Beef and Olive Empanadas

beef and olive empanadas

My kids love to eat help make this recipe. They help with cutting the dough into circles, spooning in the filling, and closing the empanadas — it is a messy task but worth it. If you have little helpers, put them into action!

Beef and Olive Empanadas

Makes 18 empanadas
Recipe by Sanda Pagaimo

Total Cooking Time: 2 and 1/2 hours (including 1 hour resting period)
Active Cooking Time: 1 hour
Difficulty: Involved


(Cook’s Note: You can prepare up to a month in advance and freeze for future use. If frozen, let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using.)

  • 2 cups spelt or whole wheat flour
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting work surface
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • ½ cup ice cold water


Tomato Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ medium onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¾ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1¾ cups canned whole tomatoes (Cook’s Note: Half of a 28-ounce can.)
  • 1½ teaspoons sugar



  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1½ cups tomato sauce
  • ⅔ cup sliced, pitted green olives
  • 1 (8-ounce) ball fresh mozzarella
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper


Egg Wash

  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Food processor (optional)
  • 4-inch circle cutter (optional)
  • Rolling pin
  • Pastry brush

Begin by making dough. Place whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, brown sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to blend. Place the butter on top of flour mixture and pulse to blend until mixture shows pea-sized pieces. Pour ice water over the dough and pulse until it just comes together. Turn the mixture onto a clean work surface. Don’t add any flour to the surface before hand. Working quickly, bring the dough together by hand until it clumps together in a ball. Careful not to overmix — you want to keep those pea-sized pieces of butter intact.

Alternately, you can mix the dough by hand. Place whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, brown sugar, and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir ingredients to blend. Add the butter 1 cube at a time, working it through the flour using a pastry blender and/or your fingertips until the dough resembles pea-sized pieces. Add ice water and stir to bring the dough together into a ball. Divide into two equal portions. Roll into a balls, wrap separately in plastic, and flatten into disks. Refrigerate for 1 hour before use.

While dough is chilling, make tomato sauce. Place olive oil, onion, and garlic in a small saucepan, and cook over medium heat. Cook until onions are golden, about 5-7 minutes. Add salt, oregano, and tomatoes. Stir to combine, mashing tomatoes with the spoon to break them up. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sugar and cook for 5 more minutes. Taste and season with additional salt if needed. Remove from heat and set aside.

While tomato sauce is simmering, prep ingredients for empanada filling. Slice mozzarella ball to ⅛-inch thick circles, and cut circles in half to create half-moons. Set aside. Once tomato sauce is ready, start to prepare empanada filling. Place a large frying pan over medium-high heat and add olive oil. Crumble in the ground beef and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes until light brown, stirring frequently. Add olives and 1½ cups tomato sauce, reserving remainder to serve alongside finished empanadas. Cook until the beef is nicely browned, another 2-5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly. .

When you’re ready to assemble and bake the empanadas, preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the oven rack in the middle position.

Using all-purpose flour, lightly flour a clean work surface and the surface of your rolling pin. Working with one disk at a time, leaving the other disk of dough in the refrigerator, place the chilled dough onto the prepared work surface and roll dough until ¼-inch thickness. Using a circle cutter or paring knife, cut the dough into 4-inch circles. If the pastry begins to feel greasy or look shiny, as though getting too warm,  return the dough to the refrigerator for a few minutes to chill before proceeding. Reform leftover pastry scraps into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for another 10-20 minutes before rolling them out and cutting more circles. Repeat this process with the second ball of dough, until you have 18 circles cut. Keep any remaining pastry scraps for patching empanadas, should you need it.

Once pastry dough circles are all cut, you can start assembling empanadas. Place a mozzarella half-moon in the middle of the circle, and add a spoonful of filling on top, making sure to leave about a half inch of clearance by the edges. Fold in half, pinch to close, and press the edges with a fork to seal them shut. If the dough breaks, patch it up with leftover pastry dough. Lay the empanadas on a parchment lined baking sheet.

In a small bowl, whisk a whole egg with a tablespoon of water to make an egg wash. With a pastry brush, brush the empanadas with egg wash. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Either serve immediately, or allow to cool to enjoy at room temperature later.

Photo by Sanda Pagaimo

Sanda Vuckovic Pagaimo is a stylist and photographer originally from Yugoslavia who has lived for the last 16 years in Lisbon, Portugal. She writes, styles, and photographs seasonal recipes and presents them on her blog, Little Upside Down Cake.


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