August 12, 2010 2:00 PM
Empanadas of the "Immaculate Conception"

With a soft, crumbly and almost sweet dough that embraces a moist, tasty and meaty filling, it is hard not to eat one after the other. These Empanadas do have a curious name though. Especially when you consider their addicting nature.

I didn't choose their name. No.  

The nuns from the Mexican Convent of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception are to blame.

It all began with Beatriz da Silva, the Portuguese woman who founded the order in Toledo, Spain. Known to be shockingly beautiful, although destined to be the companion to Queen Isabel from Spain, she was locked up because of the Queen's jealousy and alleged admiration from the King. Legend goes, that when Beatriz managed to flee, she was more beautiful and had a new found strength she used to establish a new Conceptionist order.

The three Conceptionist nuns who arrived in Mexico City around the 1540's, were also known to be strong. If not as pretty. Aside from trying to evangelize the population, they combined Spanish and Mexican ingredients in their kitchens, as most Spanish nuns, with an intense passion and a ton of imagination.

As most Spanish nuns, as well, their cooking instincts were led by an insatiable sweet tooth. That may explain the sweet elements both in the dough and the filling of these Empanadas, that were served time and again to entertain guests in this convent.

And now you know, where the name comes from... 

Empanadas 2.jpg
The dough can be used both for sweet or savory Empanadas. As its sweetness is so mild, it enhances the flavors in savory fillings, such as the Meat Picadillo in this one, and it dances along sweet dessert ones.

It can be made in a snap by mixing cream cheese, butter, all purpose flour and a pinch of salt in the mixer. Or by hand.

Empanadas 3.jpg
It was originally made with Nata instead of Cream Cheese. Nata, which is a thin layer formed after boiling fresh raw milk, and found throughout Mexico in Haciendas and Ranchos, is sweet, extremely white and thick.

And oh so irresistible.

If you have access to Nata, use it instead of Cream Cheese, as those pioneer Conceptionist nuns did. But truth is, many nuns use Cream Cheese these days too...

The dough is malleable and soft. Juju made one batch with his hands. Proud monster.

Empanadas 4.jpg
It is easy to roll out as it is elastic, soft and not so sticky. But do sprinkle some flour as you roll...

Empanadas 5.jpg
To cut the rounds, you can use a pastry cutter. I found the size I wanted, a 4 inch round, in a Tupperware. Which was also easy for Juju to use.

Empanadas 6.jpg
As you separate the rounds...

Empanadas 7.jpg
...brush the edges with a lightly beaten egg.

Empanadas 8.jpg
Spoon the filling right down the center.

The Meat Picadillo is included in the recipe below. Picadillo, has many variations, but it typically has as a base of ground meat seasoned with garlic, onion, tomato puree, spices and sometimes nuts, olives and sweet ingredients like raisins or dried fruits. A complex version of Picadillo is used in the legendary Chiles en Nogada.

Empanadas 10.jpg
This is a simpler version, that can be made a couple days ahead of time. Just take it out of the refrigerator when you are ready to fill those Empanadas (If you have leftover Picadillo, you can make tacos, stuff chiles, tamales... or eat it with a side of rice or tortillas!)

Close up the bundle in the shape of a turnover.

Empanadas 11.jpg
Seal the edges pressing your fingers.

Empanadas 12.jpg
To really seal the deal, go around with a fork, gently, so as not to make many holes in the dough...

Empanadas 13.jpg
Give the Empanada a final egg wash.

Empanadas 14.jpg
Here we go, one after the other...

Empanadas 15.jpg
Sprinkle with sesame seeds. It makes them look beautiful. I think Beatriz da Silva would approve.

The sesame seeds also give the Empanadas a light nutty and toasty accent.

Empanadas 16.jpg
And in the oven they go. You can also make them ahead of time and place them in the refrigerator (for a couple of days) or freezer (for weeks!) before baking them.

Take them out as you need them and eat them freshly baked. As they should.

Empanadas 17.jpg
I think that you do taste all of the flavor, all of it, behind the history of these Empanadas, in each single bite.

(Immaculate Conception Turnovers)

Makes about 15 medium sized empanadas

8 oz (185g) fresh nata or cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups Picadillo (recipe below), or preferred filling
1 egg
1/2 cup sesame seeds

To make the dough, beat the cream cheese with the butter in the mixer at medium speed until creamy and well blended. Gently add the flour and salt and continue mixing for one minute more. Turn dough onto a lightly floured counter top and knead for a minute. Place dough into a bowl, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes up to 12 hours.

Sprinkle flour over the counter top and roll out half of the dough until it's slightly less than 1/4 inch think. For medium sized empanadas, cut out rounds of 4 to 5 inches in diameter. Continue until all the dough is used.

Grease a baking sheet with butter. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Brush a thin layer of lightly beaten egg on the edges of the dough rounds. Spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons Picadillo filling into the center of each round. Fold a side of the circle over the filling across the other side. Pressing with your fingers as you close the dough. Without breaking the dough, press the edges with a fork to seal and make a design.

Place the empanadas on the baking sheet. When you fill the baking sheet, lightly brush their tops with the lightly beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake the emapanadas for 20 to 25 minutes, until the top have a golden tan color and the dough is cooked through. Serve hot.

(Turnover Seasoned Meat Filling)

Makes about 4 cups


1 pound pork shoulder or butt, or combination of pork, beef and veal, cut into 3 to 4 inch chunks
2 garlic cloves
1/4 white onion
1 carrot, peeled, cut in two
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme or a couple sprigs fresh
5 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 cup white onion, chopped
1 pound ripe tomatoes, pureed, or about 2 cups tomato puree
All the cooked meat, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups of the meat cooking broth or chicken broth
3/4 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
Pinch of cumin
Pinch of ground cloves
1 ceylon or real cinnamon stick
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 cup manzanilla olives

Place meat chunks in a cooking pot along with 2 garlic cloves, 1/4 white onion, carrot, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns and a teaspoon of salt. Cover with water and place over medium-high heat. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until the meat is cooked through. Turn off the heat and let the meat and broth cool down. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon. Chop it finely with a sharp knife and reserve. Strain the broth into a container and reserve.

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute for a couple of minutes, until it becomes translucent and soft. Incorporate chopped garlic and saute for a minute until it becomes fragrant.

Pour in the tomato puree and let it season, stirring often, for 5 to 7 minutes, until it has deepened in color, thickened in consistency and lost the raw flavor.

Incorporate the chopped meat, cooking broth and salt. Mix it all together and let it cook for 3 to 4 minutes.

Sprinkle in the cumin, cloves, and the cinnamon stick. Cover the pot, lower the heat to medium and cook for 8 to 10 minutes more.

Uncover the pot, add the raisins, almonds and olives, mix well and taste for seasoning. If needed add more salt and a bit more of the meat cooking broth so the filling is nice and moist.

Just remember, once it cools, it will dry a little more as it absorbs the juices. Turn of the heat. You can make the filling up to two days ahead of time. Let it cool, cover, and refrigerate.