These pumpkin empanadas (empanadas de calabaza) are like a cozy autumn hug for your taste buds! When you take a whiff of these babies fresh out of the oven, you’ll be greeted with the warm, comforting aroma of pumpkin spice and a hint of sweet goodness.
Empanadas are a Latin-American dish made from dough stuffed with various fillings —from savory to sweet, then fried or baked depending on the recipe. They’re known in English as turnovers or pasties.
In this case, pumpkin empanadas are made by stuffing the sweet dough with a sweet and spiced mashed pumpkin mixture combined with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and anise star.
In Mexico, these turnovers take the name of “empanadas de calabaza” and are a popular snack for Día de Muertos (Day of The Dead) along with other traditional dishes like candied pumpkin and camote en dulce.
And let me tell you, these pumpkin empanadas are also perfect for a family gathering or when you want to treat yourself and your loved ones. They’ll disappear in no time, so be sure to make a big batch—trust me, everyone will be begging for more.
Enjoy with a hot cup of coffee or a glass of cold milk, and you’ve got yourself a little slice of autumn heaven right there! Happy baking, my fellow pumpkin lovers!
- Pumpkin—I used fresh pumpkin to make the filling from scratch, feel free to use canned pumpkin if it’s more convenient for you.
- Piloncillo—Or substitute with brown sugar.
- Spices—Cinnamon, anise star, and ground nutmeg.
- For the dough: All-purpose flour, butter, Mexican crema (or sour cream, or yogurt), egg yolk, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt.
- For the egg wash: egg + milk.
- For coating: Sugar + ground cinnamon.
How To Make Pumpkin Empanadas
Make the filling
Place the pumpkin chunks in a medium pot and add piloncillo, the cinnamon stick, and the anise star.
Pour in 1/4 cup of water, cover the pot, and set the heat to medium-low.
Allow to gently simmer for about 20 minutes, mixing from time to time to dissolve piloncillo and until the pumpkin becomes nicely tender.
Once done, remove the cinnamon stick and anise star.
Sprinkle the nutmeg and whole cloves powder, mix, and then use a potato masher to roughly mash the pumpkin.
Keep cooking uncovered while stirring from time to time until you will have a thick and dense mixture as in the photo below.
Allow to mixture to reach room temperature while you continue with the recipe.
Top Tip: If you want to use canned pumpkin, first chop the piloncillo or use packed brown sugar, then stir it with powdered spices (do not use water!).
Make the empanada dough
Place flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor or a stand mixer.
Pulse two times to combine. Add butter and shortening (make sure both are cold from the fridge) and pulse a few times to form a crumbly mixture as in the picture below.
Add the egg yolk and cream, and pulse a few times until a clumpy dough forms.
Transfer the dough onto a floured and smooth surface and quickly knead it into a ball.
Wrap the dough with cling film and place it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Make the empanadas de calabaza
Remove the dough from the fridge and place it on a floured surface. Divide the dough into 14 pieces and then flour your hands and roll each piece into a ball.
Now, place a dough ball over a 6×6″ plastic square and cover it with another piece of plastic of the same size.
Slightly press with your hand to make a small patty.
Using a heavy dish, press the dough to form a flat disc. You can also use a tortilla press to do this step.
Peel the top square gently, then add some pumpkin filling in the middle of the disc and fold one side over to make the half-moon shape.
With the empanada still covered with plastic, press the borders to seal it well.
Now, gently place the empanada on one hand and peel the last plastic sheet.
Then, take the edge and carefully twist it to make the repulge (the braided edge).
Tip: You can also pinch the edges of each empanada with a fork to seal it and make a simple decoration.
Repeat the steps to make all the pumpkin empanadas and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or with a silicone baking mat.
Make an egg wash whisking together the milk and egg in a small bowl.
Brush each piece with the egg mixture and make some small holes on the top with a toothpick to allow the steam to release while the pumpkin empanadas are baking.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the pastries are slightly browned on all sides.
As soon as the turnovers are out of the oven, coat them in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon.
Don’t allow the pumpkin empanadas to cool down or the sugar won’t stick to them.
Place the pumpkin empanadas on a cooling rack. You can now eat them while they’re still warm or store them as suggested below.
Best Tips For Empanadas de Calabaza
- If possible, use fresh pumpkin puree instead of canned. Pureeing a pumpkin might seem like extra effort, but it brings a wonderful depth of flavor to your empanadas.
- You can also make the pastry dough by hand, you just need a fork to integrate the butter and shortening with the dry ingredients, then combine quickly the wet ingredients to form the dough.
- Give the sough some time to chill in the refrigerator before rolling it out. This makes it easier to work with and results in a flakier crust.
