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Cooking with a Pinch of History: Fig Empanaditas

By Anne Petersen

On Sunday July 12, Reina del Mar Parlor No. 126, Native Daughters of the Golden West, held their annual Pre-Fiesta Tea to honor descendants of Early California Families and the Directors of Old Spanish Days.  This annual event held at Casa de la Guerra, is steeped in tradition.  It includes a program full of music and dance, which is followed by a tea service that highlights several dishes from the Spanish and Mexican periods in California, made by parlor members.  In addition to tea and tea sandwiches, the historical delicacies include panecito (anise-flavored diced pastry dough), penuche and sweet empanaditas.

Monica Orozco helped me make fig empanaditas for our first tea as new members of the parlor.  I found this recipe in an excellent cookbook by early California descendant Jacqueline Higuera McMahan titled California Rancho Cooking.  You can find a copy here.


Empanadita dough:

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

½ cup shortening

½ cup sugar

1 egg

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (we added an extra half                              teaspoon, yum!)

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup milk, mixed with 1 teaspoon vinegar to sour (do this in                    advance!)

2 Tablespoons flour, mixed with 2 Tablespoons sugar

Fig Filling:

1 ½ cups dried mission figs

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup water

¼ cup milk

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

1 Tablespoon butter

½ cup minced walnuts (we used slightly under this, so as not o                overwhelm the figs, and it was fine)

To prepare the dough:

Figure 1 AP

The dough, flattened and wrapped, ready to chill. Photo by Anne Petersen.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter and shortening until creamy.   Add sugar, egg and vanilla and beat until combined. In a separate bowl whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together. Add half the flour mixture to the butter mixture and combine with a spoon. Pour in the soured milk and stir.  Stir in the rest of the flour mixture. It will be soft, that’s ok!  Flatten and wrap, chill for two hours.

To prepare the fig filling:

Grind sugar and figs in a food processor.  Simmer figs and sugar on the stove with water, milk, lemon zest, lemon juice and butter for ten minutes, or until juicy and slightly thickened. Cool the mixture (we used an ice bath to speed it up) and add walnuts.

Prepare the empanaditas (this is where the magic happens):

Roll out half the dough at a time, keeping the other half chilled.  Sprinkle your rolling surface with the flour/sugar mixture before rolling to help keep it from sticking (We weren’t very accurate with the flour/sugar mixture.  You will likely need to add more as you work, so we just kept grabbing a bit from each jar). We found this dough to be more delicate than pie dough, so be gentle!

Cut out 3” circles (we happened to have a glass with a mouth exactly 3″ diam.).  Place a bit of filling (as much as you think the dough can cover) on half of each circle and fold the dough over the filling. Press the edges with a fork to seal. Press holes on the top with the tines of a fork. Bake until golden around the edges, about 15 minutes.

The recipe should make 14 -16 empanaditas, but we made almost twice as much with each of the two batches we made.

Two batches of empanaditas ready for the tea, with Monica Orozco.  Photo by Anne Petersen.

Two batches of empanaditas ready for the tea, with Monica Orozco. Photo by Anne Petersen.

Enjoy!  We found that making a multi-step recipe like this is exponentially better with help from a friend and some good music, but you can make them any way you like!

The volunteers who contributed to the tea produced a feast, and our empanaditas, if we do say so, were among the first treats to go.  Here are some bonus shots of the beautiful layout, and a of the amazing Alexandra Freres, Spirit of Fiesta 2015, performing.

Anne Petersen is the Associate Director for Historical Resources at the Santa Barbara trust for Historic Preservation. Monica Orozco is the Director of the Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library.  Together they are new members of Reina del Mar Parlor 126, Native Daughters of the Golden West.



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