Pumpkin empanadas are a staple of traditional Mexican cuisine and a pastry that cannot be missed. Although you can find them all year round, these empanadas are best when pumpkins are in season, which makes them a fall and winter treat. Served primarily during the holidays, they fill the space with the warmest aromas. Fill your kitchen with fall scents by making them at home!
Seasoned, “the Mexican way” with piloncillo, cloves, and cinnamon, the filling of these empanadas is a true delicacy. Usually served for the sobremesa, with coffee and other sweet treats, they can also be the main dessert with a side of vanilla ice cream or sweet cream.
These Pumpkin Empanadas are delicious and easy to make—it might take a few hours to let all ingredients reach their full flavor, but the wait is worth it. We took this recipe from Isabel Garza Cavazos and Santa María La Floreña, Pesquería, N.L., found in Cocina Tradicional Neolensa and adapted it after what our tía from Culiacán told us in a phone call. After many tries, these are as close as they get to the authentic ones we have tried in Mexico. We hope you enjoy making them and eating them!
Let's Make Pumpkin Empanadas
- 1 pumpkin or squash (2.5 lb approx.) without seeds and cut into chunks (we use butternut squash or cushaw squash, but you can use whichever pumpkin/quash you feel appropriate for this recipe)
- 1 piloncillo 8 oz, in chunks
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 pinch of whole cloves
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground cloves to taste
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp of sugar
- 4 cups of whole wheat flour
- 250 grams of vegetable shortening
- 2 tbsp of baking powder
- Salt to taste
- 1 whisked egg
- ½ cup of brown sugar mixed with 2 tbsp of ground cinnamon
For the Dough:
In a bowl, mix the flour with baking powder, butter, and a pinch of salt. Add ½ cup of water, 2 tablespoons at a time, stirring with a spatula to form a workable dough. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and let it rest for 2 hours at room temperature (the warmer, the better). This is an excellent time to prepare the filling.
Prepare the Filling:
In a large pot, add the squash, ½ cup of water, piloncillo, cinnamon stick, and whole cloves, and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the squash is tender and the piloncillo has dissolved. Let it cool and rest overnight at room temperature.
The following day, take squash pieces and, using a spoon, remove the squash from the skin and transfer it into a bowl to mash with a fork. Add cinnamon powder, ground cloves, a tablespoon of sugar, and a small splash of the leftover piloncillo juice (where the squash boiled). Mix it all together to incorporate.
Make the empanadas:
With the dough, make small balls and flatten them in a tortilla press or flatten each ball on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin until you get a thin circle of approximately 6 inches in diameter (you can use a face-down cereal bowl to create perfect circles).
Once the empanada circles are spread out, add 2-3 tbsp of filling to the center. Start by damping edges with a bit of water using your fingers so that the edges stick to each other. Then, fold it in half, aligning the edges, and use your index finger to fold the edge in a little and push down to pinch it close. Continue moving down the edge and pinching it close every half an inch or so. You can skip the finger-folding method and gently press down the edges with a fork.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Using a pastry brush, brush empanadas with a whisked egg and sprinkle the mixture of sugar and cinnamon on top to caramelize them. This step is optional. You can also simply brush the empanadas with the whisked egg, bake, and sprinkle them with sugar after baking them.
Place empanadas on a greased cookie pan or lined with parchment paper and cook for 20 minutes or until lightly golden on top. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.
Tips and advice we’ve learned:
- The filling can be made 2-3 days in advance.
- You can use canned squash; just make sure it is pumpkin puree and not pie filling.
- You can freeze these empanadas and taw them a few hours before.
- The “spice level” really depends on taste, so make sure you try different variations of it (we learned this recipe from Mexican grandmothers, and the quantities usually go under “to taste” and “a pinch of” a lot, so make sure to adjust to your taste)
- If you cannot find piloncillo, you can use brown sugar, but the flavor will be somewhat different.
- If you are looking to spice it even more, try adding 1 tbsp of vanilla to the water in which the squash boils.
What kind of pan dulce do you like to eat during the holidays? We would love to hear about your family’s traditions! These empanadas pair ideally with Mexican coffee from Café Punta del Cielo, which you can find here. Also, check out our Kitchen collection to display your Mexican spirit at the table.
So, what do you think? Is this a recipe you will be trying soon? Is there any other recipe you would like for us to share with you all? Let us know in the comments below; we would love to hear from you!
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*A big thank you to Robert who kindly corrected our "calabaza-pumpkin/squash" translation and pointed out that not all pumpkin/squashes are the same!