When I die, I hope my friends and family make pumpkin empañadas to put on my alter for the Day of the Dead. I’m teaching my son how to make them and since he’s a fall baby, I made them for his birthday treat to take to his kindergarten class. I normally make pumpkin empañadas for the Day of the Dead. This squash like fruit has its roots here in North America and particularly in Mexico, where the holiday originates. So, making pumpkin empañadas during this time encapsulates a little bit of history, tradition, and love.

This is a sugar pumpkin, which is the best to use for baking and cooking.

I prefer to use a sugar pumpkin for any of my pumpkin related baked goods. First of all it’s smaller, so less scooping and messiness. Second, it has a bit of a sweeter taste than the jack-o-lantern variety. Thirdly, it’s called a sugar pumpkin, um cute!

Straight out of the oven and fully cooked pumpkin

Remember to preheat your oven from anywhere to 375-400 deg f* depending on the size of your pumpkin. Usually there is a little sticker on your squash with baking directions. I cut my pumpkin in half and with a sturdy spoon, scoop out all of the seeds and strings. If you like pumpkin seeds, then fill a bowl with water and throw your pumpkin seeds in there for a couple of minutes to wash off. Place your pumpkin halves face down and fill the pan with one inch of water. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Check tenderness after 35 minutes by poking the skin with a fork.

Pumpkin Mash!

Once the pumpkin has cooled in its shell, squeeze or spoon out the flesh into a bowl. Get a masher or a large fork and mash away any remaining lumps. If you have a food processor and would like a smooth mash, then pulse away!

Sugar and Spice!

Pumpkin empañadas require little seasoning. Simply add some brown sugar (or piloncillo if you have it around), ground cinnamon, and a pinch of salt.

Pumpkin and spices

Scoop out 2 cups of mash (a sugar pumpkin will usually make about 2 cups of mash) and add sugar and spices.

stir it up

Give the filing a good stir to incorporate all the ingredients. It’ll start to smell AMAZING!

Get the juices out.

I like to strain the pumpkin (usually prior to adding the sugar and spices) to get out all of the extra liquid. You don’t want to have a lot of excess liquid in your filling. It’ll make it harder and messier to fill empañadas later.

Get your dough ready!

Now that your filling is ready, get your dough out of the fridge to start rolling out little rounds. This recipe has been doubled. Having small chunks of butter visible is a good thing! You don’t want to over blend your butter into the flour mixture.

Making dough is so rewarding. Oh the little things in life!
Don’t add to much filling or they will BURST in the oven!

Doubling your dough recipe should make about 24 medium to large sized rounds. If you’re like me and like to use every last bit of dough, then you can stretch it out to make about 40 small ones. Make sure not to add too much filling. You only want to add about a tablespoon to small rounds and about 2 tablespoons for the medium to large rounds. Holding the round in your hand and adding the filling will help you gauge the right amount.

Little pockets of AWESOMENESS!

Make sure to have a small bowl of water near by to rub around one edge of the dough to ensure a tight seal. You can use a pastry cutter, a fork, or crimp the dough to make a decorative edge.

My oldies but goodies!

Keep a baking tray near so you can place all your finished empañadas directly onto it. Once they are all stuffed and sealed, brush the tops with an egg wash, and place the whole tray directly into the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes prior to baking. A cold pastry bakes the best! Have the oven pre-heated to 350 f deg and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Take out of the oven and wait a few minutes before eating or else you’ll burn your mouth! I usually place them onto a cooling rack and then munch away after 10 minutes!

Pumpkin Empañada Filling

makes about 2 cups of filling


  • 2 cups fresh, or canned, pumpkin mash
  • 1/4-1/2 cup brown sugar
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • 1-2 tsp ground cinnamon ( you can always add nutmeg, clove, or ginger to the mixture too! )

Measure and place all ingredients into a bowl. Mix well. Place in the fridge until ready to use. Filling can last for up to a week in the fridge.


Edible History

Growing up in the Central Valley of California, I was surrounded by a culturally diverse population. My friends were mostly children of immigrant parents coming from Cambodian, Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, Laotian, Central and South American, European, and Hmong backgrounds. I was always invited to family parties where food was the main guest. My neighborhood was the melting pot of culture and food. It’s hard to talk about one culture without mentioning a traditional dish. Today, when I meet a person from a particular culture I immediately start talking about the food. It’s the best way to make a person feel comfortable and at home.

Now that I’ve made you feel at home, I’m going to talk about the Empanada. It is one of my favorite things to make, eat, and share with others. Every Latin country from Mexico to Argentina make some sort of hand held pastry of flour or corn covering a sweet or savory filling that is baked or deep fried. I was familiar with the sweet empanadas. More like I had a love affair with them. I was the overweight little brown girl staring hopelessly at the baked goods in the Panderia section of Don Juan’s or La Perla Tapatia (Hispanic grocery stores) while my mom picked out the freshest carnitas and tortillas for lunch. There was pumpkin (my favorite), custard, apple, and pineapple. Oh, the decisions!

My Favorite! Pumpkin Empanadas. I make them every year during the Day of the Dead celebrations.

My first time making empanadas was many years ago on the 18th of September (Chilean Independence Day), with one of my best friends and her Chilean family. Having only eaten sweet empanadas, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they made savory meat ones. I realized very quickly not to discriminate against any empanada. We would be making the pino version, which were filled with beef cooked with lots of onions and cumin, hard boiled eggs, olives, and raisins. Some were baked in the oven and others were deep fried (oh my!!!). It took sometime to learn how to stuff and seal the delicious little pastries without them popping or cracking open, but overtime and many 18th of Septembers, I was finally able to make them on my own. It also helped to have my friend’s mom guide me along the way.

Getting ready to make empanadas Chilean style!

I like to think of the empanada as a Latin American cultural icon or even as a survival from colonialism. During the conquest of the New World, the Spanish introduced many new food items to the existing cultures, and vice versa, later becoming part of the modern Latin American culinary identity. Since no women were on the initial explorations, I imagine the indigenous women of Mesoamerica being the first makers of what we now know of as the empanada. They combined their local ingredients with the Spanish tradition to create a mestizaje of food, race, and culture. The word empanada comes from the spanish verb ’empanar’ or ‘to coat with bread’ and that’s just what the Spanish did to the New World. The Old World and New World might have had centuries of social, political, and economic struggle, but when it comes to food they mixed incredibly well. The empanada is the edible Latin American cultural icon where you can taste a little bit of history in each bite.

I’m just like the empanada!
Edible History