Gluten-Free Experiment: Empanada Dough

Gluten-Free Experiment: Empanada Dough

Since the inception of The World In A Pocket, we’ve wanted to make sure that pockets can be accessible to everyone. We established that a pocket food is a food inside of another food with the outer food usually being a dough of some sort (even though it could be many things!). And as glorious as it sounds, it leaves us folks with Celiac or a gluten-sensitivity experiencing serious FOMO because, well, gluten.


After reading Sandra Gutierrez’s Empanadas: The Hand-Held Pie of Latin America (highly recommend this cookbook for all things empanada-related), I figured I’d try three of her GF recipes, Masa, Masarepa (pre-cooked cornmeal), and a Masarepa-Cassava blend, and then adapt our beloved Epicurious empanada dough recipe. For this episode of “Put That In Your Pocket,” I tested each of these GF empanada doughs giving an assessment of each recipe by evaluating taste, texture, ease, nutrition and versatility.

I’m not an amazing baker or dough-aficionado. Especially when it comes to GF recipes. I’m not an expert, just a person with a gluten-sensitivity who still craves good ol’ doughy carbs like any other human. So if I can find a recipe that looks easy to make, tasty, and will keep me from feeling like I’m experiencing death-by-gluten, I’m gonna give it the old college try.

They haven’t all won my heart, but even the worst (GF or not) empanada filled with carnitas and corn ain't half bad.

 GF Empanada Dough


Maseca is a brand of masa, a traditional corn flour used to make tamales, tortillas and pupusas, where corn is treated with lime for nixtamalization, which helps to hull the kernels.

This was the quickest and easiest dough as it called for just three ingredients: masa, salt and water. However, I quickly found that you needed to use more water than called for because the masa was dry and would easily crack.

I chose to cook these in a comal like you would a tortilla rather than fry them just for the health factor.

Taste: Tasted like a thick, homemade corn tortilla. I’m down with it. However, it was a bit bland. I’m sure there’d be more flavor if you incorporated a chili powder into the masa.

Texture: Doughy but kind of dry. Definitely needed a salsa or sour cream to complement the texture.

Ease: Making the dough was super easy. The hardest part was determining how much water it needed to keep it from cracking. But when it cracked, I just wet it, rolled it back into a ball and pressed it out again.

 GF Empanada Dough

Nutrition: This was the healthiest version of our GF dough, only because it wasn’t mixed with butter and was griddled instead of fried.

Versatility: I’d primarily use this dough with savory fillings, but it could work with sweet fillings like a fruit jam, dulce de leche, cinnamon or honey.  

 GF Empanada Dough


Masarepa is pre-cooked cornmeal, not to be confused with masa. The texture is different and it is used for making arepas. Unlike in masa, the dried corn isn’t soaked in lime but instead cooked to help hull the kernels.

This was also a very easy recipe to make. Mix your masarepa with salt and water, knead out the knots and wait ten minutes for the grains to soak up all the water. The consistency is definitely that of boxed mashed potatoes (which made me nostalgic for a childhood dinner of chicken nuggets, canned green beans and boxed mash). These are best fried (but then again, what isn’t?).

Taste: Overall, these were very neutral with a slight corn taste, which allowed for the flavors of the filling to shine through. I’d also think about flavoring this dough with Sazon or chili powder and serve with a bit of salt, lime and salsa to give it a pop.

Texture: Crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. However, once these sat for more than ten to 15 minutes, the shell got really hard. Plus side: they wouldn’t last that long.

Ease: Dough was super easy to make. However, I’d suggest just pinching the edges rather than crimping with a fork because the dough breaks while crimping and gets too crisp when in the fryer.

Nutrition: They’re deep fried. But little in size so no guilt, right?

Versatility: I’d primarily use this dough for savory fillings.

 GF Empanada Dough


Cassava flour comes from the dried, peeled and ground root of a yucca plant. Since I couldn’t find actual cassava flour, I used tapioca flour as a replacement. The recipe called for just a little bit, so the tapioca flour subtly affected the taste and texture of the dough.

Just like the masarepa recipe, it was a very easy dough to make! And a fine GF replacement. These also, in my opinion, have more taste versatility than the others with the ability to go sweet or savory, so set up an assembly line at your next party with this dough and a variety of fillings along the flavor spectrum and watch your guests go crazy.

Taste: Subtly sweeter than the straight masarepa but I really enjoyed it. These were mixed with a little bit of chili powder.

Texture: Crispy on the outside but overall chewier than the masarepa dough. The texture didn’t change as time progressed.

 GF Empanada Dough

Ease: Dough was super easy to make. However, I’d suggest just pinching the edges rather than crimping with a fork because the dough breaks while crimping and gets too crisp when in the fryer.

Nutrition: They’re deep fried, too. There is some controversy around this flour’s nutritional benefits, but I’m not here to get into the nitty-gritty of the nutrition. At this point, we’re eating fried food so it’s more about taste, not nutrition.

Versatility: Solid choice for savory but I can imagine the most perfect guava and cream cheese empanada with this dough. Or you could mix some cinnamon into the dough and fill it up with cajeta for an indulgent treat.

 GF Empanada Dough


This version has been the bane of my GF baking existence. Which made it so. damn. worth it. when it finally worked. I danced in my kitchen as I took a bite and my husband laughed at my excitement over an empanada.

Here’s a quick history: I have tried the Epicurious recipe twice to no avail. The first time with zero xanthan gum, the second with it. The first time, believe it or not, worked better than the second time. However, both had major structural issues like ripping, falling apart and just sucking at life. I lost hope. I mourned the thought of never eating another empanada again. I began to think that I could never find a “replacement” that wouldn’t be cornmeal-based.

 GF Empanada Dough

But while wallowing, I remembered I had made GF pie crust before (chocolate-flavored but GF pie crust nonetheless) so I hopped on the handy dandy Google and searched for just that. It’s as if a light started to spotlight my phone screen when “King Arthur” appeared and I knew that old baking monarch wouldn’t fail me. I went to the pantry, took out all my GF ingredients and got to it. The following assessment is based on King Arthur Flour Gluten-Free Pie Crust.

 GF Empanada Dough

Taste: Wouldn’t know it was GF if I didn’t tell you. It was buttery, slightly sweetened but savory enough to stand up to my carnitas and corn filling. There wasn’t a funny aftertaste to it either like I’ve noticed with other recipes.


Ease: I wish I could say it was as easy as the previous three to make, but all GF endeavors come with a bit of difficulty. As I progressed with rolling, filling and crimping, I quickly noticed that the thicker the dough is, the better it is going to hold up. I had less ripping, better crimping and better texture. Next time, I’ll probably attempt the “rope” fold instead of crimping with a fork because it held up that well.

Nutrition: I’d say this falls in the mid-range of the spectrum It’s got butter in it, y’all. If you bake it, you’ll save yourself the calories from deep-frying. Nobody said that eating GF was eating healthy.

Versatility: By far, this is the most versatile crust. Just like Sandra’s book has a “master dough,” this is now my “master GF dough.” You can go sweet, salty, baked or fried. The only downside to this is that you will likely need to double or triple your recipe as the King’s batch is small.

Which GF dough are you going to try? You can find Sandra's Cornmeal and Cassava Gluten-Free Empanada Dough recipe here. Let us know how it turns out! 

Cornmeal + Cassava Gluten-Free Empanada Dough

Cornmeal + Cassava Gluten-Free Empanada Dough

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