The anonymity of blogging is something I simultaneously fear and embrace. On the one hand, I like that I can talk about my deepest, darkest secrets – e.g. recipes gone wrong, generally awkward behavior, my recent addiction to Crystal Light – without everyone knowing my name and where I live. I mean, okay, pretty much everyone in my immediate family reads this blog, but I don’t care if they know these things about me. It’s strangers I worry about – especially the kinds of strangers who know my everyday Clark Kent side, and want to hire me to write newspaper stories.
On the other hand, internet anonymity often translates into mean-spirited YouTube comments. If a genie gave me three wishes, one of them would be to automatically reveal the identities – including social security numbers – of every internet troll who ever existed. The other two involve the severe retroactive limitation of genocide and capitalist exploitation – but now I’m going to talk about cooking.
The person with whom I tested the following recipe also takes his internet anonymity very seriously, so I will henceforth refer to him as “VJ” to protect his identity. VJ, who actually invented this recipe in order to satisfy a fondness for pluots, is the author of Ducks & Turtles, one of my favorite Los Angeles food and recipe blogs. I was recently included in a Ducks & Turtles blog post on Umamicatessen, a restaurant with five kitchens that serves really, really non-kosher deli food, and is also delicious. Now I’m including VJ and his recipe, which turned out really well, on the secret menu. It seems only fair.
Even if I didn’t give credit to VJ for this recipe, many of my more frequent visitors would probably recognize that I had help. First of all, it took the better part of an afternoon to make this, and that is just not how I roll. Even if time and effort would improve a recipe, I am, as a general rule, not interested. Second, this recipe involves baking and, as I’ve said in previous posts, I am definitely no baker. In fact, if you want to destroy something – a building or, say, a relationship – just let me bake it for you, and it will be in the trash bin faster than you can say “stand mixer.”
Ingredients for the pastry:
-2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little more for rolling it out
-1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
-1 teaspoon salt
-1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons shortening or vegetable oil
-Optional: one egg, beaten with a splash of milk (for an egg wash)
Ingredients for the filling:
-5 or 6 pluots
-1/2 red onion, diced
-1 cup brown sugar
-1 cup white sugar
-1/3 cup currants or raisins
-1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
-2 large garlic cloves, crushed
-3 tbs crystalized ginger, minced
-3/4 tsp cayenne
-1 star anise
-a few cloves
-1 cinnamon stick
-salt to taste
-1 tbs corn starch (to thicken)
First, prep the dough: mix the flour, baking powder, and salt together in the food processor and pulse together. Then, with the machine running, add the 1/2 cup shortening and pulse until loosely combined. Finally, add about 1/2 cup cold water bit by bit, with the machine running, just enough for the dough to form a ball. Knead by hand until smooth, which will take about a minute, and divide into 12 evenly-sized balls. Put in a container of some kind, cover, and let ’em refrigerate while you get cracking on the filling.
Now for the filling: chop, mince, and crush all the things that need chopping, mincing, and crushing. Toast the spices until fragrant in a pan, and then pulverize them in a spice grinder. Don’t even attempt this with a mortar and pestle, because you will have grandchildren before you get the cinnamon stick to break down. Anyway, now you’re ready for the important part. Bring the sugars and vinegar to a boil in a medium pot over medium heat. Stir in the raisins, onions, garlic, salt, ginger, and all the spices. Bring to a simmer, and then stir in the pluots. Reduce the heat and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until chutney is dark and thick. If you’re hardcore, you can do this for about 4 hours until it thickens naturally. If you’re impatient like us, you can let it simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour and then thicken it with a bit of corn starch. Be sure to let the filling cool before you attempt empanada creation.
Once the filling is room temperature, preheat the oven to 450ºF. On a well-floured surface, roll each ball of dough into a 5- or 6-inch round. Be careful, since this dough is dry and tends to fall apart. When it’s all rolled out, dab a little water around the perimeter and dollop a bit of filling in the center of each disk. Use your judgment – for you, a “spoonful” might be a tablespoon or a 1/4 cup. It depends entirely on how much of a perfectionist you are, how hungry you are, and how self-conscious you are about eating gooey foods.
Anyway, around now you should be folding your disk in half and pressing down on the edges to form a seal. If they’re already getting gooey, Ducks & Turtles recommends that you fold the edge inward a bit before pressing it down with a fork. The fork tines are how you get those nice, empanada-like impressions.
If any of the above confused you, watch this video:
Place the empanadas on an ungreased baking sheet and, if you are not concerned with the vegan-ness (veganity?) of this recipe, brush them lightly with an egg wash.
Bake them until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Serve immediately, and try not to burn your tongue.