Sweet Spiced Pumpkin Empanadas

  • Serves: Makes 15-16 4-inch empanadas
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Variation: Sweet Spiced Pumpkin Empanada filling using solid pack pumpkin 

Fried Sweet Spiced Pumpkin Empanadas

Baked Sweet Spiced Pumpkin Empanadas

These sweet spiced pumpkin empanadas are made with a homemade candied pumpkin filling redolent with spice and wrapped in a luscious sweet empanada dough. I have also included a variation using solid pack pumpkin (Libby's brand is preferred). Perfect for holiday baking, or as a little treat in a lunch box or picnic basket. If you like you can serve them with dulce de leche or softly whipped cream, but they are fabulous, just the way they are.

The filling is not a custard recipe containing eggs and dairy, so these little pies do not require refrigeration, like a traditional pumpkin pie does.

We show two preparations in this tutorial, fried and baked. Both are delicious. The fried empanadas have a more tender crumb, while the bakes one are more crisp. 
We found it easier to make the filling and the dough the day before, and fill and fry or bake the empanadas the next day.
Deciding which one you want to try is up to you. You can’t go wrong either way.


Piloncillo, a Mexican sugar, used in the candied pumpkin filling, is made from pure, unrefined sugar that is pressed into a cone shape. It tastes very similar to brown sugar with a molasses flavor (even though it does not contain molasses) and you can use it for anything that calls for brown sugar. In case you cannot find it, we have included the dark brown sugar substitution with the recipe.

For the candied pumpkin filling:
1 small sugar pumpkin, about 2 pounds; you must use a sugar pumpkin
1 pound piloncillo, broken into chunks, or 2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
3 cinnamon sticks
5 whole cloves
1-inch piece of fresh ginger
3 cups water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and more if needed

For the sweet empanada dough:
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour; spoon into measuring cup and level to rim
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt              

2 sticks COLD unsalted butter - 16 tablespoons (8 ounces), cut into 16 pieces

2 large eggs

2-4 tablespoons of cold water

FRIED empanadas:
Canola oil, for frying
Deep-Fat Fry Thermometer

1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon 

BAKED empanadas:
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon, for dusting

1 egg white
2 teaspoons water

Prepare the pumpkin.
1. Carefully cut the sugar pumpkin open and remove the seeds and pulp.
NOTE: I like to use a metal measuring spoon to remove the last bits of pulp from the flesh because the edges of the spoons are sharp.

2. Cut off the stem end of the pumpkin, then slice the pumpkin lengthwise into 1-inch thick slices.

3. Peel the slices with a sharp vegetable peeler, then cut the flesh into 1- to 1.5-inch cubes.

2. Break up the piloncillo, while still in the package, with a kitchen mallet.

3. Put the cloves in a tea ball or tie them up in a small piece of cheesecloth. This is so they are easier to remove from the cooked pumpkin mixture.

4. In a large wide saucepan, put the piloncillo, the water, the cinnamon, the cloves and the piece of ginger.
Bring the water to a boil, over medium high heat, and stir to dissolve the sugar.

5. When the sugar is dissolved, add the cubed pumpkin.
Bring the water back to a boil and boil the pumpkin for 30 minutes. There is no need to stir the mixture at this point.

6. After 30 minutes, turn the heat down to a simmer, and cook the pumpkin for an additional hour, stirring occasionally, so the bottom of the pan doesn’t scorch.

After an hour, most of the liquid should have evaporated, and the resulting syrup should be slightly thickened.

At this point, carefully remove the spices with tongs.

NOTE: If your pumpkin has more liquid than is shown in the picture below, continue cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated.

7. Put the pumpkin pulp in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, using a slotted spoon. Drain as much of the liquid off as possible.

Puree the pumpkin until it is silky smooth.

8. Transfer the pulp to a medium bowl. Stir in the vanilla extract.

9. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Refrigerate the pulp for at least 5 hours, or overnight.
The pulp MUST be cold when you make the empanadas.

While the empanada filling is chilling, make the dough.
1. Place the flour, sugar and salt in the food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. 

2. Scatter the cold butter over the surface, then close the top of the processor and pulse a few times, until the flour mixture looks like coarse meal.

