A Zesty Semolina Pudding That’s Perfect Any Time of Day

This comforting cinnamon and orange-scented Chilean semolina pudding is traditionally served cold and drizzled with a sweet and thick red wine syrup.

Side view of pouring syrup onto puddings
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This comforting spiced semolina pudding is high in my personal top five of Chilean "postres de leche," sweet and filling milk-based concoctions traditionally served as desserts. Our moms or grandmas used to make them, each of them having a signature spice mix containing a combination of cinnamon, vanilla, clove, orange and/or lemon peels, and of course, the love and care these kinds of preparations are capable of carrying so well. 

Nowadays we make sémola con leche and other postres de leche as a once-in-a-while treat, but in the past it was common to find them not only served after a weekday lunch, but also as a breakfast item. While testing this recipe, my semolina-stuffed husband told me his dad used to say milk desserts were crucial for children's nutritional well-being, and that he made sure to serve them as breakfast every day. This inspired me to start eating it for breakfast. Straight from the fridge, it is filling and refreshing, especially when topped with fresh fruit. Our one-year-old baby absolutely loved it—he was clapping and smiling after the first spoonful. 

Side view of pudding
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While the most popular version of sémola con leche includes a caramel sauce that is added to the bottom of the dish that will also hold the pudding (not unlike flan), the one I love the most is caramel-free and topped with a simple red wine syrup. While this red wine syrup variation is less popular and won’t be found on restaurant menus in Chile, it is the version I’ve enjoyed the most throughout my childhood at friend’s homes. While living in Columbus, Ohio, I often prepared it for friends, who made me write the recipe down for them before leaving. 

Aside from the wine syrup, my recipe for sémola con leche is otherwise similar to others in terms of flavorings and ratios, though I do deviate in one other respect: I take the time to steep the milk with spices until it's infused with them, then strain the spices out. Most recipes just cook the spices with the semolina, leaving them for diners to remove at the table, but I think the extra time spent steeping and straining is worth it, not only for the improved eating experience, but also because I find that it results in an overall more deeply aromatic result. In any event, it's hardly wasted time, since the milk can steep while you make the wine syrup.

Overhead view of pouring wine syrup onto pudding
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My choice of spices includes cinnamon, vanilla, and a healthy dose of orange zest. You can of course alter the spices and the citrus to suit your preferences (clove and lemon zest are excellent), just keep in mind that cinnamon and any citrus peel in some form absolutely need to be there.

For the best results, it's important to use coarse semolina flour, the kind usually used for dusting pizza peels to prevent the dough from sticking. If that’s not available, it is also possible to use medium or fine semolina flour, which are typically used for making pasta and bread. A finer grind will yield a creamier, silkier result that, while pleasant, does not fully resemble the more rustic texture of the traditional dish.

Overhead view of putting pudding into ramekins
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Serve it cold from the fridge in individual dessert bowls or family-style. In the latter case, you can serve it two ways: let diners scoop portions directly from the communal dish onto their plates, or you can unmold the chilled and firmed pudding from its serving bowl directly onto a plate or tray, then slice and serve with the syrup at the table.

For the Red Wine Syrup: In a small saucepan, heat wine and sugar over medium heat, stirring often, until boiling, then reduce heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Consistency should be similar to pomegranate syrup or honey. To check while cooking, pour a teaspoon of the syrup onto a cold flat dish so it cools down quickly. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, then pour into an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

Two image collage of cooking wine
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For the Semolina Pudding: In a medium Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot, combine milk, sugar, salt, orange peel, and cinnamon sticks. Using a sharp paring knife, split vanilla pod lengthwise, then scrape out seeds and add them to milk along with pod; alternatively, add vanilla extract. Set over medium-low heat and, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, bring to a gentle boil, then immediately remove from heat. Set aside to infuse for 20 minutes, stirring often to avoid skin formation on top.

Four image collage of falvoring milk mixture for pudding
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Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard orange zest, vanilla pod, and cinnamon sticks from the milk. Return milk to medium-low heat, and return to boil while stirring often. Using a whisk, gently sprinkle in semolina while whisking constantly. Continue whisking constantly until mixture is very thick and semolina is fully cooked, about 5 minutes. (Be careful to keep your face away from the pot, as the semolina can bubble and spit as it thickens.)

Two image collage of adding semolina and pudding thickening
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Using a ladle and working quickly while the semolina is still fluid, pour hot pudding into 6 individual heat-safe serving bowls, or alternatively 1 large heat-safe serving bowl (see notes. Use a spatula to smooth the top of the pudding, then cover with plastic wrap (the plastic does not need to touch the surface of the semolina) and refrigerate until cold, 1 to 3 hours. 

Four image collage of filling and cooling puddings in ramekins
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Before serving, let the red wine syrup come to room temperature. The pudding can be served in its dish, or unmolded onto a plate and sliced to serve. To unmold, flip the pudding bowl quickly over a flat tray or plate and place a hot and wet dish towel over the bottom of the pudding bowl. Leave it there for about 2 minutes and gently shake and lift the bowl to unmold the pudding. The pudding should separate easily from the bowl. Serve with the chilled red wine syrup. 

Tow image collage of flipping pudding and adding red wine syrup
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Special Equipment

Small saucepan, medium Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, serving dish or bowl

Notes

Coarse semolina is sold online by King Arthur’s as well as this Chilean brand.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The red wine syrup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

 The semolina pudding can be refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days. I do not recommend freezing it.

