Pumpkin and Cajeta Empanadas | Empanadas de Calabaza y Cajeta

Pumpkin and Cajeta Empanadas | Empanadas de Calabaza y Cajeta

pumpkin and cajeta empanadas | empanadas de calabaza y cajeta

When the late afternoon sun creeps down over the Corpus Christi palm trees, my grandma and my tías gather around the kitchen table with telenovelas playing in the background for merienda, their afternoon snack of pan dulce, coffee, and the latest chisme on your sixth cousin, twice removed who lives two counties away that you’ve never met. Their favorite pan dulce comes from La Michoacana No. 2, in Habeeb’s strip mall off South Padre Island Drive, which happens to be the only panaderia with sugar-coated empanadas de dulce de leche (well, this was my best kept secret for Corpus Christi but now you know where to get the best empanadas in town).

Everyday, Tía Jita comes by in her giant Mercedes town car with an assortment of the semi-sweet Mexican pastries: conchas, orejas, marranitos,empanadas de calabaza, etc. When all the matriarchs have made their pick, I would sneak into the kitchen and quietly fight my cousins for my favorite piece of pan dulce while eavesdropping on the daily chismoso.

Pumpkin empanadas are a South Texas delicacy and finding them in the local panaderias in North Carolina is near impossible. This fall, I had an insatiable craving for empanadas de calabaza and my now not-so-secret dulce de leche pockets. With brisk autumn weather blowing in and holiday baking ideas swirling around in my head, pumpkin hand pies that you could serve for thanksgiving and empanadas de calabaza y cajeta that you can serve for merienda was my new recipe challenge.

The punchiness of cajeta, a goat’s milk caramel, versus dulce de leche, which comes from cow’s milk, is my preference since I find caramel to usually be too sweet. Geek out with me about the difference with this article on Serious Eats. Cajeta has always been my weakness—I will squeeze some onto Maria’s, lightly sweetened Mexican tea biscuits, eat an entire pack of obleas, or just squirt some onto a spoon. Incorporating it into a pocket food has been a long time dream.

homemade pumpkin spice

I picked up some canned pumpkin and cajeta and raided my spice cabinet, which is embarrassingly bursting at the seams, for cinnamon, star anise, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger to add to the pumpkin mixture. Using my grandma’s holiday baking as inspiration means always using freshly ground spices which is just the extra bit of fall flavor nuance these pumpkin and cajeta empanadas needed. You could call it homemade pumpkin spice, if you must.

pumpkin hand pies
homemade pumpkin spice
pumpkin empanadas
empanadas de calabaza

The best part about these empanadas though is the dough, made with cinnamon and anise tea—my grandma’s secret ingredient for flavorful sweet empanada dough. (Bonus! It makes your house smell like the epitome of autumn.) It’s an extra step but the spiced warmth of the dough takes me straight to that kitchen table full of pan dulce, coffee, and hot-off-the-press chisme.

pumpkin pie filling with cajeta
how to make pumpkin empanadas

Pumpkin and Cajeta Empanadas | Empanadas de Calabaza y Cajeta

Pumpkin and Cajeta Empanada Ingredients

Cinnamon and Anise Tea

  • 1 stick of cinnamon

  • 3 anise stars

  • 1 tea bag (optional: we used rooiboos)

  • 2 cups of water

Empanada Dough

  • 8 c. flour

  • 1 ½ c. sugar

  • 4 tsp. baking powder

  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 2 ½ c butter, cubed and chilled in the freezer

  • cinnamon and sugar for sprinkling (1:2 ratio)

  • 1 egg, beaten for egg wash

Filling Ingredients

  • 2 16 oz cans of pumpkin puree

  • 2 tsp fresh ground cinnamon

  • 1-2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

  • 1 tsp fresh ground allspice

  • 1 tsp ground ginger

  • ½ cup cajeta

  • ½ cup sugar

Pumpkin and Cajeta Empanada Directions

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 tea bag and allow mixture to cool completely as you prepare the filling and the 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. The dough is at its correct consistency when it isn’t sticking to your hands anymore. Sprinkle in more flour if you use too much of the cinnamon and anise tea. Form a disc with the dough and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Grind your spices in a small food processor or with a mortar and pestle. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine pumpkin, spices, cajeta and sugar. Over medium heat, stir to prevent scorching the filling. Taste while preparing—if you prefer your filling sweeter, add more sugar. After about 15-20 minutes, flavors should meld. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Tip: it’s best to allow the filling to cool all the way so it thickens back up. It’s possible to make the empanadas while the filling is still warm, it’s just more difficult to keep the pumpkin mixture from spilling. Dough and filling can be made 1-2 days in advance and kept in refrigerator until you’re ready to build.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Roll the dough into balls, just a bit larger than a golf ball. Flatten dough into circle using a tortilla press. The dough should be about 5 inches in diameter. Fill the dough with about a tablespoon of the pumpkin mixture and fold in half. Pinch then crimp the edges with a fork to seal, then place on a sheet pan covered in parchment paper.

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.

Tip: Keep the empanadas cool while another batch is cooking by popping them into the fridge or freezer. This allows the butter in the dough to not melt while they’re waiting and helps the empanadas keep their shape while they cook.

Bake until pockets are golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Pumpkin and Cajeta Empanadas | Empanadas de Calabaza y Cajeta
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