The portable version of pumpkin pie you never knew you needed is sweet and earthy, with just the right amount of spice and flaky pastry. These pumpkin empanadas are mini hand pies perfect for mess free snacking this fall.
This recipe was originally published on August 29, 2014, and was republished in September 2020 to add better quality photos, re-test the recipe, and add more helpful tips. The original recipe was made entirely with all-purpose flour and here is how it looked like, if you’re curious.
Fall now seems to be represented by pumpkin spice everything, but what about the pumpkin itself? As the original reason for the seasoning blend, shouldn’t the squash have a chance to shine? Now it does! These cute pumpkin hand pies truly highlight the vegetable in a sweet form and its amazing contrast to the flaky pastry.
What are empanadas
Every culture has its dough or pastry wrapped savory parcels. There’s British Cornish pasties, Indian samosas, and all kinds of dumplings from east Asia. Empanadas are the Spanish (and most of South America) version.
Traditionally savory with meat and vegetables – like these pork empanadas – I though it would be fun to play with a sweet version. Afterall, I did apple enchiladas, why not pumpkin empanadas? It is just a mini hand pie version of the classic American holiday dessert.
How to make pumpkin puree
I like making my own pumpkin puree. I know some people prefer the canned version (it is faster), but I love how easy and tasty fresh puree is. Making homemade pumpkin puree is simple:
- Cut your pumpkin in half lengthwise (we’ll talk about varieties in a minute).
- Scoop out the seeds with a large metal spoon. You can save them to roast if you want.
- Place halves cut side down on a foil-lined baking tray.
- Bake at 400° F until very soft – 30-40 minutes for most of the small to medium squashes.
- Allow to cool until easy to handle.
- Scoop out the flesh from the inside of the skin (or just peel away the skin).
- Puree the cooked flesh in a food processor until smooth and silky.
Homemade puree can be canned (if you have the materials to do so properly) or it can be frozen for several months. Make a big batch at the start of the season and freeze it in small portions to have available whenever you want it throughout the holidays!
The best pumpkins for puree
The best pumpkins for puree are going to be different that the best ones for savory baking. And they are definitely different than your standard jack-o-lantern pumpkin. There’s a bunch of other information on cooking pumpkins with the pumpkin potato latke recipe, but here are some of my suggestions for puree varieties:
- Sugar Pie Pumpkins: Small, round and sweet. Easy to find and work with.
- Cinderella Pumpkins: Large, deep orange, and almost custard-like in texture when cooked.
- Long Island Cheese Pumpkins: The name refers to the shape and color – not the flavor!
- Hubbard Squash: Really big and green on the outside, but orange and flavorful inside.
The difference between homemade and canned pumpkin puree
One of the other reasons I like making my own pumpkin puree is because of the lack of preservatives or added sugar. While others find homemade pumpkin puree stringy and harder to work with than store-bought, I think that has more to do with the varieties they choose. My puree always has a silky and creamy texture that works perfectly in all kinds of baked goods.
For the filling:
- 2 cups pumpkin puree , homemade or canned
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
For the dough:
- 1 1/2 cups (225g) whole wheat flour
- 1 1/2 cups (200g) all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (226g) unsalted butter , cold, cut into cubes
- 2 eggs , whisked
- 1 tablespoon milk
For the egg wash:
- 1 egg , whisked
- sugar for sprinkling
- In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Stir in the pumpkin puree (I used homemade), brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, vanilla, and salt and cook on low heat, stirring often, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture becomes thick and darker in color. Taste for sugar and spices and adjust to your taste, if necessary. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
- Add both flours, coconut sugar, and salt in a large bowl and mix until combined. Add the butter and use a pastry cutter or two forks to work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles crumbs. Pour whisked eggs and a tablespoon of milk into the butter/flour mixture and mix thoroughly. Alternatively, you can do the dough in a food processor.
- Gather the dough into a ball. If it doesn't stick together, add another tablespoon of milk until a ball can be formed. Knead the dough on a floured surface for a few minutes (add more all-purpose flour as you knead, if it's extremely sticky). Form the dough into 4 balls, wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill for around 30 minutes. A chilled dough is easier to handle.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Assembling the empanadas:
- Work with one dough ball at a time (keep the others refrigerated till ready to use). On a floured surface roll out the dough into a thin sheet. Cut out desired size circles for empanadas (I did 4-inch / 10cm circles as I like my empanadas smaller), re-rolling scraps. Add a dollop (or more, if your circles are large) of filling in the center of each circle, fold over, creating a half-moon shape, and using a fork, press edges together to seal empanada. Transfer to a baking sheet. Continue with the remaining dough. Refrigerate the empanadas for about 30 minutes or until ready to bake.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Use a paring knife to cut slits on the top of each pie to allow steam to escape and avoid leaks during baking. Brush each empanada with whisked egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the empanadas are golden brown (watch carefully as they can burn quickly). Remove from the oven and let sit for a minute or two before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Enjoy!