With the restrictions of Lent behind them, Mexicans are free to throw themselves into the Easter festivities and indulge once more in dishes which have been forbidden for forty odd days. Lenten cooking, la cocina cuaresmeña, has not left them feeling deprived but it has certainly imposed certain gastronomic constraints which can now be discarded. Fiestas and celebrations are under way immediately, religious processions snake along and passion plays are held in virtually every town and village. Meat is back on the menu, fish takes a temporary back seat and all sorts of sweet treats make their appearance in the streets and markets.
Little pastry turnovers filled with fruit are popular during La Pascua or Easter and very easy to make. The market cooks bake them to crisp perfection and then pile them up in large earthenware plates, ready to tempt any passers-by. Pasta de hojaldre, puff pastry, is commonly used but I have had them made with shortcrust pastry as well as masa, tortilla dough, and I have occasionally used filo pastry sheets in my own kitchen. The hojaldre however provides the unmatchable buttery flakiness which somehow seems to suit Easter rejoicing so well!
Any reasonably firm and not too juicy fruit can find its way into an empanadita: cherries as in the recipe below, peaches and apricots, bananas, pineapple, apples or pears.
Cherry turnovers – Empanaditas de Cereza
375 g/13 oz all butter puff pastry
225 g/8 oz fresh cherries, halved and pitted (stoned)
2.5 ml/1/2 tsp corn flour/corn starch
30 ml/2 tbsp cherry jam or conserve
1 egg, beaten
Double/heavy cream, to serve (optional but very good)
Roll the pastry out to a thickness of no more than 2 mm/1/10 in and cut out four circles approximately 6 in/15 cm in diameter.
Toss the cherries with the corn flour and divide them between the four circles, placing them off centre to make it easier to fold the pastry later. Top with a good tablespoon of cherry jam.
Using a pastry brush, paint the edges of the pastry all the way round with beaten egg. Carefully fold the pastry up and over the fruit into a half moon shape. Press the edges together gently and crimp them with your thumb and forefinger or the tines of a fork, ensuring the turnover is well sealed to prevent the jam from seeping out. Place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and brush the tops with beaten egg. Refrigerate for at least half an hour to firm up the pastry. The turnovers can be prepared up to this point several hours or even a day in advance and refrigerated.
Preheat the oven to 200oC/400oF/gas 6/fan oven 180oC. Bake the empanaditas until they are beautifully golden and crisp, about 30 minutes. Cool for ten minutes, as the filling will be scorchingly hot. Sprinkle with icing sugar just before serving.
Serve with lots of thick cream.
The turnovers can be eaten cold but they are nothing like as good.
Buén provecho y Felices Pascuas! Happy Easter!