One of my favorite parts about recipes is that there is often a story behind them. I love hearing about recipes that have been passed down through the generations or shared by neighbors and friends. Those recipes are tried and true, the family favorites.
This recipe has a long story behind it, but it came to me from Señora Nena (short for Magdalena), the landlady that Roberto and I rented from in Mexico City. Anyone who knows me has probably heard a story about Sra. Nena because she was quite the character to say the least.
Originally from Guadalajara, she came to Mexico City in her early twenties after she got married. Despite not growing up in the sprawling capital, she knew how to navigate the city with confidence — chest puffed out, hair brushed sleekly to one side, and dare I say quite a spunky stride for a seventy-something woman. She would maneuver through tianguis and markets with assurance never letting a bargain slip through her fingers. She was also a devout Catholic, but holy heck did she swear like a sailor. I can safely say that I learned some of my first Spanish groserías (swear words) from this woman — one of her favorites was “pinche pendejo viejo.” Sra. Nena loved entertaining and usually cooked enough food to feed a small army. She planned out her parties days in advance, setting the table with dozens of plates, glasses, and silverware well before the fiesta.
So, where do these cookies fit in? Well, Sra. Nena was also a businesswoman. She would sell cheese, and occasionally people would ask her to make food for them if they were having a party. She made these empanadas dulces at Christmastime for her niece, who was one of the department heads of the Secretaría de Salud (Secretary of Health), to give to her employees.
She charged her 5 pesos per cookie (around 40 cents at the time) which was quite pricey in Mexico to say the least, and she filled them with zarzamora (blackberry) or at least that’s what she told her niece. In true Nena fashion, that really wasn’t the case. She actually filled them with purple camote (sweet potato), which was A LOT CHEAPER, and told everyone they were blackberry!!! You know the ol’ “I’ll charge my niece 5 pesos a cookie because they’re filled with blackberry, and I’ll actually fill them with something cheaper, and she’ll never know, and I’ll make a lot more money.” Yes, that about sums up Sra. Nena.
So, I’ll never really be able to forget these cookies. Sra. Nena gave me the recipe, and I came across it in a binder the other day. I had scribbled it down in Spanish, well partly in Spanish with blurbs of English here and there. The original recipe called for 4 kilograms (almost 9 lbs.!) of flour and 24 eggs, and of course “blackberry jam.” I told you she cooked for an army.
But, no worries. I have adjusted the recipe to make much less, and I filled them with homemade apricot-mango jam made with the actual fruit. The original recipe also called for manteca, but I have changed it out for butter, simply because I didn’t want to substitute Crisco for true lard.
These are a very sturdy cookie and would be nice to take on a road trip because they hold up well. I think they have just the right amount of jam to cookie, and while the dough is not overly sweet, the cinnamon-sugar dusting nicely rounds out the flavor.
If you decide to make these, let me know in the comments what filling you decide to use 😉
empanadas dulces de mermelada
Click here for printable recipe.
Empanadas Dulces de Mermelada (Makes about 30 cookies)
1 stick butter, softened
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
Jam of your choice (I used apricot-mango…click for recipe.)
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
→Place butter and sugar in bowl. Beat together on medium speed (about 1 minute) until sugar is fully incorporated and butter is fluffy.
→Add the eggs and vanilla. Mix together (about 1 minute) to incorporate.
→Add flour and baking powder. Beat just until combined. Do not overbeat or dough will be tough.
→On a lightly floured surface, roll out half of the dough with a rolling pin. The dough should be about 1/8-1/4” thick. Flour a 2 ½” circle cookie cutter and cut out as many circles as possible. Place on parchment lined sheet. Repeat until you have used up all of the dough.
→Place about 1 tsp+ of jam in the middle of each circle of dough. Fold the top of the circle down and press together with the bottom part to form a half moon. Repeat for all cookies.
→Mix together the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl. Roll the unbaked empanadas in the sugar mixture to coat. Then, using a fork, seal the edges so that the empanada does not explode open during baking.
→Bake at 350°F for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Remove the cookies from the oven and roll the warm cookies a second time in the cinnamon sugar mixture. Place on cooling rack. Do NOT eat these cookies warm from the oven. You will burn your mouth on the hot jam.
- I found that the cinnamon sugar doesn’t stick very well to the dough. In the original recipe, you only rolled them in sugar once straight out of the oven. However, this left them only lightly coated. I tried brushing them with an egg wash, but that made them too wet. The best method was to roll them once before baking and once after baking. This is the method that I listed in the recipe.
- Try not to put too much jam in your cookies. It has the tendency to ooze out, and the cookies just don’t look as pretty.
Recipe Source: Adapted from Sra. Nena’s empanada dulce recipe