here is the recipe for the cream cheese dough, which is easier to make and more rich in flavor:

16 oz cream cheese
8 oz (one stick) butter
1 tsp salt
3 cups all-purpose flour

 - Beat together the cream cheese, butter, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, until well blended. 
 - Slowly add in the flour, mixing until incorporated.
 - Form two balls (it will be easier to work with 2 separate pieces of dough), then flatten each into a disk. Dust with flour, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

For the filling:

1 lb. sirloin beef (either strips, cut into small pieces, or ground)
3 shallots, diced small
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms (or any mushrooms you prefer), chopped 
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped to small pieces
8 oz can small diced tomatoes, drained
8 spanish green olives w/ pimento, chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper

-  Saute shallots in oil over medium low heat until starting to brown. 
-  Add garlic and meat, stirring until meat begins to brown, then add mushrooms.  
-  Cook for two more minutes then stir in spices and raisins.
-  Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool before adding tomatoes, olives and eggs.
-  Taste for seasoning, and add more of any you like.

When dough is ready to roll, preheat oven to 375.

On a lightly floured, smooth, clean surface, roll out one of the dough rounds to a thin 1/8-inch thickness. (If refrigerated for more than an hour, you may need to let it sit for 10 minutes to soften it enough to roll it out more easily.) Use a round biscuit cutter or a glass or plastic container with a 4 to 5 inch opening to cut out rounds. Place them on a baking sheet.
During this and the next step, if the dough becomes too soft and therefore difficult to work with, put whatever you are working on in the refrigerator to chill for 5 or 10 minutes.
Use a pastry brush to lightly brush the inside edge of the rounds with egg wash (to help the empanadas seal). Place a teaspoon of meat inside each round. Fold the round over to and press the edges to seal shut. Use the tines of a fork to flute the edges

Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  If dough seems too soft, chill empanadas for 5 or ten minutes before brushing with eggwash and baking.  Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.  Allow to cool for at least five minutes before eating.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Baking Basics - Pretzels

Welcome to the new session, and the new incarnation of cooking class:  Baking Basics.  It was great to see all the new faces today, as well as the returning chefs.  This class will be a bit different now because we will be focusing on baked products and using the oven each week.  We will learn about different kinds of dough and various leavening processes.  Get ready to experiment and be covered in flour!
Here is the recipe we did in class today:

This one is for you, Poppop!

                                               Philly Soft Pretzels

Nothing beats a warm, soft, salty pretzel.  Just like they sell on the streets of Philadelphia.


1&1/4 tsp yeast
1 Tbsp sugar
1&1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
3 to 4 cups AP flour
2 tsp salt
2 oz melted butter  [we forgot this ingredient when we made it in class today, so yours will turn out softer and more flavorful!]

ALSO:  Fill a stock pot with at least 10 cups of water and have 1Tbsp baking soda set aside for later.
And make an eggwash with one egg and 2Tbsp water beaten together in a small bowl.  Have kosher or pretzel salt ready for sprinkling before baking.

Combine the water, yeast and sugar in a large bowl. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour, salt and butter and mix with a wooden spoon until well combined. Add small bits of flour now and then until the dough seems ready to handle.  Then use your hands to knead the dough until it is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes.  Let the dough rest in the bowl, covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.
Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.
In the meantime, turn the dough out onto your work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope.

Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel.

 Let them sit for a few minutes to rest before boiling.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, carefully dropping them in one at a time, and boil for about a minute. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula or slotted spoon. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.