Empanada Mania

They may not be the next cupcake — yet.

But empanadas, those tasty half-moon-shaped, filled hand-pies, sure are now turning up in a lot of places in the Bay Area.

Andres Franklin, 38, grew up eating empanadas in his native Puerto Rico. For years, he also made them at his Bay Area home for friends and family, using his Mom’s recipe.

In Puerto Rico, he could easily satisfy his empanada cravings anytime, anywhere. In the Bay Area? Not so much.

Whenever he’d go out for a quick lunch during work, he’d find plenty of sushi, sandwiches and burritos — but never empanadas. So, the Haas School of Business grad, who went on to be senior director of development for LeapFrog for five years, gave up the corporate life this past January to launch his own food company, Mas Empanadas.

For a month, he worked with San Francisco Chef Joey Altman to perfect dough and fillings for these baked empanadas, which are designed to be large  enough so that one makes for a satisfying meal on the go.

The first week, Franklin sold 24 empanadas to cafes and grocery stores. Two months later, he was up to nearly 800 sales a week.

Now, you can find his 11 different empanadas (savory ones such as roasted chicken and sweet ones such as a pineapple-mango-banana-coconut one) at Real Food Company locations in San Francisco and Sausalito; Blue Fog markets in San Francisco, Apollo Cafe in San Francisco, and Mill Valley Market in Mill Valley.

The empanadas are made fresh four days a week at a commercial kitchen in San Rafael. At 5 a.m., a cook starts making them all by hand. By 1 p.m., Franklin is loading up his car to personally deliver them to wholesale outlets, which sell them to the public for about $5 each.

At grocery stores, you’ll find them in the refrigerated deli case. If you take them home, just reheat for 7 minutes at 350 degrees to warm and crisp them.

Franklin was kind enough to let me try some samples. The crust is sturdy, but tender on these empanadas, which have a good amount of filling inside each one. The ground beef criollo tasted very traditional with its slightly spicy filling of lean ground beef, onion, red bell pepper, tomato, and cilantro. The spinach-artichoke-chard empanada has a filling as green as pesto, with nice chunks of artichoke hearts.

My favorite was the onion-Gorgonzola, not a typical empanada filling, but fabulous nonetheless. Sweet caramelized onions mixed with gooey, pungent cheese can’t be beat. Kids of all ages are sure to love the apple cinnamon one with chocolate. Soft apples, drenched in melty chocolate with a touch of warm spice make this a cut above your typical apple turnover.

Franklin is working crazy hours to grow his fledgling business. But he couldn’t be happier to be creating his own business where he can work with his hands, engage with people face-to-face, and use his first language, Spanish.

“I get to live my culture, professionally,” he says. “That’s the crux of it. I get to create something that every day reminds me of my childhood and homeland.”

While Mas Empanadas sells wholesale to stores and cafes, El Porteno is cornering Bay Area farmers markets with its Argentinian empanadas.

Owner Joey Ahearne makes six different empanadas, based on his mother’s recipes, which he sells at farmers markets in Santa Clara, Burlingame, San Mateo, Oakland, and Marin County. They also are available at San Francisco’s year-round Inner Sunset Sunday farmers market, located in the parking lot between 8th and 9th avenues, that’s only a short drive from the Laurel Inn.

These empanadas are smaller, about the size of your palm, with a much different crust — one that’s super flaky and buttery, practically like pastry. They sell for $3.50 each.

Recently, I bought two to try at my local farmers market. The “jamon y queso” was a nice mix of prosciutto with fontina, though it contained only one rather skimpy slice of the luscious cured ham. The “pollo,” made with Fulton Valley chicken, had a much more generous filling. The blend of tender chicken, chorizo, raisins and olives had a bold, satisfying savory-sweet-salty flavor.

El Porteno also makes a dessert empanadita filled with bananas and homemade dulce de leche ($1.75), which I’m itching to try the next time I’m at the farmers market, as well as alfajores, those lovely cookie sandwiches filled with dulce de leche or quince paste ($1.50 each).

Empanadas — the next cupcake?

We should be so lucky.

More: My Q&A with Chef Joey Altman

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  • Wonderful, flaky empanadas. We had these in Chile a few years ago and were hooked.

  • It’s funny you mention “the next cupcake?” I would say right now tart yogurt is the current version of that. Although, I also don’t think it’s always a good thing when things blow up in the way cupcake bakeries have. Some of the cupcakes are fantastic and others are just subpar, as if people were trying to get in on a trend but didn’t quite have the best product.

