This buttery, flaky dough is easy to fill and shape to make savory or sweet empanadas.
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Place flour, sugar, and salt in food processor. Lock lid into place. Turn on processor and process mixture for 3 seconds. Stop processor.
Remove lid and sprinkle chilled butter pieces over flour mixture. Lock lid back into place. Hold down pulse button for 1 second, then release. Repeat until mixture looks like coarse crumbs, eight to ten 1-second pulses.
Remove lid and add egg and water. Lock lid back into place. Turn on processor and process until dough comes together into smooth ball, 30 to 45 seconds. Stop processor.
Remove lid and carefully remove processor blade (ask an adult for help). Transfer dough to clean counter.
Sprinkle flour over clean counter. Unwrap 1 disk of dough, place on floured counter, and sprinkle dough with a little extra flour. Use rolling pin to roll dough into 14-inch circle (about ¼ inch thick), rotating dough and reflouring counter as needed if dough begins to stick.
Fill and shape empanadas following directions on Empanadas de Piña y Coco.
Empanadas can have all kinds of fillings and use a wide variety of doughs to surround them. Most doughs, like this recipe, start with wheat flour—though you’ll also find some that use cornmeal, yuca, and even plantains! Empanada doughs also include some sort of fat, such as butter, vegetable shortening, oil, or lard.
The dough needs to be sturdy (to hold in the filling without breaking) but also tender—no one wants a tough or chewy empanada! In our dough recipe, we use the food processor to mix the ingredients. All that mixing develops gluten, a network of proteins that forms when flour and water mix. Gluten gives dough its structure and also makes it stretchy so that it can wrap around our filling. Adding an egg helps here, too. Eggs contain proteins that strengthen the dough.
Butter is the fat that keeps our dough tender. As the ingredients whirl around in the food processor, the butter coats some of the flour, preventing it from absorbing water and forming gluten (think of the butter like a raincoat for the flour). In the oven, the butter in the dough melts and its water turns into steam. This forms tiny air pockets that give the baked dough a lighter, more delicate texture.