Charquicán (Chilean Vegetable and Beef Stew)

A fragrant onion-based sofrito brings this timeless vegetable- and beef-laden Chilean stew to life.

Overhead view of table set with Charquican
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By noon, everywhere in Chile it smells the same. Lunch—the main meal of the day—is on the way: From the windows of houses, school kitchens, and restaurants, the distinctive aroma of sofrito—the obligatory initial step for many Chilean dishes—makes your stomach rumble. Chances are high that what's for lunch is nutritious and homey charquicán, a timeless stew found on Chilean tables of all kinds. 

Side view of finished Charquican
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Charquicán is a democratic dish, a mixture of semi-mashed potatoes and zapallo squash, ground or diced beef, and colorful seasonal veggies, all of it brought to life by a sofrito. In Chile, sofrito is an aromatic concoction of sautéed minced onion, carrot, and red bell pepper, seasoned with cumin, ají de color (the local paprika), oregano, black pepper, and, very often, garlic. Getting the sofrito right is half of the success for this dish, and also a great way of getting to know the core of Chilean cuisine.

It is interesting that the word “charquicán” itself reveals its pre-Hispanic origins: The most accepted theories agree that it combines “charki,” which means “sun-dried meat” in the Quechua language, and “kangkan” or “cancan,” meaning “roasted” or “stewed” in Mapudungun, the Mapuche language. Originally, it was made with salted, sun-dried meat from guanacos (a wild llama relative); after the Spaniards colonized, horse meat and then beef became popular. Nowadays, while charqui is a popular travel snack—mostly sold near tolls along the highway—it is very seldom that Chileans cook the original meat jerky version ("jerky," it's worth noting, also comes from the word charki). 

Close up of Charquican
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The most common, everyday version is made with diced or ground lean beef, but the dish can change with the location and seasons. In the summer, charquicán might transform into tomaticán, a version of the stew where seasonal ripe tomatoes and the local humero corn are added. There are also versions entirely without meat, like luchicán and cochayuyicán, which use luche or cochayuyo seaweeds instead of meat; the almost extinct vaicán, with dried hake and sometimes seafood favored in the Bío Bío region; and, curiously retaining the same name, a meatless version—same as my recipe, except for the meat—usually served at upscale restaurants as a riff on the original version and eaten as a side with long-cooked meats such at plateada, the Chilean version of brisket. 

The late Chilean folklorist Oreste Plath has described many more variations of charquicán in his articles about Chilean cuisine, masterfully compiled by the Nacional Library in “Geografía Gastronómica de Chile” (and available in full here). Whatever form it takes, it is always a filling, balanced, and tasty dish. 

The recipe I share here includes a small personal innovation: Most recipes call for either adding the beef to the cooked sofrito in the pot, making it impossible to brown the beef and develop a delicious fond, or browning the beef first but then cooking the sofrito on top of it, which overcooks the beef and leads to cardboardy meat. To achieve proper browning while not overcooking the beef, my version starts by browning diced beef—my personal preference over ground beef—then removing it from the pot to cook the sofrito; then the beef isn't returned to the pot until much later in the cooking process ensuring that it won’t over cook and dry out.

Overhead view of adding beef back in
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To simplify the cooking process and reduce dishes, I also have designed the recipe to use just one pot. To ensure each ingredient is cooked just the right amount, I've carefully timed the addition of each one. Many other recipes take a different approach by simultaneously cooking the meat, potatoes and squash, and seasonal vegetables in three separate vessels at once. While this cuts down on the cooking time, it means you'll have more dishes to wash. But, even more importantly, my testing has made it clear that cooking everything separately and then combining them towards the end of the process results in a dish that is not as cohesive in flavor or texture as one where it's all stewed together. 

In Chile we eat charquicán by itself or topped with one or two fried eggs—always with a very runny yolk. I recommend the latter and also adding a few pieces of quick pickled onions or the old style Chilean cebollas en escabeche (red wine vinegar slow-pickled onions); the recipe is included below.

Side view of onions
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For the Escabeche Onions (Optional): Using a sharp knife, make a 1/2-inch-deep cross cut “X” on each cut side (root and stem ends) of the peeled onions.

Overhead view of cutting an X into onions
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Add the onions to a clean jar with a fitted lid. Pour the vinegar over the onions to fill the jar and fully submerge the onions, though some may float, which is fine.

Overhead view of submerging onions with red wine vingar
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Close the lid and store in a dark place, opening them every 2 to 3 days to check that they are still fully submerged and no signs of mold growth, until the onions have turned red and are fully pickled at least 15 days. Slice thin to serve. After they are ready, they can be refrigerated for up to 6 months. (see notes)

Side view angle of finished onions in a bowl
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For the Charquicán: In a Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons (30ml) oil over high heat until shimmering. Add half the beef, distributing it in an even layer and cook without stirring until juicy on top and browned underneath, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then stir to release beef from bottom of pot. Transfer beef to a medium bowl. Repeat with 2 tablespoons (30ml) oil and remaining beef.

Two image collage of cooking meat and removing from dutch oven
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Remove Dutch from heat, add 2 cups (480ml) water and scrape to deglaze any remaining browned bits into the water. Transfer water to a 4-cup measuring cup and top up with enough water to total 4 cups (950ml); set aside.

Overhead view of adding water to dutch oven
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Return Dutch oven to medium heat and heat remaining 2 tablespoons (30ml) oil until shimmering. Add onion, carrot, bell pepper, and garlic and cook, stirring often, until onion looks transparent, about 5 minutes. Add oregano, aji de color, and cumin, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until well blended, aromatic, and the onion mixture is mostly dry, 2 minutes.