3. Add two tablespoons of the cold water to the eggs and beat together to combine.

4. With the machine running, add the egg mixture to the flour. When you have added all the eggs, pulse a few times, then take off the lid and check the moisture level of the dough.

5. It will, mostly likely be too dry at this point, so add 1 tablespoon of water over the surface of the dough, and pulse a few times.  
Open the machine again and check the dough. The dough should not be wet, but it should not appear crumbly.
I found that I had to add an additional tablespoon of water, pulsed a few times, to get the dough to the right consistency, you might need less.
The dough should clump together as it does in the picture below.

6. Remove the dough from the processor and knead it a few times on a lightly floured board.
From it into a disk, then cut it in half.
From each portion into a disk, and wrap them in plastic wrap.
Chill the dough for AT LEAST 4 hours, or overnight.

Fill the empanadas:

1. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it rest on the counter for about ten minutes, to soften.

2. Roll out on disk, on a lightly floured surface, into a 13- to 14-inch circle. The dough should be about 3/16-inch thick.

3. Cut out the empanada dough, using a 4-inch cookie cutter, or a small bowl, if you do not have a 4-inch cutter.

4. Remove the empanada filling from the refrigerator and drain off any liquid that may have formed on the surface.
stirTaste the filling and add in an additional 1/2 to 1 teaspoon more vanilla extract, if desired.
he pulp MUST be cold when you make the empanadas.

5. Place one tablespoon of filling in the center of the round; do not overfill.
NOTE: A one tablespoon cookie scoop is PERFECT for this job.

6. Gently press the edges together, starting at the center, and moving to each end, one at a time.

Make the rope edge:
1. To make the “rope edge”, start at one corner, and pinch the dough, making an “ear” of dough.

2. Fold the “ear” up toward the empanada and squeeze it into place.

3. Move to the left slightly, and pinch and fold in the same manner.

4. Continue to pinch and fold until you get to the other end of the empanada.

NOTE: If your thumb starts to stick to the dough, dip it in flour, occasionally.

5. Placed the finished empanadas on a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet and place them in the refrigerator to chill.

6. Roll out the second disk of dough and repeat the steps above.

7. Chill the filled empanadas for about an hour.

To fry the filled empanadas:

1. Line a baking sheet with two layers of paper towels. Set aside.
In a rimmed plate or shallow soup bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon. Set aside. 

2. Put oil, 2-inches deep, in a deep and wide pan.
Heat the oil to 375 degrees as measured with a Deep Fry Thermometer.

3. Carefully lower each empanada into the oil, using a slotted spoon.
Do not cook more than THREE empanadas at a time, IF they can fit comfortably into your frying pan with plenty of room around each one.

4. Cook, turning occasionally, for about 2-3 minutes, or until they are golden brown on both sides.

5. Remove them with a slotted spoon to the prepared baking sheet, to drain.

6. Continue with the rest of the empanadas, making sure to let the oil return to 375 degrees before adding more empanadas to the pan.

7. Dredge the finished empanadas in the cinnamon sugar.

Fried empanadas are meant to be eaten right away.

To bake the filled empanadas:
1. Position an oven shelf to the middle of the oven. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F, 20 minutes before you want to start baking.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick silpat baking mat.

2. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon. Set aside. 

3. Mix two teaspoons water into 1 egg white in a small bowl.

4. Place the empanadas on a prepared baking sheet, with at least 1-inch between them.

5. Brush each empanada with the egg white mixture, then sprinkle liberally with the cinnamon sugar mixture.

6. Bake the empanadas for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.

7. Let them cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then remove them to a rack to cool completely.

Enjoy the empanadas warm, or at room temperature.


Store at room temperature, up to three days. Reheat before eating, if desired.

Sweet Spiced Pumpkin Empanada filling using solid pack pumpkin 

For the candied pumpkin filling:
2 cups solid pack pumpkin; Libby's Brand preferred
2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons vanilla extract


1. In a large bowl, combine the solid pack pumpkin, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and vanilla extract.

2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Refrigerate the pumpkin mixture for at least 5 hours, or overnight.
The pulp MUST be cold when you make the empanadas.

3. Continue with Step II of the recipe.

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