Sweet Potato Empanadas with Pineapple + Coconut

Sweet Potato Empanadas with Pineapple + Coconut

These empanadas with sweet potato, pineapple coconut are inspired by a recipe in !con Gusto!, a community cookbook from the Duval County Historical Commission, published in 1991. The original recipe calls for canned sweet potatoes and 1 whole cup of sugar in the filling, two details we amended to suit our palate and our shopping preferences. The dough also called for shortening, which I rarely buy because of my deep love for the flavor of butter in pastries. We tried the recipe with shortening and decided to test it with butter, too. Butter won.

Sweet Potato Empanadas with Coconut and Pineapple
Sweet Potato Empanadas with Pineapple and Coconut Filling

Sweet potatoes are abundant and affordable year-round, so roasting a big batch of them every week makes quick work of soups or a quick lunch when you don’t have all day to make a meal. We omitted the additional sugar from the original recipe, instead committing to reducing the filling so the natural sweetness of the pineapple, sweet potato and coconut are driving the flavor, with just enough salt for contrast.

Sweet Potato Empanadas with Pineapple and Coconut

Sweet Potato Empanadas with Pineapple + Coconut

Empanada Ingredients

Cinnamon + Anise Tea

  • 1 stick of cinnamon

  • 3 anise stars

  • 1 tea bag (optional: we used rooiboos)

  • 2 cups of water


  • 4 c. flour

  • ¾ c. sugar

  • 2 tsp. baking powder

  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • 1 ¼ c butter, cubed and chilled in the freezer

  • cinnamon and sugar

  • 1 egg, beaten


  • 12 ounces of roasted sweet potato flesh (2 large or 3 medium sweet potatoes)

  • 1 cup (1 small can) pineapple chunks, including juice

  • 1 cup coconut milk

  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

  • 1 teaspoon salt

Boil 2 cups of water with cinnamon and anise until the mixture is reduced by about half. While it’s hot, add the teabag and steep for 2 minutes. Remove teabag and allow mixture to cool completely as you prepare the filling and the dough.

In a medium saucepan, combine ingredients for the filling and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low heat and simmer while you prepare your dough.

For the dough, sift dry ingredients together and add butter, mixing with your fingertips until the mixture looks like coarse sand. Add the cooled cinnamon tea, a small splash at a time, stirring and pushing the mixture together until a soft, squishy dough is formed. Don’t be alarmed if this mixture is stickier than your standard pie crust; you’re on the right track. Form a disc with the dough and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

Turn your sweet potato mixture back up to high heat and stir constantly until most of the liquid has evaporated and you are left with an orange, gloppy mass. Cook a little longer, stirring while you do. When the mixture smells like it is caramelizing on the bottom, remove from heat.

Find someone to chat with, err, to help you stuff these empanadas. You will be occupied for the foreseeable future (45 mins to an hour), so bump up your favorite playlist, wash your hands and get situated!

Take about 2 tablespoons of dough, and flatten into circle using a tortilla press. Fill the dough with about a tablespoon of the sweet potato mixture and fold in half. Crimp the edges with a fork to seal, then place on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 350℉.

Using a pastry brush, paint the top of each empanada with an egg beaten with a dash of milk. Sprinkle with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar (1:2 ratio).  Prick each pocket with a fork a few times before putting the pan in the oven.

Bake until pockets are golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Serve these hot with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or enjoy them for breakfast with a cup of coffee.

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Special thanks to Laurenita’s mama for sending us a picture of this recipe, and to Maria Hilda-Lopez, who wrote the original recipe in ¡Con Gusto!

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