Two image collage of cooking vegetables and adding spices
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Stir in potato and squash chunks and reserved deglazing water, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat, cover pot, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are slightly firm in the center when pricked with a paring knife, 15 to 18 minutes.

OVerhead view of adding potatoes and potatoes cooking
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Add green beans, corn, and peas. Cook, uncovered, over low heat, stirring often, until green beans look bright green, about 5 minutes. At this point, stir and using a large fork or wooden spoon, mash about a third of the potatoes against the edges of the pot.

Two image collage of adding peas and corn and stirring to combine
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Add Swiss chard and reserved beef along with any accumulated juices and cook, continuing to thoroughly mash the potatoes and stir the vegetables, just until the beef is heated through and cooked and the greens are wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. At this point the charquicán will be drier and prone to sticking to the bottom of the pot. If it’s too dense and sticking too much add 1/4 cup (60ml) hot water to loosen it up. The final stew should have the consistency of very chunky mashed potatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Four image collage of adding remaining vegetables and meat and finished Charquican
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Serve with 1 or 2 fried eggs on each portion and a few slices of escabeche onions or pickled onions, if desired. 

Side view of finished Charquican
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Special Equipment

Large jar with a fitted lid, Dutch oven

Notes

If small onions are unavailable, 4 medium sized (roughly 6 to 8 ounce) onions may be used. For medium onions, add 4 days to pickling time.

Corn, peas, and green beans should be used fresh if in season, or frozen otherwise. Adjust the cooking times so they stay colorful and crunchy. Flat green beans ("romano" beans) can be found at Italian or Asian specialty stores and are the more common Chilean choice; otherwise, regular green beans or haricots verts will work just fine.

Make-Ahead and Storage

All vegetables, except the potatoes, can be cut a day or two ahead of time and kept in containers in the fridge. The sofrito can be fully cooked and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 6 months. I use it so much that I often make a big batch, portion it , and freeze it. 

Charquicán can be cooled down and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days. It reheats well in the microwave or in a skillet. If reheating in a skillet, add a few tablespoons of water and stir constantly so it doesn't stick.

These Vinegar-Glazed Chilean Ribs Were Made for Pork Lovers

Spicy, garlicky Chilean pork ribs get a kick from vinegar, hot sauce, and dried spices.

Overhead view of Costillar a la Chilena on a fruit patterened table runner
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One of the reasons I immediately felt at home when I lived in the United States—Columbus, Ohio, to be exact—is that I found in its people an unconditional, unrivaled love for pork, exactly the same as we feel in Chile. I remember a few days after arriving, wandering with my husband through the icy Short North neighborhood, the first real winter of our lives, and encountering a chocolate shop that sold thick, crunchy slices of smoked bacon coated in dark chocolate. Pork was so well loved, that it was even transformed into dessert! It instantly instilled a “this is the right place” feeling in our hearts. 

Side view of a plate of ribs
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I love cooking pork as much as I love eating it. That’s why one of the first recipes I cooked for my newly acquired American friends was this one, the utterly Chilean, thoroughly traditional costillar de chancho a la chilena. It is tasty and simple: pork ribs marinated in a spicy, vinegary, garlicky mixture, and then slow-roasted in the oven or grilled when the weather allows. It was a success, even when I had to explain that these are not your cooked-forever, fall-off-the-bone kind of ribs, because in Chile we tend to like pork with some chew left in it. 

Any cut of ribs will do—spare, baby back, St. Louis—as long as cooking times are adjusted accordingly. The marinade is also open to variation. The base liquid is usually white wine, beer, or red or white wine vinegar, and flavorings include a healthy amount of garlic and oregano (always); Chilean hot sauce and black pepper (most of the time); and some cumin and Chilean paprika called ají de color (often).

Overhead view of ribs
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I like it with all of these ingredients, with a strong emphasis on the garlic, hot sauce, and oregano. For the base, I’m a fan of vinegar. While I like the delicate fruitiness of white wine when cooked, I prefer vinegar for its ability to quickly tenderize the meat and marry the flavors so beautifully. Still, if you have the time to allow the more mild acidity of wine to work its tenderizing magic (about eight hours, in my experience), you can try it instead. It will not disappoint. 

When I made this in the States and didn’t have Chilean hot sauce available, I replaced it with sriracha. I compared labels and both have a very similar salt content, so no salt adjustments are necessary. Other similarly mild red hot sauces can be used as well, as long as you take into account the amount of salt another type of hot sauce might introduce and adjust as needed. My recipe uses six tablespoons of hot sauce for a medium level of spiciness, but feel free to add more or less to your taste. 

Pair these flavorful ribs with a more neutral side, as we do traditionally in Chile: Try plain, boiled potatoes with melted butter or the best mashed potatoes you can make, along with a simple green or tomato-based salad. And if you drink, it has to be red wine—this is Chilean food after all.

In a medium bowl, stir together vinegar, hot sauce, garlic, oregano, salt, paprika, cumin, and pepper.

Overhead view of mixing spices for ribs
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Place the ribs in a large zipper-lock bag; if ribs don't fit in the bag, divide it into sections that will fit. Pour the marinade in the bag, then seal while pressing out as much air as possible; turn bag to ensure ribs are evenly coated in marinade. Refrigerate at least 3 and up to 6 hours.

