These delicious pear empanadas are one of my most recent empanada experiments and have quickly become the most requested dessert empanadas I’ve made. I have to thank my friend Thomas for these empanadas, his family owns an orchard, Crystal Springs Orchard, located in the Entiat Valley in Eastern Washington, and he was kind enough to bring me some of their beautiful pears. In fact, he dropped them off just days after I got home from Ecuador. Let’s just say that I got over any jetlag from the trip by jumping in the kitchen and making a lot of different dishes using pears (of course some were just enjoyed as is). Pears are a versatile ingredient that can be used in many dishes, from desserts to savory appetizers to salads to drinks. My neighbor just brought me some apples from her tree, so you can guess what my next recipe experiments will involve.
There is something about the smell and taste of gingerbread that is very comforting, maybe it’s because it triggers warm memories of the holidays and those days where it’s so cold outside that all you want to do is just stay inside next to the fireplace sipping something hot. These empanadas are an instant time machine that transported me back to childhood memories of making gingerbread cookies with my brothers. Of course, the gingerbread pear empanadas are even better because they are filled with sweet caramelized pears.
I’ve poached pears many times and they are a very fragile fruit that requires gentle care, so I was unsure about how pears would work when I tried to cook them in a syrup of panela or piloncillo, an unprocessed brown sugar, as there is heavy boiling involved. In Ecuador, we use the term “dulce”, translates as sweet, to refer to fruits cooked or caramelized in panela syrup. I am very familiar with cooking fruits in dulce de panela, but it’s usually done with fruits that are hardier, such as squash or pumpkin, figs, pineapple. However, my pear dulce turned out wonderful, the secret is to make sure that you don’t stir the pears once the syrup starts to boil. Most dulces have spices in the syrup, but the spices don’t usually include ginger. These ginger caramelized pears could also be served as a dessert on their own. You will likely have some leftover pear dulce; I recommend serving them with some vanilla ice-cream or using them as a topping for pancakes or waffles.
Gingerbread empanada dough filled with caramelized ginger pears that were cooked in a syrup of panela or piloncillo and spices.
- 3 cups flour
- ¼ - ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tbs ground ginger
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
- Pinch of salt
- 2 stick of butter, cut into small pieces
- 2 eggs
- 2 tbs molasses
- 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
- 2-4 tbs cold water
- 4 pears, cored and cut in quarters
- 16 oz. or 1lb of panela or piloncillo
- 1 cup water
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 4 cloves
- 1 tbs freshly grated ginger
- 1 egg, white & yolk separated, whisk the yolk with 1 tbs of water to make an egg wash to brush on top of the empanadas before baking
- ¼ cup demerara sugar to sprinkle on top of empanadas
- Place all the dry ingredients: flour, brown sugar, dry spices and salt in a food processor and mix well.
- Add the butter pieces and pulse until mixed.
- Add the eggs, molasses, freshly grated ginger and 2 tbs water, mix until a clumpy dough forms. Add the additional water one tablespoon at a time if needed.
- Remove the gingerbread dough from the food processor and knead it a couple of times.
- Form dough into 2 balls, flatten into thick discs, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a thin sheet
- Cut out round disc shapes for empanadas, use a round dough cutter as a mold or a small plate or cup that you then use a knife to gently cut around. Choose how large based on whether you want small or medium sized empanadas. For sweet empanadas, I usually make them smaller so that you have the perfect size for dessert. It also makes the empanada assembly easier if they are small.
- Use the empanada discs immediately or store in the refrigerator until ready to use. You can also layer them with wax paper and freeze to use later.
- In a large sauce pan, combine the water, panela or piloncillo (whole or grated), cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Cook over low heat until the panela or piloncillo has dissolved and you have a syrup.
- Add the quartered pears and bring to boil, cook over medium –medium high heat for 25 minutes. The secret to keep the pears from turning to mush is to NOT stir them
- Remove from the heat and let the pears cool down
- Cut the pears into smaller pieces to make it easier to fill the empanadas
- Place a spoonful of the ginger caramelized pears on the center of the empanada disc.
- Brush the edges of the empanada disc with the egg whites; this will act as a form of glue that will help seal the empanadas.
- Fold the empanada discs and seal the edges gently with your fingers. Sweet empanada dough is more fragile than savory empanada dough so you can try to twist and fold the edges of the empanadas with your fingers, but it’s much easier to use a fork to seal the edges.
- Lightly brush the top of the empanadas with the egg yolk wash; this will give them a nice golden glow when baked.
- Sprinkle each empanada with a little bit of the demerara sugar.
- Chill the empanadas for at least 30 minutes or until ready to bake, this will help them seal better.
- Bake the empanadas in a pre-heated oven at 375 F for 15-20 minutes. The exact time will vary based on your oven and size of the empanadas
- Serve the pear empanadas warm. They are still good served cold, but taste much better when eaten warm.
Gingerbread empanada dough:
Pears in ginger panela syrup:
Gingerbread pear empanada assembly: