The story behind this recipe is that I learned how to make these in the kitchen where my grandmother was basically indentured until she was 19, in Ecuador, from son of someone who worked with her. So they're a family recipe, and they got my grandmother and Ecuadorian family's stamp of approval when I got home and made them! (On a side note, that was the day both of my grandparents took me aside and told me I'm now ready to get married and bring honor to the name Pulupa, because I can cook empanadas.)
These are classic Ecuadorian empanadas, expect a Chilean recipe sometime in the future!
First, the dough:
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
4 oz butter, barely softened
1/4 cup water
Combined flour, salt, egg, and butter. Mix with your bare hands (traditional), or cut butter into mixture. Add water 1/3 at a time. This requires force, because the butter should be cold. When it's homogenous, roll into a ball, and let sit.
Achiote (I didn't know this had an English name until today - annatto)
Two handfuls grated well-aged white cheese
*If you go to a latin market, they sell achiote vegetable oil, which is the same thing as the two of them mixed together and heated, and is mostly useful for frying spicy things and adding and extra level of deliciousness!
Cut the shallot up tiny. Butter a thick frying pan and heat it. Add the shallot, generous vegetable oil, and enough achiote to make everything red and speckled. Don't worry if it seems grainy, the achiote will blend in smoothly. Saute for a few minutes while stirring, then remove from heat when the shallots are clear and the achiote has blended in, but before carmelization.
Let cool, then mix with queso rallado. Mix until none of the cheese is white, i.e., all of it has red oil on it.
Putting it all together:
Flour flat surface and rolling pin. Roll dough out - it's stiff and relatively dry , and shouldn't break, so you have to be more careful than you would with cookie dough or most rolled doughs. Roll it with long, hard strokes, not short quick ones. Don't go back and forth in the same direction - one roll, then change the angle.
Roll until very thin - if you have a pattern or wooden rolling board, you should be able to faintly see through the dough.
Cut with a floured round cookie-cutter, or the edge of a large glass with thin lips - the circumfrence should be about 3".
Drop about 1 tsp. on each disk of dough.
Now comes the tricky part: fold the dough over the filling, not breaking the dough. The cheese will burn and turn tough if it's broken or not sealed.
You should pinch it closed, then fold the pinches over.
Here Joes Manuel shows us how it's done - in about three seconds.
Then you can see Joan's and my efforts next to his...
Heat up vegetable oil (plain, not achiote this time) to frying temperture. (Check with the bread test.)
Fry until golden brown, agitating with a slotted spoon.
Lift with the slotted spoon and allow to drain for about one second, before sprinkling generously with sugar. I know the sugar part sounds nuts, but it's a classic, and it really completes the taste!
Let rest on paper towel, and enjoy!