Two image collage of adding marinade to bag with ribs and shaking for even distribution
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Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 325℉ (160℃). Transfer ribs and marinade to a large baking dish and add 1 cup (237ml) water. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 1/2 hours.

Overhead view of ribs in marinate and water being added
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Remove dish from oven and increase oven temperature to 375℉ F (190℃). Being careful of hot steam, remove foil and, using a spoon, baste the ribs all over with cooking liquid. Return ribs to oven and cook, uncovered, basting once halfway through, until a paring knife inserts easily into the meat with slight resistance, the ribs are tender but not falling off the bone, the cooking liquid is reduced, and the ribs are lightly browned, 30 to 45 minutes. Slice racks into 2- or 3-rib sections and serve.

Four image collage of ribs finishing cooking and being served on a plate
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Special Equipment

Large baking dish, large zipper-lock bag

Notes

Make-Ahead and Storage

The fully cooked ribs will keep well in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, or in the freezer for up to 6 months. 

Pantrucas (Chilean Noodle Soup)

Pantrucas (Chilean Noodle Soup) is a comforting soup served piping hot and consisting of beef broth, fresh eggless noodles, and a balanced medley of spices and vegetables.

Overhead view of Pantrucas in two serving bowls and pot
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It amazes me that every culture seems to have its own version of a comforting broth and pasta soup. In Chile, our take is pantrucas: a hearty soup built on a beef or pork broth with potatoes, fresh eggless pasta, vegetables, and morsels of tender meat. The dish is often finished with beaten eggs whisked in for added body, garnished with abundant fresh cilantro—always chopped at the last moment—and served nonsensically hot, as if scalding one’s tongue was part of the recipe. Mainly cooked at home by older Chileans, this comforting soup is difficult to find in restaurants, except for traditional eateries in food markets, small cities, or the countryside.

Coming from the Mapudungun word “pangtruka,” meaning “soup made with dough pieces,” the recipe integrates the vegetable-laden traditional cooking of the indigenous Mapuche people with the extensive use of wheat flour brought by the Spanish. “Pantrucas” is both the name of the whole prepared dish and the word for the white, slippery noodles in it. In the singular form, a “pantruca” is each of the noodles, but funnily, also someone whose skin is extremely white. 

Side view of topping bowl of pantrucas
Serious Eats / Estudio Como. Food Styling by Valentina Gracia Aubel

The final touch of merken, a spicy, stone-ground seasoning made out of smoked, dried cacho de cabra peppers, coriander seeds, and sea salt, is also part of the Mapuche heritage. Pantrucas with merken is traditional in the central southern part of Chile, where I am from, (following the mapuche heritage that is still predominant in that region). I simply can’t have Chilean soups without merken. Its depth of flavor is hardly replaceable by other sources of heat. But in versions of the soup from Santiago and the surrounding central zone of Chile, merken is not used as an ingredient.The use of merken in my recipe is an excellent example of how because Chile is so long and diverse regarding climates and products, we often have many traditional recipes with slight variations in different regions. So while merken may not be used in pantrucas from Santiago and its surrounding central region, I encourage you to try this spicy, complex spice blend in my central southern Chilean-inspired pantrucas recipe, especially now that many sellers have it in the United States.

Pantrucas are one of those recipes we Chileans are made to believe only grandmas can properly make. The directions are just the starting point; devoting time, dedication, and love to it is key. However, some years ago I managed to discover another secret: Pantrucas is not just a dish made from scratch, but the consequence of something else—namely, leftovers. 

In Chilean cuisine, it is common to boil meats for lengthy periods: beef tongue, pork or beef shanks, beef short ribs, or a spicy pork concoction called arrollado, are left simmering for hours, undisturbed in properly seasoned water. Traditionally, it’s this rich, already perfect leftover broth that is the foundation for our pantruca soup: Discarding it would be criminal. Pieces of the simmered meats and seasonal vegetables, such as peas or green beans, are added to the hearty soup. 

Close up view of soup
Serious Eats / Estudio Como. Food Styling by Valentina Gracia Aubel

A traditional cooking method for the pantrucas, often used by older ladies, involves cutting long dough strands, hanging them in the non-dominant wrist or over a shoulder, then cutting them with the other hand, one by one, and throwing them into the boiling broth. I tried the method, and while romantic, it yields uneven cooking and is time consuming. But if you feel like truly impersonating a Chilean grandma, go for it. The recipe here involves first rolling the dough,then cutting the pantrucas, before adding them to the soup all at once.

While this soup may be labor-intensive to make, that comforting moment of nestling the hot bowl while breathing in the aromatic broth just before enjoying that first noodle-filled slurp will be well worth the effort.

For the Beef Broth: In a large stockpot, combine short ribs, carrots, celery, garlic, onion, bell pepper, peppercorns, bay leaf, and salt. Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, adjusting heat as needed to maintain simmer, until short rib meat is tender and can be pierced easily with a fork, 60 to 90 minutes. (If meat takes longer than 1 hour to cook, and excessive evaporation occurs, add more water as needed.)

Two image collage of vegetables and meat in a pot before and after cooking
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Using tongs, transfer meat to cutting board and let rest until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Strain broth through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large empty pot. Discard cooked vegetables. Skim excess fat from surface of the broth. Pick meat from bones, discarding excess membrane and fat, and dice meat into bite-sized pieces; set aside.

Two image collage of straining broth and meat cut up on a cutting board
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For the Pantrucas Dough: Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with a clean, lightly floured kitchen towel.

