I have lately become interested in the culinary phenomenon of foods wrapped in dough and baked or fried. They seem to be present in nearly every culture, and it’s no surprise. I think they were probably the first form of convenience food: a meal you could hold in your hand, was easily portable, and could be easily reheated.
In Italy, you have the calzone & stromboli. in England & Michigan, the pasty (rhymes with nasty). In Latin America, you have the empanada. In Jamaica, you have the patty. In the Middle East and Northerm Afrca, you have the sambusac. In India and South Asia, you have the samosa. In Germany, the strudel. In Eastern Europe, the knish. In the United States, you have the turnover, and of course, in the freezer section of your local grocery store, the Hot Pocket.
Fascinating, isn’t it? The recipes and ingredients of these items vary greatly, but the basic construction is the same. Roll out some dough. Pile on the filling. Fold over and crimp the edges. Bake it or fry it. Eat it now, or stick it in your lunch box for later. Reheat it, or eat it cold.
You can fill it with savory ingredients such as meat, vegetables and cheese. Or you can make it sweet with fruit, nuts and lots of sugar. McDonalds has the apple pie version down to a science. There are breakfast versions too, with egg, sausage, bacon, etc.
So now, I’m learning to make my own. With a basic dough recipe and endless combinations of fillers, I’m excited to embark on this learning experience. Last week, I made some dough, rolled it out and cut it into 8” circles. I layered those with wax paper and stuck them in a container in the freezer. I was delighted to find that they thaw almost immediately once out of the freezer. By the time I was done making my filler, they were flexible enough to fold and pinch. I did find that the top dough circle had dried out a bit, since it wasn’t covered in wax paper. So I had to dampen it with water in order to get the edges to stick together. They also peeled easily off the wax paper, so that was a good guess on my part.
My first attempt was at my husband’s request – cheeseburger. I made a basic beef, egg & breadcrumb mix, added ketchup mustard & onion, then browned it in a pan. Once it was cooked, I divided it among the dough circles, added half a slice of American cheese and two pickle slices to each. I actually put the finished (but unbaked) pockets in the refrigerator wrapped in wax paper and baked them the next day. At 400 for 30 minutes on our pizza stone, they came out beautiful and toasted. Aaron enjoyed them and said he’d eat them again. The only change he suggested was to add the ketchup and mustard to it after the beef has been cooked, since the flavor seemed to blend with the meat and he couldn’t really taste the ketchup. I thought they were a little heavy on the egg and breadcrumbs and tasted more like meatloaf than burgers, so next time I’ll cut back on those to let the beef flavor shine through more.
Ultimately, I was impressed by how easy this was. I’ve always been afraid of making pastry dough, but I’m not sure why. I guess it was one of those things I thought only grandmas and serious bakers could pull off correctly. But mine turned out pretty well. I got the dough recipe from the recipe I used for cobbler, but left out the sugar. The texture was nice, not flaky, but durable enough to hold the meat without being too chewy.
Making the beef mixture was easy, and the assembly only took a little trial and error. I’d say that trying to do the whole thing all at once – making dough, cooking the beef, assembling and baking – would probably take a lot of time and be frustrating. But by doing it in steps over time, and storing the ingredients in the fridge and freezer, it becomes less overwhelming. If I make a batch of dough on the weekend, and maybe cook the beef ahead of time, it would make the process easier for doing after work. And if I go ahead and assemble them in the morning before I leave for work, or at night before bed, I can have Aaron toss them in the oven before I get home, so we can eat even earlier (always a good thing to me!).
Next, I hope to try the Jamaican patty version, with curry, thyme and pepper. It’s been years since I had a real Jamaican patty, so I probably won’t know if I’ve gotten it “right,” but if it tastes good, I’ll consider that success on some level. Here’s the recipe I plan on using:
Aaron’s next request is a pizza pocket, with sauce, cheese and pepperoni. Then after that I’d like to try an empanada of some sort, probably starting with the Chilean variety, which I know I like and can make the filling (it’s pretty much the same ingredients as pastel de choclo).
Here are some pics of my very first pockets: