Beef Empanadas

Beef empanadas on parchment paper on a baking sheet with linen
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Tender, flaky crust surrounding a hearty mixture of warmly spiced ground beef and vegetables—in other words, the best beef empanadas you’ve ever tasted.

What Is An Empanada?

Empanadas are crescent-shaped pastries made of dough and filled with a variety of savory ingredients. Empanada filling varies greatly, and can include anything from beef, chicken, pork, tuna, shellfish, cheese, and / or vegetables, seasoned vibrantly, then baked or fried to perfection.

What Are Empanadas Made Of?

Empanada ingredients really run the gamut country to country—in Puerto Rico you might have one with sofrito-laced ground beef, whereas in Mexico you’d find them filled with shredded chicken and corn—but the general formula is:

  1. Simple, homemade dough.
  2. Some kind of protein (usually pork, chicken or beef, but sometimes fish or cheese).
  3. Usually some simple vegetables, like corn, potatoes or carrots.  
  4. Warm spices (think cumin, or even cinnamon) and / or chili peppers.

Our beef empanada recipe is loaded with a hearty mixture of:

  • Ground beef and tender potatoes.
  • Veggies galore: onion, celery, peas, and carrots.
  • Garlic and plenty of warm spices.
  • A touch of beef stock for an ultra-saucy filling.
Empanada dough on parchment with flour, butter and eggs

What Is Empanada Dough Made Of?

The internet claims that you can use store-bought pizza dough as a stand-in for homemade empanada dough. Um—don’t do that. There is no substitute for the real thing. Homemade empanada crust is really just a simple pastry—if you can make pie crust, you can make empanada dough. You’ll need:

  • Flour
  • Ice water
  • Salt
  • Chilled butter
  • Egg

We use chilled butter for this homemade empanada dough recipe because the steam it releases while baking creates desirable, flaky layers. Working with room temperature or melted butter results is an unforgiving and hard crust. Ice water aids in keeping the butter from melting too soon.

Beef empanadas on parchment paper on a baking sheet with linen

A Few Tips for Making Homemade Beef Empanadas:

  • Use an egg wash to help you seal the inside of your empanadas and to brush on the outside once filled. (This will give them that pretty golden brown color we all love.)
  • Place your filled empanadas on a hard surface and firmly press the edges together with a fork. No thank you, leakage!
  • After you assemble the empanadas, place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 20 minutes. (Remember: the colder the dough, the flakier the crust.)
  • At this point, you can decide to freeze some for later. (But, to be honest, we usually can’t resist eating them all right away.)
  • Enjoy all that tender, melt-in-your-mouth goodness, and be sure to share with those that you really like.
  • Don’t be intimidated by the dough-filling process, this part should be fun! This is a great time to call the kids into the kitchen and put their many hours of Play Doh shaping expertise to work.

Can You Make Empanadas in Advance?

To make these potato and beef empanadas in advance, cover the tray of unbaked empanadas and refrigerate for up to two days. When you’re ready to eat, bake them at 400° for 40 minutes. They’ll emerge perfectly golden and steaming from the oven just as if you had baked them the same day.

Need more time? You can easily freeze these homemade beef empanadas! Once you’re done filling the dough and making your empanadas, lay them on a baking sheet like you’re about to bake them, but instead of putting the sheet in your oven, pop it in your freezer. Freeze overnight, then transfer the empanadas to an airtight freezer bag and store for up to three months. When you’re ready to eat the them, just lay the frozen empanada directly on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes at 400°F.

hand taking a beef empanada off of the plate

What Country Are Empanadas From?

Empanadas (which means “to wrap in bread” in Spanish) are handheld versions of traditional Spanish meat pies. While their fillings, size, and cooking techniques vary from one Latin American country to the next, they all begin by filling pastry dough with savory ingredients and then cooking—either baking or frying—to flaky, golden-brown perfection. This beef empanada recipe is most closely related to Argentinian empanadas, because they are baked rather than fried (which happily also means we don’t feel as guilty eating our weight in them).

Tools You’ll Need:  

hand reaching to take a beef empanada off of the plate

What Goes With Beef Empanadas?

If you’re planning to serve these ground beef empanadas for a party we suggest pairing them with a big bowl of our perfect guacamole, this homemade pico de gallo with cabbage, and plenty of crunchy tortilla chips. Or, to make our baked empanada recipe into a meal, this street corn salad makes a lively partner.

The Best Beef Empanada Recipe, Hands Down.

Well? What did you think? They really are the best beef empanadas out there, right? Show this easy homemade empanada recipe some love and post your filling, baking, and eating (!) process to Instagram tagging @themodernproper and #themodernproper so we can follow along!

Beef Empanadas

Serves 4

Crust

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 oz butter, chilled and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 egg
1/3 cup ice water
1 egg, beaten for egg wash

Filling

1 large russet potato, peeled, diced into 1/4 inch cubes
3/4 lb beef, ground
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, grated
1 small carrot, grated
1 rib of celery, finely minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup peas
3/4 cup beef broth
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Method

  1. To make the pastry dough pulse the flour and salt in a food processor. Add butter, egg and ice water. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Shape the dough into a ball. Tightly cover the dough in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
  2. While dough is resting, prepare the filling. Fill a medium size stock pot ¾ full with water. Bring to a boil.
  3. While waiting for water to boil, cook the ground beef in a large frying pan over medium heat. When the meat is finished cooking, drain the fat over a colander resting over a bowl. Set aside the cooked meat.
  4. Using the same pan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat and add the onions, celery and carrots. Sauté vegetable mixture until everything is tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 2 minutes longer.
  5. If water is starting to boil, add the cubed potato to the pot. Boil the potato until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain potatoes and reserve alongside the beef.
  6. Add the chili powder, cumin and cinnamon to the vegetable mixture. Sauté 1 minute longer until spices are fragrant. Return the beef along with the cooked potatoes to the pan with the sautéd vegetables. Add beef broth and peas. Simmer over medium heat until everything is well incorporated and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Season with salt and pepper. Taste the filling and adjust spices if needed.
  7. Take the dough out of the refrigerator. Roll it very thin on a lightly floured surface. Using a large biscuit cutter or other round object (we used a kitchen funnel) cut 6 inch circles.
  8. Holding the circle of dough in one hand and a heaping spoonful of filling in the other, spoon the filling into the center of the dough.
  9. Wet a pastry brush with egg wash and dampen the inside ¼ inch edge of the filled dough. Fold the dough in half. Using a fork, firmly press the edges together.
  10. Repeat this process with remaining dough and filling and arrange on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  11. Preheat oven to 400 and place rack into the center of the oven.
  12. Using egg wash, brush each empanada. Refrigerate for 20 min.
  13. Bake for 40 min or until golden brown