Overhead view of baking sheet covered with towel
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In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt. With a wooden spoon, stir in lukewarm water until combined and some lumps form. Knead dough in work bowl into a rough ball that separates from the bowl. Transfer dough to a floured working surface and knead until smooth and soft, 2 to 3 minutes. If dough feels too wet, dust lightly with flour as needed. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and rest for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.

Two image collage of kneading dough in work bowl and kneading on floured surface
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Cut rested dough into 3 equal sized pieces. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time (rewrap remaining dough), dust both sides lightly with flour, place cut side down on clean work surface, and press into a 3-inch square.

Overhead view of one section of dough formed into a 3-inch square
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Using a rolling pin, roll into a 6-inch square. Dust both sides of dough lightly with flour. Starting at center of square, roll dough away from you in 1 motion. Return rolling pin to center of dough and roll toward you in 1 motion. Repeat rolling steps until dough sticks to work surface and measures roughly 12 inches long.

Two image collage of rolling dough out
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Release dough from counter (if sticking) and lightly dust both sides of dough with flour. Roll dough out, frequently lifting to release from work surface, until it measures roughly 20 inches long and 6 inches wide. Dough should be comparable in thickness to lasagne sheets, or 1/32 to 1/16 inch thick (1 to 1 1/2mm).

Overhead view of dough rolled out
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Using a knife or a pasta wheel cutter, cut dough sheet into 1 to 1 1/2-inch squares or diamonds.Transfer to prepared sheet and cover with a clean cloth. Repeat rolling and cutting with remaining dough pieces, lightly dusting with flour between each layer of cut dough pieces to avoid sticking.

Overhead view of cutting noodles from dough
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For the Soup Base: In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add carrot, celery, garlic, onions, and bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add oregano, Chilean ají de color, cumin, salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour the reserved strained broth into the soup base.

Two image collage of overhead view of vegetables in pot and adding broth to vegetables
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Add potatoes and diced beef and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, adjusting heat as needed and stirring occasionally, until potatoes are almost cooked through but still meet slight resistance when poked with a paring knife, about 10 minutes.

Two image collage of adding potatoes and and meat to soup
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Add peas and return to a boil over medium-high heat. Gently stir in pantrucas, making sure they do not stick together, and return to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pantrucas are just tender, about 2 minutes. Add more water if needed to thin soup.

Overhead view of pantrucas being added to soup
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For Serving: Pour beaten eggs into hot soup while stirring it into the broth with a fork. (Pour and stir slowly to produce thin distinct egg ribbons, or pour and stir quickly for the egg to fully emulsify in soup and thicken broth.) Simmer until egg is cooked and broth turns slightly opaque, about 1 minute, Season with salt to taste. Portion into preheated individual soup bowls. Top each bowl with cilantro and a pinch of merken. Serve.

Two image collage of adding eggs to soup and garnishing a serving bowl
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Special Equipment

Large stock pot, fine-mesh strainer, large Dutch oven or second stock pot, rolling pin, wheel pasta cutter

Notes

For a vegan version, substitute homemade or store-bought vegetable stock, omit beef, double amount of peas, and omit the beaten eggs.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The cooked beef broth can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month. Store cooked beef separately and cut beef before adding to the soup.

The wrapped pantruca dough can be refrigerated for up to 48 hours. Bring to room temperature before rolling out and cutting the dough. 

Cut, raw pantrucas can be frozen: Spread them in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze until solid, then transfer frozen pantrucas to freezer bags and store frozen. Cook from frozen, adding 1 minute to cooking time.

Sopaipillas (Chilean Fried Pastries)

Sopaipillas (Chilean Fried Pastries) be served two ways: soaked in a spiced syrup for a comforting sweet treat, or served freshly fried and crispy with salsa.

Overhead view of sopaipillas with pebre
Serious Eats / Estudio Como. Food Styling by Valentina Gracia Aubel

A steaming bowl of sopaipillas pasadas—lightly salted fried dough soaked in a spiced dark syrup—is a potent childhood memory for many Chileans. Upon coming home from school in winter, soaked to the bone under a wind beaten umbrella, we would find our moms or grandmas frying the round, yellow, camote squash-based dough pieces, each one glowing like the missing sun. Sopaipillas pasadas is perhaps the most seasonal of the Chilean dishes: We only eat it in winter, and only when it rains. If it’s not raining, somehow, it just doesn't taste the same. 

Side view of eating sopaillas in syrup
Serious Eats / Estudio Como

That's why, along with the first rains of May or June, the whole country plans for the same activity: making sopaipillas pasadas at home. The French bulldog-sized zapallo camote squash, slowly ripened during Chile’s long summers and mild falls, starts being sold by the chunk in the food markets, cut by request with huge serrated knives specially crafted for the task. Meanwhile, chancaca—our version of panela, or cane sugar—flies off the grocery store shelves. While there are versions of sopaipillas made without zapallo camote squash in the dough, the kind I know and love best usually contain zapallo camote. 

Recipes for sopaipillas pasadas, and also a savory variant served with a salsa called pebre (I've included instructions for both sweet and savory preparations below), are passed down in families, and everyone defends their own way of shaping and piercing the sopaipilla dough; their own take on the sweetness, thickness, and spices on the chancaca syrup; and even whether you like them pasadas (steeped in the syrup) or savory.

