Generally speaking, Empanadas and Pastelillos are pretty similar.
They are both made by folding dough or bread around a stuffing, which usually consists of a variety of meat, cheese, huitlacoche, vegetables, or fruits. Hence, both can either be served as a savory dish or a sweet treat.
However, there are some essential differences that set one apart from another. Now, let’s differentiate Empanadas and Pastelillos so that you will never be confused again.
An Empanada is a type of baked or fried turnover consisting of dough and a filling, which is common in Southern European, Latin American, and the Philippines cultures. This name comes from the Galician verb empanar, which means “wrapped” or “coated” with bread.
Empanadas are made by folding the dough over the filling which could include meat, cheese, tomato, corn, or other ingredients, and then baking or frying the resulting turnover.
The way Empanadas are served differs among regions. Argentine Empanadas are frequently served as a starter or main course at celebrations and festivals. In these events, Empanada would be freshly prepared with a variety of flavors and fillings. Likewise, Empanadas are an important feature of Chilean cuisine. Many Chileans believe this to be their most characteristic dish, as it is frequently consumed in huge quantities during the country’s national celebrations.
Meanwhile, in Belize, Empanadas are called parades – a popular street food item. They are often packed with fish, chicken, or beans and prepared with masa (corn dough). They are often deep-fried and topped with cabbage and salsa.
A Pastelillo is a smaller Empanada made by folding the dough over a filling and pressing the edges with a fork. Yet, Pastelillos frequently have a slight difference in dough composition, resulting in a yellow tint before and after cooking.
Many people also know of this dish by the name Pastelito. A “Pastelito” is another name for a sort of Pastelillo that is made with puff pastry dough and baked rather than fried.
Empanadas Vs Pastelillos: 5 Differences
Empanadas are considered to have originated in Galicia, a region in northwest Spain, but their exact origin is unknown. Llibre del Coch by Robert de Nola, a cookbook published in Catalan in 1520, references Empanadas stuffed with fish in recipes for Catalan, Italian, French, and Arabian cuisine. Now, the Empanada is an important dish in Mexican cuisine.
Meanwhile, Pastelillos originate from Puerto Rico and remain a popular dish in this country. The flavor of Puerto Rican Pastelillos is also said to be the most authentic and distinctive to fans of this dish.
Both Pastelillos and Empanadas have a crucial ingredient in their batter that sets them apart from other dishes: annatto. Annatto, also known as roucou or achiote, comes from achiote seeds (from a tropical tree). This substance is used to produce a carotenoid-based yellow or orange food coloring. It also has a distinctive scent of pepper and nutmeg and gives the dishes a sweet and peppery flavor.
The Pastelillo has a higher content of annatto powder in the pastry mix. Hence, Pastelillo can be slightly sweeter than Empanadas. This ingredient also makes the key difference between Puerto Rican Pastelillo and other Pastelillo.
Thus, the dough for Pastelillos can be thinner than that of Empanadas. While Pastelillos dough is similar to pasta dough, Empanadas dough can be comparable to that pie dough.
Pastelillos are smaller turnovers made from a thin dough that is crimped at the edges and fried. Meanwhile, Empanadas are bigger turnovers with rolled edges and thicker dough.
People have found a way to include a variety of fillings, from meats and veggies to fruits, in the 2 recipes. Also, the filling of both dishes can be modified to make the end result either sweet or savory.
Many may think that since the dough for Pastelillos is sweeter, Pastelillos would go better with a sweet filling and make an excellent dessert. However, this sweet dough can also work with savory filling to create a surprisingly addictive flavor.
Both are turnover with dough and filling, but Pastelillos usually have a different edge compared to Empanadas. The edge of a Pastelillo is pressed with a fork for its distinctive outer layer.
Although both dishes can be deep-fried and baked, Empanadas are often deep-fried, while Pastelillo is usually baked. Hence, if you are confused between the two, you can check whether your dish is deep-fried or baked to tell them apart.
Despite the long list above, the difference between Empanada and Pastelillo is not too big, to be honest. This is the reason why many people use the two terms interchangeably.
However, it’s always better to know the exact method to tell these two dishes apart, which can wow your Latin American friends and make your cooking much more authentic.
With the difference cleared, let’s learn how to make both dishes in your home kitchen.
How To Make An Empanada?
Since the Empanada dough can be paired with whatever fillings of your choice, we will show you how to make the best dough so that you can have a good basis to customize your own Empanada.
Things to prepare
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ to 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 and a half stick unsalted butter
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of water or milk: This ingredient is essential to adjust the texture of your dough.
- In a food processor, combine flour and salt. Then add the butter and pulse to combine.
- Continue pulsing until a clumpy dough develops, then add the egg and the water or milk (in small increments to adjust the texture of your dough).
- To prepare Empanada dough by hand, follow the same steps as above, but mix the ingredients together with your hands.
- Divide the dough into two large balls and flatten slightly into disks. The dough can be used right once or kept chilled until needed (1-2 days max).
- Roll out the dough onto a thin sheet and cut out circular disc shapes (use round molds or a small plate).
- Use right away or keep in the fridge or freezer for later.
- If you use it immediately, place a tablespoon of the filling in the middle of each Empanada disc to assemble the Empanadas or turnovers. Make sure to not add too much filling or else you cannot close your Empanadas properly.
- After sealing your Empanadas to make sure that no filling will be leaked out during the deep-frying process, you can deep-fry your Empanadas and serve them hot.
How To Make Pastelillos?
Things to prepare
3 1/2 cups of flour
- 2 teaspoons of baking powder
- 2 1/2 tsp of salt
- 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 3/4 cup of water
- vegetable oil (optional, for frying only)
- In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In another bowl, combine the flour and shortening. Cut the shortening into the flour using a pastry cutter or fork. Using a fork, stir in the egg.
- Using a fork, mix in the water a bit at a time. The dough will be brittle or in pieces when finished mixing.
- Dust a work surface with flour, then roll out the dough on it. Form the dough into a rough ball using your hands. Knead the dough with your palms as if you were doing laundry on an ancient washboard.
- Knead the dough until it is soft and smooth. Form the dough into smaller balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and set aside for 30 minutes to rest.
- Roll the dough out and cut them into a thin circle
- Place 1 spoonful of picadillo or other fillings in the center of a circle of dough.
- Wet the dough’s edges with water using the tip of your fingers, fold the dough in half. Pinch the dough together with your fingers, then use the teeth of a fork to press it together.
- Bake your Pastelillos in the oven or deep-fry them until they are golden brown
After reading our comparison of Empanadas vs Pastelillos in detail, hope that you have acquired enough information to tell these two dishes apart. Look at the dough, the size, and the way each dish is cooked closely, and you’re good to go. If you find this article helpful, don’t forget to bookmark and come back for more valuable tips.
Mariana Rouco is the editor-in-chief of Elpasony.com. She loves traveling and writing about foods and cooking in general. She has a degree from the New England Culinary Institute and enjoys Mexican, Italian, and Chinese cuisines the most.