Classic Ham and Cheese Pockets

Classic Ham and Cheese Pockets

From “Empanadas: The Hand-Held Pies of Latin America” by Sandra A. Gutierrez (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2015). Read my post about the book.

These empanadas are the ultimate comfort food! Melted goodness seeps out of these scrumptious pockets filled with a classic combo. Like almost everywhere, Latin American children are familiar with this kind of treat, whether it is fashioned out of puff pastry or, as it is in this case, from flaky dough. This wintertime after-school snack that my daughters would come home to almost every day provided them with quick warm sustenance. Then, as I do now, I’d fashion several batches and flash-freeze them, unbaked. They go easily from freezer to oven to plate in no time! C’mon, bake a batch for your kids or get in touch with your inner child—you’ll be so happy you did. Just remember that you need to make the dough at least thirty minutes before making these empanadas.

Makes 16 empanadas

  • 1/4 pound finely chopped cooked ham
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar, mozzarella, Muenster, or other melting cheese
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon mustard (your favorite flavor)
  • 1 recipe Flaky Dough (recipe below)
  • Egg wash, made with 1 beaten egg and 2 teaspoons water

Make the filling: In a medium bowl, mix together the ham, cheese, mayonnaise, and mustard. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes (or up to 24 hours).

Assemble the empanadas: After the filling chills, make the dough as directed below and let it rest, covered with plastic, for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator (if the dough is too cold to roll out, let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before rolling).

Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper; set them aside. On a well-floured surface and with a well-floured rolling pin, roll out the pastry to about 1/8 inch thick (like for piecrust). Keep lightly dusting flour on your surface and rolling pin as you roll so that the pastry doesn’t tear or stick (see Notes). Using a round 3 1/2-inch cutter, make 32 rounds, rolling and cutting the scraps as needed. Keep them covered as you work. Place a generous 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of half of the pastry rounds. Working with one round at a time, brush the edges with the egg wash and place another dough round over the filling. Use your fingers to seal the empanadas (they will look like ravioli), being careful to press the air out of the dough as your fingers move to the edges, Seal the edges very well with your fingers and then press them together with the tines of a fork; use the tines of the fork to poke vents on top of each empanada. Transfer the empanadas to the baking sheets and chill them uncovered for 20 minutes (or up to 8 hours).

Bake the empanadas and serve: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Brush the tops of the empanadas with the egg wash. Bake the empanadas until they are golden, 12 to 15 minutes (rotate the pans in the oven halfway through baking, back to front and top to bottom, to ensure that all of the empanadas bake evenly). Let them rest for 2 to 3 minutes and serve them warm.

NOTES This is sticky dough. For easier rolling, roll the pastry on a generously floured surface, flour the top of the pastry, and use a piece of plastic wrap (or parchment paper) directly over the top of the pastry so that the rolling pin doesn’t stick. If you need to re-roll the dough, brush excess flour off the scraps with a clean pastry brush and gather up the scraps; wrap them in plastic and chill them for 10 minutes.

To freeze the unbaked empanadas, do not brush the tops with egg wash. Place them in one layer on the prepared baking sheets and freeze them until solid. Transfer them to freezer-safe bags or bins and keep them frozen for up to 4 months. To reheat, brush the tops of the frozen empanadas with the egg wash. Bake them directly from the freezer. Add 3 to 5 minutes to the baking time, or bake until the empanadas are lightly golden.

Flaky Dough
In Latin America, this dough is known as masa hojaldrada. Technically, it’s only made with butter, but growing up in Guatemala, I learned that hot weather and cold butter don’t always play together nicely. Cream cheese, on the other hand, stands up to the heat, stays solid longer, and contains enough acidity to produce a tender pastry. As the cheese melts, it creates steam that results in deliciously flaky pastry. Empanadas made with this dough should be brushed with egg wash (for sheen) and should be refrigerated for at least 10 minutes (and up to overnight) before they’re baked so that they’ll keep their shape; these two steps will also prevent the dough from getting soggy. Ideally you’ll use a food processor to make this dough. If you don’t have one, use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut the butter and cream cheese into the dough until it reaches the consistency of coarse sand; then mix by hand.

Makes about 22 (4-inch), 32 (3 1/2-inch), 36 (3 1/4-inch), 40 (3-inch), or 48 (2 1/2-inch) discs

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of fine sea salt
8 ounces cream cheese, cubed and chilled
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed and chilled

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the flour, sugar, and salt; pulse for 20 seconds, or until combined. Add the cream cheese and butter and pulse until the mixture comes together and forms a ball, about 2 minutes (about 125 one-second pulses). Remove the pastry from the food processor, and divide it in half. Shape each half into a flat disc; wrap each disc in plastic wrap, and chill them for at least 30 minutes or up to 48 hours.

NOTE The dough will keep in your refrigerator for up to 2 days—any longer and it will fall apart. You can freeze the dough up to 2 months and thaw the dough in the refrigerator overnight, before proceeding with shaping the empanadas. You can also cut the dough into discs, stack them (with parchment paper in between), and freeze them for up to 2 months; thaw them in the refrigerator overnight before proceeding with filling and baking the empanadas.

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