- Too much filling can cause the empanadas de calabaza to burst open while baking. So, don’t overstuff.
How to Store
Pumpkin empanadas last up to 2-3 days on your kitchen countertop. Make sure to allow the pastries to cool to room temperature before storing them so the remaining heat won’t create moisture that will possibly spoil them.
Once cooled, place in an airtight container layered with baking paper, close, and place the container away from heat or direct sunlight.
And if you’re wondering. Yes, you can freeze pumpkin empanadas by wrapping them individually with plastic wrap and placing them in batches in resealable bags.
They will last up to 3 months in the freezer. When ready to eat, thaw them overnight and reheat them in your oven at 375°F/190°C for about 10 minutes.
Are empanadas deep fried or baked?
Empanadas can be either baked or fried, depending on the recipe. Most sweet recipes prefer the oven as a cooking method, while savory versions opt for deep frying them.
What kind of dough are empanadas made of?
Empanadas can be made with various types of dough. From pie dough, to puff pastry dough, to the ones made with corn or even using plantains or cassava flour. It depends on the recipe, region, and culinary traditions. For example, this pumpkin empanada recipe is made with a buttery, crumbly dough.
Are the empanadas the same as pies?
Empanadas and pies have some similarities, but they are not the same. The former are typically shaped into
half-moons or crescents and are smaller. Pies on the other hand are usually larger and served as a complete meal or dessert for several people. They are typically round with a flat or slightly domed top crust.
More Pumpkin Recipes
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- 2 plastic squares —6×6-inch each (to make the empanadas)
For the filling
- 2 pounds fresh pumpkin (clean and cut into chunks)
- 4 oz piloncillo
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 1 anise star
- ½ Tablespoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ cup water
For the dough
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup butter
- ⅓ cup sour cream (or Greek yogurt)
- 1 egg yolk
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 3 Tablespoons milk
- sugar (for coating)
- ground cinnamon (for coating)
Make the filling
- Place pumpkin in a medium pan and add, piloncillo, cinnamon, and anise star (read note 1).
- Pour in water, cover the pan, and let gently simmer for 20 minutes while mixing one or two times.
- Remove the cinnamon stick and anise star. Add nutmeg and cinnamon powder.
- Using a potato masher, mash roughly the pumpkin.
- Keep cooking uncovered while stirring from time to time until you’ll have a thick and dense mixture.
- Set aside and allow to mixture to reach room temperature.
Make the dough
- In a food processor place flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Pulse two times to combine.
- Add butter and pulse a few times to form a crumbly mixture.
- Add egg yolk and cream, and pulse again until a clumpy dough forms (read note 2).
- Transfer the dough onto a floured and smooth surface and quickly knead it into a ball.
- Wrap the dough with cling film and place it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Make the empanadas
- Remove the dough from the fridge, divide it into 14 pieces, and then flour your hands and roll each piece into a ball.
- Place a dough ball over a 6×6″ plastic square and cover it with another piece of plastic of the same size. Slightly press with your hand to make a small patty.
- Cover with another plastic square of the same size and use a heavy dish to press the dough to form a flat disc (read note 3).
- Peel the top plastic square gently, then add some pumpkin filling in the middle of the dough disc.
- Fold over to make a half-moon and press the borders to seal well the empanada.
- Gently place the empanada on one hand and peel the last plastic.
- Take the edge and carefully twist it to make the braided edge (read note 4).
- Place the empanada on a baking sheet and repeat the steps with all dough and filling.
- Brush all empanadas with the egg wash and make some small holes on the top with a toothpick.
- Preheat your oven to 360°F (180°C).
- Bake the empanadas between 20 and 25 minutes or until they are slightly browned on all sides.
- As soon as the empanadas are out of the oven, coat them in a sugar and cinnamon mixture carefully.
- You can now eat them while they’re still warm or place them in a cooling rack and store them for later.
- You can substitute fresh pumpkin with 1 can (15 oz/415g) of pumpkin puree.
- If you use canned pumpkin, you’ll need to chop the piloncillo or use packed brown sugar, then add it to a pan with powdered spices and cook until you’ll have a thick jam-like mixture.
- You can also make the dough by hand, you just need a fork to integrate the butter and shortening with the dry ingredients, then knead quickly the wet ingredients to form the dough.
- You can also use a tortilla press to make the dough discs.
- This step is optional and actually, you can skip it if you just pinch the edges of each empanada with a fork to seal it and make a simple decoration.
Maricruz Avalos Flores is a Mexican cook and photographer living in Italy where she shares authentic Mexican & Italian recipes that can be easily made at home using easy-to-find ingredients.