I am trying to get ready for our kitchen christening this weekend, a cocktail party which has a Cinco de Mayo theme, given that it is close enough to the holiday to warrant it. There is always so much preparation for a party, but I find that if I do a little bit each day the week before the event, I am soooo less stressed when the day rolls around.
I have given Mr. B a Honey-Do List, and I am working on my own. This weekend entailed preparing a few of the appetizers. First up were the mini ricotta corn cakes, which were a big hit three years ago for an engagement party I hosted. These are pretty simple to make and I just popped them in the freezer when I was done. I’ll defrost and reheat them the day of the party, topped with a piping of sour cream and a cilantro sprig. Pretty simple.
I also tried my hand at mini empanadas. Little filled pastry half moons, these were a bit more work. Utilizing a dough recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, I made a vegetarian version based on black beans. The dough itself is the complicated part, having freeze the butter, carefully and quickly mix the dough, refrigerate, roll half, refrigerate, roll half, refrigerate, fill. I ended up doing the dough one day and the rolling and filling the second day. The tricky part was getting the dough thin enough. Too thick and all you taste is the pastry part of the empanada, too thin and the filling breaks through. I finally got the technique down though. I baked several to make sure the flavor was there, but froze the rest for baking the night of the party. They are cute and you can make any manner of filling: beef, chicken, pork, chorizo, pepper and cheese, the combinations are endless. I used a combo of black beans, avocado, shredded cheese, and green onions, bound by salsa and with a few spices thrown in.
3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
¾ cup unsalted butter, chilled
Filling of your choice
1 egg, beaten
Cut up the butter into small cubes and freeze for 10 minutes. Assemble the rest of the pastry ingredients.
Process the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor until combined, about 6 seconds. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with butter bits no larger than small peas, about 16 pulses.
Transfer flour mixture to a large mixing bowl. Working with 1/2 cup of water at a time, sprinkle the water over the flour mixture and stir it in using a rubber spatula, pressing the mixture against the side of the bowl to form a dough, until no small bits of flour remain (you may not need to use all of the water).
Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Press each dough half into a cohesive ball, then flatten the ball into a 6-inch disk. Wrap each disk in plastic and refrigerate until firm but not hard, about 2 hours or up to 2 days.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Remove 1 disk of dough from the refrigerator (if refrigerated longer than 2 hours, let sit at room temperature until malleable). Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface into an 18-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Using a 3-inch round biscuit cutter, cut out 24 rounds and transfer them to the prepared baking sheet. Do not reroll the scraps as the dough gets very hard and makes for an unpleasantly tough empanada.
Wrap the baking sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Repeat with the second disk of dough and the second prepared baking sheet.
Working with the first batch of dough rounds, place about 1 teaspoon of the chilled filling in the center of each dough round and moisten the edge of the dough round with water, using either your finger or a pastry brush. Fold the dough in half over the filling, making a half-moon shape. Pinch the seam along the edge to secure. Using a dinner fork, crimp the sealed edge to secure. Arrange them on a fresh, parchment-lined baking sheet. Wrap the baking sheet tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate while making a second batch of empanadas using the remaining dough rounds and filling.
Brush empanadas with beaten egg and bake in a 425-degree oven for 20 minutes.
TO FREEZE FOR LATER USE: Place trays of empanadas in the freezer for 6-8 hours, until empanadas are frozen. Place in a Ziploc bag until ready to use. To cook, place frozen empanadas of parchment lined baking sheet, brush with beaten egg, and bake at 425 degrees for 25 minutes.
Black Bean Filling
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 avocado, diced
½ cup green onions, minced
1 cup finely shredded cheese (jack, cheddar, jalapeno jack)
½ cup drained medium or hot salsa
1 teaspoon seasoning salt
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder