the rustic south texas empanada, crypto-jews, chic whole grains
Posted on August 8, 2011
I have never had some kind of life-changing epiphany about food or life while eating some special bite of something, some mind-blowing morsel that made me quit my job or move across country. Perhaps this means they will never make a movie about this blog– thank goodness. I think we have enough emotional eating happening on every commercial break, so I wont bore you with that here.
I am trying to make this blog both useful (to those who want to cook– and some of you have been following and cooking what I post– which is awesome!), as well as a place I can explore what food means in terms of where flavors come from, how they meet up with other flavors, and how cooking is a cultural act. What I mean is, I want to preserve and add to the food heritage of where I live, and where I come from.
Some of that is at my finger tips and already a part of my home cookery (the family recipes, the charro beans, the local ingredients), and some of it requires research and development. Some things I would like to know, for example:
1. What the heck is in the empanada dough in South Texas– is it yeast? Beer? Piloncillo? The texture is unique, and the traditional filling (pumpkin or sweet potato) is a perfect match for its dark and wholesome bread-pastry-danish like pocket of dough. These are not crispy pie crusts like Spanish or South American empanadas. They do not flake away into your lap like a puff pastry. And they are baked, not fried. Also, the dough isn’t noticeably sweet, yet it has a dark grainy color (even from non-whole grain bakeries) compared with the more conventional pastry empanadas filled with pineapple or apple. Some kind of milk wash perhaps?
(whole grain examples from El Sol Bakery on S. Presa, my favorite empanadas in San Antonio)
Warm from the oven at Marines Bakery in Weslaco. These had a very good pumpkin filling, not too sweet, so the real pumpkin flavor came through like it might have not been from a can, but the actual recently harvested squash. The dough was more bread-like than most, but very tender and flavorful.
2. What flavor profiles and other goodies are part of the crypto-jewish heritage of the Spanish who settled in this region? This is related to question 1 because another favorite bakery item here is Semitas– a large oval-shaped traditionally unleavened bread– has a similarly mysterious texture to the border region empanadas. It is not super sweet– probably just has a bit of sugar on the outside, along with pecans and raisins. There are very few published recipes for these items, yet they are for sale in every bakery here. Each slightly different in spices and sweetness, but very recognizable as regional specialties.
I know we often think of super sugary sweets when we think of Mexican pastries– pink cake, candied fruits, pralines, crumbly little horns of sugared dough– but the traditional empanadas de calabaza and semitas can be much more healthy, rustic, and also complex in flavors and texture.
If people have stories of eating empanadas, or better yet, recipes, please post them. This topic will be returned to, as we cannot leave any empanadas unturned!
My little empanada research was momentarily interrupted by the acquisition of Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce. This is whole grain baking by a fancy pants pastry chef in so-cal. It has won some awards and I have to say, is quite chic in its presentation of grains. The book seems to be a revelation in its approach to using grains in ways that really emphasize flavor more than anything. This is not your mother’s whole grain cookbook. So stay tuned tomorrow for a post of my slight adaptation to the Ginger Peach Muffins from the chapter on oat flour. They are really tasty! In fact, since eating them, I have decided to quit my job and start a peach orchard…