Overhead view of topping sopaipilla with pebre
Serious Eats / Estudio Como. Food Styling by Valentina Gracia Aubel

If enjoyed savory, they are best served freshly fried, still crispy, and topped with spicy pebre salsa, made from tomatoes, onions, chile peppers, and more. Chilean restaurants will often serve the savory version of sopaipillas with pebre as an appetizer; an alternative to bread and butter, if you will. I love these squash-filled, doughy pastries served both sweet and savory. 

While I was living in the US and then in Denmark, I had to make do without my beloved Chilean pumpkin variety (zapallo camote) and chancaca (Chilean unrefined sugar). In my quest to recreate sopaipillas pasadas while away from home, I managed to find good replacements for these key ingredients. While butternut squash is less dense and less intensely flavored than Chile’s zapallo camote, I found that roasting butternut deepened and sweetened its flavor enough to approximate zapallo camote.

Side view of a sweet sopaipilla in a bowl
Serious Eats / Estudio Como

As Mari Uyehara points out in her guide to winter squash, roasting butternut squash “concentrates the squash’s flavor by evaporating moisture, converting its complex carbohydrates to sugars, then caramelizing those sugars.” This concentration in flavor and  transformation of the flesh to a creamy-smooth texture from roasting made it a great stand-in for my beloved camote. When it came to replacing the sweet, dark, and complex chancaca, I found panela or piloncillo to be worthy stand-ins. Both replacement options are made from raw cane sugar and have a complex sweet flavor profile similar to chancaca, but they are much lighter in color as they do not have the added molasses as chancaca has.

This recipe will fill your kitchen with the heartwarming aromas of the Chilean kitchen. Eat sopaipillas pasadas as a sweet treat with a cup of hot tea on a cool rainy day, or enjoy savory sopaipillas with pebre as a comforting snack.

For the Sopaipilla Dough:  Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 400°F (205°C).

On a rimmed baking sheet, brush butternut squash with oil and place cut side down on baking sheet. Roast, flipping squash to cut side up halfway through, until tender and golden brown at edges, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly, about 5 minutes.

Two image collage of brushing butternut squash with oil and after squash has been roasted
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Scoop 8 ounces cooked squash flesh and transfer to a food processor, high powered blender, or immersion blender jar. Save remaining roasted squash for another use. Process squash, scraping down sides of processor bowl as needed, until completely smooth, about 2 minutes.

Two image collage of scooping roasted squash into a food processor and squash after it's been processed in a bowl
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In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt until combined. Using a wooden spoon, stir in squash puree and melted shortening until combined and some lumps form.

Overhead view of adding squash to flour mixture
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 Stir in warm water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until a rough ball forms (total added water may range from 3 to 6 tablespoons).

Overhead view of dough in bowl
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Transfer dough to a clean work surface and gently knead by hand until dough feels smooth but still firm, 1 to 2 minutes; do not over-knead the dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest on counter for 15 minutes.

Overhead view of kneading dough
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 Unwrap and transfer sopaipilla dough to a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll dough into a 16-inch circle, about 1/4-inch thick. Using a 3-inch round cutter, cut circles from the dough.Transfer dough rounds to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Dough scraps may be gathered together, rerolled to a 1/4-inch thickness, and cut into more rounds. You should have about 26 dough rounds total.

Two image collage of rolling out dough and cutting discs out
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Using a fork, prick each dough round three times (making sure to poke all the way through the dough as this reduces dough from puffing too much while frying).

Overhead view of pricking dough with a fork
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Set wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. Line rack with a double layer of paper towels. In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat to 350°F (175°C). Gently place 5 sopaipillas in hot oil. Cook, adjusting burner as necessary to maintain oil temperature around 350°F (175°C) degrees, until golden brown on undersides, about 2 minutes. Using a spider skimmer, gently flip sopaipillas and fry until second sides are browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer sopaipillas to prepared rack. Return oil to 350°F and repeat with remaining sopaipillas in batches of 5 at a time.

Two image collage of frying sopaipillas and resting on wire racks
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For Sopaipillas Pasadas: In a large pot, stir together chancaca, granulated sugar, orange peels, cinnamon sticks, cloves and 1 1/2 quarts (1.4L) water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chancaca is dissolved.

Overhead view of ingredients for syrup in a pot
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Whisk cornstarch slurry to remix. Return syrup to a boil over high heat and pour cornstarch slurry into boiling syrup while whisking. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Adding a cornstarch slurry to syrup mixture
Serious Eats / Estudio Como

Transfer fried sopaipillas to the hot syrup. Soak sopaipillas until softened to desired consistency, 15 to 90 minutes (see notes). Return to a simmer before serving in individual bowls. Serve 2 to 4 sopaipillas per person with additional hot syrup ladled over top.

Two image collage of adding Sopaipillas to syrup and spooning into bowl
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For Sopaipillas with Pebre: In a medium bowl, stir together all the pebre ingredients and season with salt to taste. Let stand at room temperature until flavors meld and vegetables begin to soften, about 20 minutes. Serve pebre alongside freshly fried and crispy sopaipillas.

Two image collage of pembre, unmixed and mixed
Serious Eats / Estudio Como

Special Equipment

Rolling pin, 3-inch round cutter (any cookie cutter, pasta cutter, or sturdy drinking glass ranging in size from 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches will work in this recipe), spider skimmer, Dutch oven

Notes

Chancaca is made from raw sugar and molasses from sugar beets, whereas panela and piloncillo are made from just raw cane sugar. While all 3 are very close in flavor, chancaca is much darker in color. 

