Z.’s kindergarten teacher saw that I was making empanadas on a Facebook post, and asked if I might come in and do them with the class. They were wrapping up their five-senses unit, and a hands-on cooking activity seemed a fun way to use those senses.
If you’re not familiar with them, empanadas are little turnovers popular in South America and parts of the Caribbean. The crust is flaky like a pie crust, though just a bit more doughy. Often filled with spiced ground meat, they can also contain vegetables, beans, even sweet fruit fillings (think portable pie). I let Z. pick the flavor (potato and cheese) and started the planning.
The constraints were time and food safety, and the desire to give them a good product that they could succeed at while feeling proud of. (If you’ve ever cooked with a group of kids you know that they can feel cheated if they don’t have something substantial to do in the creation of the food.)
The solution was to prepare the filling and crust ahead of time, and to leave out the raw eggs or anything that could be dangerous if a kid found himself sampling the ingredients raw. Easy. So, with my bag full of dough and filling, I arrived for the activity, we talked about how we use our senses to see the food we’re making, and listen to its crunch or sizzle, and smell its delicious smells. Then we washed hands thoroughly (I’ve seen what these people do with those hands) and off we went.
Potato & Cheese Empanadas
About 20 turnovers
Mix together thoroughly:
- 4 c. leftover mashed potatoes
- 1 c. shredded cheddar
- 1/2 c. butternut squash puree (totally optional, but I have a reputation to maintain)
- 3/4 t. salt
1. Place in a large bowl or food processor:
- 6 c. all purpose flour
- 1 T. baking powder
- 2 t. salt
Stir or pulse until combined, then add:
- 20 T. (2 1/2 sticks) butter
- 1 c. lard or shortening (I used organic non-hydrogenated)
Pulse or mix until mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Drizzle over the top:
- about 1 1/4 c. water
Pulse just a few times or mix gently with fork until dough is just dampened enough to gather into a ball.
2. Divide into ~20 flat disks, each with a piece of parchment or wax paper between them. Refrigerate for an hour, or until you’re ready to proceed. N.B. – If you do make this ahead of time, make sure you give the dough an hour at room temperature to get it to a workable consistency before proceeding.
1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Take each disk one at a time, and roll it or press it into a circle. In our class we distributed a piece of parchment to each kid, which is worth bringing in if your fabulous teacher doesn’t have it right at hand.
Press the dough (or help the kids press the dough) into a circle. The shape doesn’t matter terribly, but it should at least have even edges and be symmetrical so it will fold over and seal neatly in an upcoming step.
3. Take a rounded tablespoon of the filling, and put it just below the center of the circle. Kids will need help with this as they’ll be likely to put too much filling on for it to close up properly. How you deal with that is up to you – it’s not a bad idea to let kids learn some food science by seeing what happens when they make different cooking choices. On the other hand, it’s nice to let everyone succeed in a class setting.
4. Fold over the dough from top to bottom and seal by pressing. If your dough is at all crumbly, dipping your finger in water and running it along the edge can help the edges sort of glue together. Use a fork to crimp the edges, and then place each on an ungreased baking sheet until they’re all completed.
5. Poke each with a fork two or three times. Then give them an egg wash by beating
- an egg or two with a little milk or water and then brushing on the top.
Then we had to run, run, run our empanadas to the kitchen to have them baked before pizzas went in the oven for Pizza Day. You don’t mess with Pizza Day.
5. Bake for about 15 minutes, until nicely browned. Let cool for a few minutes (or the amount of time it takes to run back up the hall to your classroom) and then cut in half and eat.
What we found was that about half the kids were willing to try them, and most of those loved them. Z. was too conflicted by the warring emotions associated with having me in the classroom and just couldn’t manage eating a new food too. But one of his friends especially loved them, and that’s how I got my very own Princess Bat.