  • I love empanadas– I will have to look for both these kinds. They look divine!

  • I just had El Porteno empanadas last week and oh. mah. gah. they are good. Not diet food, but good.

  • Wonderful looking empanadas! I have yet to make them at home, maybe soon!

  • My hubby asks me to make them each time for parties because they are such a hit!

  • I have been obsessing over empanadas ever since I went to Argentina on my honeymoon. I’ve been making them at home, but long to find a recipe that replicates the flaky dough and quinoa filled ones that I have in Salta, Argentina.

  • I love a good empanada. I love to pick up a dozen at a Chilean market when I’m too busy to cook for a potluck.

  • wow those photos iare gogeous, now making me craving for one! just anyone will do as they are so lovely! 😉

  • I love empanadas but don’t get them that often. And when I make them at home, I end up with tons! (Just like baking.) I think for empanadas to be the next cupcake, they have to be more creative with the filling and really go gourmet in order for it to become a craze. El Porteno’s empanadas are the best I’ve had in the city so far.

  • These remind me of curry puffs back home. I love those with flaky pastry. Beautiful pictures.

  • These look wonderful. I’ll have to be on the alert for them next time I shop. I currently make ours and it is a lot of work. I hope you are having a wonderful day. Blessings…Mary

  • I like the idea of empanadas becoming the next cupcake! This makes me want to try making some at home.

  • I’ve never had an empanada. After reading this post I want about a half dozen right now!

  • what a great endeavor–i’m glad mr franklin found, nay, earned success! the dessert empanada sounds great, as does the notion that these adorable and tasty little packages will soon be the next craze!

  • that 2nd to last shot? made my heart skip a beat–that’s like perfect color-crust.
    i think you’re on to something: empanada joints just might be opening soon….or trucks to start with you know?

  • Carolyn, I am so ready for empanadas to be the next cupcake! What’s not to like, delicious pastry and fantastic fillings and a dessert one? Be still my heart! 🙂

  • These look delicious!! You are to blame for my sudden empanada craving- but more importantly, where can I get one, like, tonight around Palo Alto??? 🙂

  • Oh my, I adore empanadas. Looks great@!

  • hope to try them all one day. A new one coming in mid June or so is Themmoon in downtown SJ:

  • Ann: Wow, ANOTHER empanada place! Thanks for the tip on the new SJ one. Gee, me thinks at this rate that empanadas WILL be the next cupcake for sure. 😉

  • Love empanadas, I was surprised when I moved to the Bay Area that they were not more popular but that’s certainly not the case anymore. They are very popular back in DC, there’s a local chain called Julia’s Empanadas but I think the places you described have more options

  • These look delicious: wish I had the recipes, though I bet they aren’t easy to get right!

  • This all looks great, really. But, with a bow to authentic (er, or more traditional) empanadas, these featured are really just pies. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Like I could find in New Zealand, Australia or the UK. Except they don’t perloin and dilute the meaning of the name. It’s all good, but after dozens of visits to South America, I just can’t call them empanadas, sorry. I’ll eat ’em all anyway though.

  • You know what? I have not tried empanadas but like what MaryMoh said, they certainly look like the curry puffs in Malaysia/Singapore. The fillings are basically chicken curry(with potatoes) and sometimes, small discernible pieces of hard-boiled eggs 🙂 …I tried making them in the Bay Area before when I was missing them.

  • You find sweet or savory filling encased in dough or pastry anywhere in the world you visit. For ex-colonies of Spain, they are called empanadas. In Uruguay, Argentina and Chile the casing is usually wheat flour dough and as you go up the continent you find more wrappers made out of corn flour which is the case in Colombia.

    The Argentine empanada you featured uses a really flaky crust that looks like puff pastry. I think that that is extra-special because while traveling in Buenos Aires, Cordoba and Mendoza three years ago I did not come across one shop that featured puff pastry empanadas and I was actually looking because I operate an empanada shop in Toronto featuring Filipino empanada which when traditionally prepared should be flaky and should look like Italian sfogliatelle.

  • Lived for 5 years in South Florida–and am a total empanada convert…

  • I have had the full selection of the Mas Empanadas offerings and they are superb. One will carry you through a lunch or mid-afternoon pang. The traditional spicy chicken and the gorgonzola are off the hook. Good to see people sharing their cultural heritage especially when it is so delicious – and local.

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  • Actually in Puerto Rico there are called empanadilla, I guess the term empanada is used in El Porteño since it is of common use in Latin America and the US.

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