For the sopaipillas pasadas, the final soaking time in Step 12 is a large range to reflect personal preference of how softened you choose the fried pastry to be. Some prefer their sopaipillas lightly soaked, while others will soak them overnight, until the sopaipillas almost dissolve into the syrup. Find your own preferred level. 

If you can’t find good tomatoes in the middle of the winter, do as we do in Chile and replace tomatoes with diced green onions or leeks: a perfect pebre de invierno.

Merken is a smoky, spicy seasoning made by the indigenous Mapuche people in central-southern Chile. If unable to find, just omit from the recipe.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Dough can be made up to 4 hours ahead, covered with plastic wrap, and kept at room temperature until ready to use. Alternatively, dough can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring dough to room temperature before shaping.

Cut sopaipilla dough rounds can be frozen while still raw, then stored flat in freezer bags or containers, separated by parchment paper. Thaw completely before frying. 

Syrup can be cooked through step 10 and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week. When ready to use, bring to a simmer in a large pot and continue with the cornstarch slurry in Step 11. 

Pebre can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 day.

Pequenes (Chilean Onion Empanadas)

These Chilean onion empanadas have a savory onion filling wrapped in a flaky empanada crust

Overhead view of finish pequenes
Serious Eats / Estudio Como. Food Styling by Valentina Gracia Aubel

In Chile, we enjoy empanadas in a variety of ways: baked or fried; small or large; at the dinner table or as a street food; with sweet fillings like pear puree or with savory fillings like cheese or razor clams. The most popular version is the empanada de pino, a big baked empanada filled with a mixture of onion and a beef stew called pino (pino comes from the indigenous Mapuche word for "filling," or "stew"). 

While the popular empanada de pino is delicious, I think the lesser known onion-filled empanada called pequén deserves just as much attention. This meatless empanada is filled with a stewed onion mixture that is seasoned with cumin, aji de color (the local paprika), and, optionally, hot sauce. Their unique and specific folding technique is meant to resemble the shape of the Chilean Pequen owl’s angular and pointy face, which is where the recipe name comes from.

Overhead view of Pequenes
Serious Eats / Estudio Como. Food Styling by Valentina Gracia Aubel

The most common version is baked, but you can find fried versions sold in the food markets in Chile, usually for breakfast or early lunch. Pequenes’ humble and accessible ingredients made them popular in times of economic crisis and scarcity during the last century, when beef was considered a luxury item.

There was a time in the 1990’s and early 2000’s when pequenes were less readily available in bakeries and restaurants, but these days they are experiencing a strong comeback among recipe bloggers and home cooks, possibly because they are a traditional Chilean vegetarian dish in a time when interest in meatless cooking is growing. Whatever the reasons for pequenes' resurgence, I enjoy them for their nostalgic value. They remind me of my grandmother with every bite.

Before the pandemic, my husband and I lived in Copenhagen for a few years. September was the time of year when we most missed home (and Chilean food), as September 18th is Chilean independence day, a celebration involving the consumption of dozens of empanadas de pino. My homesickness instilled in me a profound need to make empanadas while living abroad.

In my time living away, I have a memory of listening to the song “Violeta Ausente” by the Chilean folk singer Violeta Parra. I remember hearing the lyrics, and feeling a deep connection to her experiences. She wrote this song while living in France back in the 1960’s and in the song she questions her decision to ever have left Chile (much like I did during the long, dark Danish winters). Violeta, who was a great traditional cook, goes on to explain that the one thing she truly wishes to do is “to go to the market and eat a pequén.” Her lyrics inspired me to create my own recipe for pequén while I was living away from home.

Around the same time, my abuelita (grandma), Techy—whose empanadas were famous—passed away. After shedding many tears, I decided to make, for the first time, two dozen pequenes, using her recipe for empanada dough, while masochistically listening to Violeta’s song on a loop. 

Overhead view of the inside of a pequenes
Serious Eats / Estudio Como. Food Styling by Valentina Gracia Aubel

It was magic: Just by touching the warm, soft dough, I instantly felt better. I was again at my grandma's table, eating one of the great meals she used to cook. And these new-for-me meatless empanadas turned out lovely, lighter than the beef-based ones I was more familiar with cooking. The simple pequenes, besides being absolutely delicious, turned bitter homesickness into a calm, almost enjoyable nostalgia: a feeling I could embrace. 

My abuelita’s recipe for empanada dough, which she learned as a child from her grandma, is the same I share here. It is important to note that the wheat-based, high-fat empanada dough is not merely an efficient container for a flavorful filling, it is just as important as the filling inside. I have tried other empanada dough recipes that use less fat or fewer eggs, and other recipes that don’t take the time and care to stretch the dough while still warm, but none are as wonderful as my abuelita’s recipe. Her empanada dough is slightly salty, rich, and supple enough to be stretched thin without tearing, and sturdy enough to not leak any juicy filling while baking.

Overhead view of stretching dough
Serious Eats / Estudio Como

I have to admit to making two changes to her recipe. First, instead of using 100% shortening or lard, I use a mixture of half lard and half butter. The water content in the butter steams and puffs the dough while it bakes to create a flakier crust, while a good quality lard provides rich flavor and sturdy structure. 

The second change I made is offering substitutions for the Chilean pisco my abuelita called for in her recipe. During different periods of living abroad—first in Columbus, Ohio, and then in Denmark—I was not always able to find Chilean pisco that her recipe requires. As it turns out, Peruvian pisco or vodka are both good replacements. 

