I have never been to Brazil but I know food, and I am already familiar with a lot of Brazilian specialities. I wanted something that would be a great snack, that would taste great, and that would have the right amount of challenge to be different and delicious, but not be too challenging to prepare. I whittled it down to about five things, the others will probably appear here in the near future.
I opted for home made (from scratch, natch) pastels with beef and cheese. Pastels appear to be the Brazilian version of the empanada. Maybe it is the other way around? I don’t know which came first, most South American countries have something similar. It seems fitting that the Brazilian snack that you cook for the final could also double as an Argentinian snack (sorry Brazil, I wanted you to win too). You can pretend, or to be authentic change the filling a little (no cheese, add eggs and olives to approximate my favourite empanadas from Mendoza, still one of the best things that I have ever eaten), and use lard in the pastry in place of oil. Remove the vodka too.
I always try to make wrappers myself, whether for pastel, empanada, dumplings, spring rolls or any other little parcel of gorgeousness wrapped in something crisp or steamed. It is always worth the effort, as you get a far superior result and lots more satisfaction. I love the geekery of it, getting down to the nitty gritty and understanding where the recipe came from. Also, it is not always possible to source wrappers if you don’t live in an urban centre, or a particular country, so I always like to provide a recipe for those of you that can’t, as well as for myself.
The dough is similar to a dumpling dough, which isn’t that surprising. I researched many recipes, and played around. Some recipes have egg, I didn’t bother as I didn’t feel it was necessary after a few trials. I loved the results from a simple flour, water, oil and vodka recipe. Yes, vodka! Brazilian pastel dough recipes include cachaça (the national spirit, star of the Brazilian caipirinha cocktail), but I didn’t have any. Lots of recipes suggested vodka as an alternative, and also stressed that it was essential to make the dough crisp, so I used that.
The filling was a simple minced beef one with a slab of cheese. Yes, a slab. I started by putting in small bits, but I soon found out that it just wasn’t melty enough. Use as much as you can fit. In place of the traditional Brazilian cheese used normally, I used cheddar.
I loved making these. The dough is stretchy and very pliable, so it is virtually impossible to go wrong. The filling is rich – meaty and cheesy – the dough crisp and light. A perfect snack for all you football fans this weekend, and for those of you that just love to cook and eat, this is especially for you.
I explored many recipes but I found this pastel recipe from Cynthia Presser’s site a great guide – thanks, Cynthia!
RECIPE: Brazilian Pastel with Beef & Cheese
300g plan flour (with more for rolling and you may need more as you make it too)
200ml warm water
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp vodka
a good pinch of salt
a tsp light brown sugar (white will do if you don’t have it)
450g minced beef
10 cherry tomatoes (or 2 normal tomatoes)
1 red onion
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp honey
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 tsp chilli flakes or 1 fresh chilli chopped (to your taste, I love chilli)
6 spring onions, finely sliced
250g cheddar, sliced into 1 mm thick slices
flavourless oil for frying like vegetable or sunflower oil
Start with your dough. Using your dough hook in your food processor (or by hand), combine all of the dough ingredients and knead for a couple of minutes. Check the consistency of your dough. If too wet, add more flour (you want it to be just dry so that when you touch it your finger doesn’t stick), and vice versa. Continue to knead with the dough hook until elastic. Leave to sit in a bowl covered with cling film or a damp clean tea towel, for half an hour. (You can of course do this by hand too, hand kneading until you get a lovely stretchy dough).
Make your filling. Finely chop the red onion (take care not to accidentally purée it, it is speedy!), and sauté in 1 tbsp of oil over a medium heat for 7 or 8 minutes until soft. Add the minced beef and cook until brown, stirring and breaking down the meat with a spatula as you do.
Chop the garlic, chilli (if using fresh) and cherry tomatoes and add to the beef with the honey and cider vinegar and cook for a half an hour. Salt to taste.
Prepare your wrappers. Tear off a piece of dough about half the size of a golf ball. Roll in your hand and then roll until thin and circular and approximately 5 inches wide (or whatever you prefer, frankly, smaller is good too!). Combine the spring onions with the beef, then place a tablespoon of filling in the centre of the empanada, ensuring there is 1 inch space around the side. Add as much cheese as can comfortably fit. Gently smooth the dough over the filling, until it is a half moon shape, and ease the air out. Seal with a fork, pressing the top and bottom together without piercing the dough, trim any excess, and leave to the side, covered with a damp clean dowel or cling film (whatever you used to cover the dough is fine).
Heat the oil in a pan or deep fat fryer until 180 deg C a small ball of dough will immediately float and start to crisp. Then add your empanadas, as many as will fit comfortably, with space around them, at a time. Turn half way through, and remove to drain on kitchen paper when golden brown. I don’t have a deep fat fryer, I just used a pot and a litre of vegetable oil. If the oil was getting too hot I turned it down, and vice versa. It works fine, but you must keep a close eye on it.
Eat while hot. And enjoy. They are delicious!
(You can probably bake these too, but don’t. Fry them! :) )