The most important ingredient when making anything with harina de maíz, is not the flour itself, but the water. The most common mistake in using it, is in making too dry of a dough, resulting in overly lacy edges cracked edges and dense, chewy and flavorless tortillas.
This is a mistake I’ve made myself, having in the past worked only with freshly made masa. Being dehydrated fresh masa, clearly, the key to coaxing the flavor out of harina de maíz (instant corn masa flour, or maseca), is all in adding enough water.
Working with harina de maíz, or instant corn masa flour:
Use the hottest water you can tolerate to hand mix the dough. The dough is easy to mix, and while using a mixer is always acceptable, in this case, it is unnecessary.
Dissolve the salt into the water before mixing, to aid in absorption.
The dough should have enough moisture to stick to your hand, but cleanly separate. It should be able to roll smooth and flatten without excessively separating at the edges.
If too much moisture is added the dough will not cleanly separate from the plastic used to line the tortilla press.
Dough made from corn flour will dry out very quickly. Maintain it covered with a damp kitchen towel. It is helpful to work a small amount of water into portions before shaping by dampening the hands lightly and kneading in. It is also helpful to work quickly.
Making the empanadas:
As these empanadas will be fried, it is best for them to be rounded on both sides.
To do this, hold the tortilla in the non-dominant hand. Place the filling in the center, and fold closed. Use the dominant hand to pinch the edge close.
Unlike wheat flour based empanadas, empanadas de maíz do not take a decorative edge well, as the dough lacks the tensile strength. The edge may be trimmed with a fluted rotary cutter (Sur La Table sells an excellent one), or pressed with a fork.
Use more oil than seems necessary when frying, as some will be absorbed during the cooking process.
Empanadas de Maíz
- 2 cups harina de maíz (instant masa corn flour or maseca)
- 13 fl. ounces warm water, more as needed
- 1 tsp coarse salt
- Approx. 3 cups of desired filling
Dissolve the salt into the hot water.
Place the instant masa corn flour into a bowl and make a well i. Pour the water in, working it into the flour. Mix very well, until the dough feels smooth, and separates cleanly from the bowl.
Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap or a very lightly damp kitchen towel, and allow to rest for 10 to allow for full hydration.
Divide into 8 even portions, approximately 2″ round in size. Roll smooth. If the dough begins to dry out quickly, wet palms and work into each portion immediately before pressing.
Flatten with a tortilla press lined with thick plastic sheets or parchment paper. To flatten, place in the center, press lightly, rotate the tortilla 180º, and press again.
While holding the tortilla in one hand, still on the plastic or parchment paper, place approximately 1/3 cup of filling in the center. Close the tortilla, distributing the filling while forming the half-moon shape. Press the edges closed.
To prevent drying out while working, cover with a lightly damp kitchen towel.
Fry the empanadas in enough oil for them to float. Cook until golden brown on each side. Drain on paper towels.