Through practice, I have found that temperature control is what makes this recipe work. You must keep the dough warm, and at the same time you have to keep the filling cold. Making the dough with hot water and hot melted fat not only produces a pliable and resilient result, but also keeps the dough slightly warm for folding time. If the dough becomes too cold before shaping, it will stiffen up, making folding and pinching the dough challenging. Of course, if you are making dough ahead of time, even freezing it, there are ways to ensure that it is perfectly warm and soft before assembling empanadas (see my grandma's trick in the notes section below).

 Making the filling is a simpler process. The onions, fat, aromatics, and spices like Chilean aji de color and cumin are cooked down together until the flavors meld and the onions are soft and transparent. To ensure the filling is firm and doesn’t leak out while baking, it's best to briefly freeze it for 30 minutes before assembling the pequenes. This prevents the filling from boiling inside the empanada while baking, which can cause juices to escape the empanadas and dry them out.

A perfect Chilean empanada should be juicy and even drip down your wrist—but only once you’ve taken the first bite, not before. Enjoy these pequenes as we do in Chile: Still hot, by hand, and with a small tumbler of a simple, medium-bodied Chilean red wine.

For the Pequenes Filling: In a large nonstick pan or medium Dutch oven, heat lard over medium heat until melted and shimmering. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and transparent, about 15 minutes.

Overhead view of cooking onions
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Add ají de color, cumin, salt, hot sauce (if using), and freshly ground black pepper to taste and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Using a wooden spoon, add flour into onion mixture and cook stirring frequently until no lumps remain, about 2 minutes.Stir in broth and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced and onion mixture is almost dry, 10 to 20 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

Two image collage of adding mixture to onions and onions cooked in pan
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Transfer onion mixture to bowl and let cool slightly, then refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Overhead view of cooked onions in a bowl
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 For the Empanada Dough: In a small saucepan, melt butter and shortening over medium heat until hot (130 to 140°/55 to 60°C).

Overhead view of butter and shortening in a pan
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In a big mixing bowl, thoroughly whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder. Make a well in center of flour mixture and add half of the hot water, half of the melted hot fat mixture, and half of the eggs. Using a wooden spoon, stir vigorously until combined and small lumps form. Add remaining water, fat mixture, eggs, and pisco and stir vigorously until rough dough ball forms and separates from the bowl. 

Four image collage of overhead view of forming dough in bowl by adding eggs, oil and stirring
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Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand until smooth, and still warm, about 3 minutes.

Overhead view of hands kneading dough on a floured surface
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Wrap with with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place for 15 minutes (see notes).

Overhead view of dough wrapped in plastic
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To Assemble: Before filling the pequenes, par-freeze onion filling until firm, 15 to 30 minutes (see notes). Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 475°F (245°C).

Overhead view of onion filling in a bowl
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Cut dough into 12 equal pieces (4 1/2 ounces;125g each). 

Overhead view of dough cut into 12 pieces
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Working with 1 piece of dough at a time (keep remaining dough pieces covered and warm), dust dough piece lightly with flour and roll into a ball on a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll into a 9 1/2-inch (24cm) round (1/16-inch thick). Do not worry if disc is not perfect; edges will be trimmed later.

Overhead view of dough rolled out into a disc
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 Place 3 tablespoons (about 3 ounces; 85g) cold onion filling in lower center half of dough round. Using pastry brush, lightly brush outer 1-inch edge of dough round with milk. Fold dough over filling (without stretching the dough), pressing gently on the border to seal the edges. It should look like a half moon. Don’t worry if some air is trapped inside, as empanadas will be pricked before baking.

Four image collage of filling and folding pequenes
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Using a pasta wheel or pizza cutter, trim excess dough to form a 3/4-inch (2cm) dough border. Lightly brush milk over sealed edge. Using your fingers, make 4 evenly spaced folds of the dough border inward towards the filling: 2 from the corners towards the sides of the empanada, and then 2 in the center. Folds should slightly overlap and form a V (as shown in the image). Using your index finger, press firmly in the corners where foldings meet. Repeat with remaining dough pieces and filling.

Four image collage of trimming pequenes and crimping edges closed
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Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Arrange the pequenes on the prepared sheets, spacing them at least 1 inch apart. Re-whisk egg wash to recombine and brush pequenes with egg wash. Using a toothpick or tip of paring knife, prick tops of pequenes for ventilation.

Two image collage of applying egg wash and poking pequenes
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Bake one sheet tray at a time, rotating once halfway through, until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and repeat with remaining baking sheet. Let the pequenes cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Overhead view of cooked Pequenes
Serious Eats / Estudio Como

Special Equipment

Kitchen scale, rolling pin, pasta wheel cutter or pizza cutter, pastry brush, bench scraper

Notes

It is common for pequenes to leak juices while baking. However, this can be avoided by keeping the filling very cold during assembly. Chilling the onion mixture in the freezer for 15 to 30 minutes before assembling ensures the pequenes will not leak. If filling becomes warm, chill in the freezer while assembling.

It is important to keep the empanada dough warm and malleable for easier shaping. To keep the dough warm, try my late Abuelita’s trick: keep the covered dough in a bowl on an inverted lid of a stockpot half full of simmering water.

When shaping the pequenes, always fold the dough edge inward towards the body of the empanada. The inspiration behind this specific folding technique is to resemble the shape of the Chilean Pequen owl’s angular and pointy face, which is where the recipe name comes from.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The onion filling can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 2 months.