Empadinhas de Palmito
I always loved Palm Sunday when I was little. There was something about getting those palm fronds that felt important. For once I had a focus for my fidgeting, and I’d spend the service shaping and reshaping them. Last Sunday, though I (somewhat guiltily) didn’t attend mass, I fussed with hearts of palm instead.
My original plan had been to make crab filled empanadas when I decided to stop by my friend Claudia’s store to ask if she had a Brazilian variation I should try. She was quick to point out that Brazilian empanadas – actually empadinhas – are shaped like tiny pies and made with dough called massa podre (like a shortcut cut pastry or pâte brisée). I would have been guilty on both counts since I was planning making the usual crescent shaped ones and leaning towards puff pastry. While she quickly googled recipes and examples to show me, empadinhas de palmito came up often, eliciting a kind of wistfulness the crabby ones I was planning didn’t. A good enough reason to change course.
Empadinhas de Palmito/Heart of Palm Pastries
After finding this very helpful vlog explaining massa podre, I made the filling more or less as planned – using the leftover bell peppers and onion I had on hand to make a sofrito then adding the hearts of palm and small amount of béchamel. The first ones were tiny, hard to shape and with the filling peeking out. With friends coming later that afternoon, I took them back to Claudia to find out was wrong with them and how I could fix it. The pastry worked but she suggested losing the peppers which overpowered the hearts of palm and adding some olives instead. It also need to be creamier, so I increased the amount of sauce and cooked it more carefully. I also could have added tomatoes but will leave that for next time.
For the dough:
1 1/4 cup unbleached, all purpose flour
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and well-chilled
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg, well beaten with 1 tablespoon whole milk
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
For the filling:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoon flour
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups hearts of palm, drained and thinly sliced
1/4 cup Manzanilla olives, pitted and sliced
2 tablespoons Parmesan, shredded
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Prepare the dough:
Sift together the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Either by hand or using a pastry blender, work the butter into the dried ingredients until it flakes off into pea-sized pieces. Stir in the egg mixture and knead until it begins to just hold together.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. For the fraisage or final blending, smear the dough a few spoonfuls at a time across the board with the heel of your hand. Gather the dough with a scrapper and form into a mound. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
Prepare the filling:
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly until well incorporated, about 1 minutes. Gradually stir in the milk, turning constantly until the sauce begins to thicken but is still creamy, 2-3 minutes. Stir in the hearts of palm and olive and cook until warmed through, an additional 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan and parsley. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Form the empadinhas:
On a lightly floured board, roll out dough to about 1/8″ thick. Using a round cookie cutter (about 2-2 1/2-inch wide), cut out pastry rounds and place in the muffin cups. Re-roll scraps once to cut more rounds. Fill each cup with 1 rounded tablespoon of filling and top with additional pastry rounds to seal. Using a sharp knife, cut tiny vents in the top of each empadinha. Lightly brush with beaten egg yolk.
Place in the oven and bake until the crust is lightly golden, 25-30 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and serve immediately.
Makes 12 large or 24 small empadinhas.