Empanadillas

Little Sherry Pastries Filled with Tuna

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I think these empanadillas are an enigma. Let me explain why. When people first bite into the golden-fried pastry, they are often puzzled by its yeasty nuttiness and short, crispy texture. Notionally, something that has yeast in it — like bread — should be springy and have holes, and not be short and mouthwatering. The secret of this pastry lies in the use of light olive oil for shortness and good fino sherry for flavour. Sherry is matured under a flor, or floating cap of yeast, and it is this which imparts the sweet yeastiness to these amazing little pastries. The filling of moist tuna and piquillo peppers completes the picture. Once you master the pastry, however, you can invent your own fillings, such as spinach and anchovies, or tomato, jamón and capers. Empanadillas should be cooked as soon as they are prepared.

Ingredients

  • 125 g ( oz/1 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 125 g ( oz/1 cup) self-raising flour
  • pinch of fine sea salt
  • 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) light olive oil
  • 150 ml (5 fl oz) dry fino sherry 150 g ( oz) tinned Spanish tuna (such as Vigilante tuna)
  • 150 g ( oz) drained piquillo peppers
  • 80 g ( oz) alioli
  • pinch of fine sea salt, extra
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • olive oil, for deep-frying
  • sea salt flakes, to sprinkle

Method

Sift the flours and pinch of sea salt into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the oil and sherry into the well and mix together until a soft dough is formed. Briefly knead for a minute or so until it just comes together and is elastic. When ready, it should feel heavier and wetter than a normal dough or pastry. If it seems a little dry, add another splash of sherry. It is important not to overwork the pastry to keep it nice and short. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 30 minutes.

To make the filling, strain the tuna and peppers in a colander over a bowl and set aside for 30 minutes. Discard the liquid. Finely dice the peppers. Break the tuna apart with your hands into small pieces. Mix together the peppers and the tuna with the alioli, extra sea salt and some freshly cracked black pepper. Check for seasoning. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Take half the dough and, using a rolling pin on a cool, lightly floured surface, roll out as thinly as possible without tearing. Cut into rounds using a 10 cm (4 inch) pastry cutter.

Put 1 well-heaped teaspoon of filling in the middle of each round, lightly brush one half of each disc with a little of the beaten egg then fold over the pastry to make a semicircle. Using a fork, crimp the edge of each empanadilla to secure the seal. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling (do not reroll the scraps as it makes the dough too elastic).

Fill a deep-fryer or large heavy-based saucepan one-third full of oil and heat to 180°C (350°F), or until a cube of bread dropped into the oil browns in 15 seconds. Fry the empanadillas, in batches, for 5 minutes, turning each one after a few minutes. Remove from the oil, drain on paper towel for 30 seconds then transfer to a serving plate. Sprinkle with sea salt flakes and serve immediately.