Pampeana Epanadas sells a variety of hot, freshly baked empanadas at area farmers markets. You can also buy frozen shells so you can fill and bake your own.

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HAND-HELD filled pastries are a phenomenon that solves many problems: there’s no need for silverware, the pastry keeps the filling warm and they’re not (too) messy. Usually filled with simple ingredients, they can be baked, boiled, steamed or fried.

Before modern America came up with Hot Pockets and Pop-Tarts, the rest of the world had been enjoying handmade, homemade delicacies such as pasties, piroshkies, pierogies, borek, calzones, samosas, spanakopita, dumplings, bao, lumpia and empanadas for centuries.

Empanada means “wrapped in bread” in Spanish, and they’re a popular part of Latin cuisine. The outer pastry can be lean, like thinly rolled bread dough, or rich like puff pastry. The fillings, which vary greatly by origin, are usually savory but can also be sweet.

About 10 years ago, Nancy Oltman’s daughter Alexis returned from an extended stay in Buenos Aires with an Argentine chef boyfriend named Lalo. He taught them to make empanadas that were so good Nancy suggested, on a lark, they sell them. She had recently retired after 25 years at Weyerhaeuser and was looking for a new challenge.

Nancy Oltman, owner of Pampeana Empanadas, sells empanadas at the University District Farmers Market. (Lindsey Wasson/The Seattle Times)
Nancy Oltman, owner of Pampeana Empanadas, sells empanadas at the University District Farmers Market. (Lindsey Wasson/The Seattle Times)

Today Lalo lives in Europe, but they’re all still friends, and Nancy and Alexis’ business is called Pampeana Empanadas. They sell a variety of hot, freshly baked empanadas at the University District and West Seattle farmers markets in Seattle and at the Proctor and Broadway farmers markets in Tacoma, and Metropolitan Market sells them ready to reheat in the deli section. Pampeana also sells frozen shells at the farmers markets so you can fill and bake your own empanadas.

Nancy has heard from customers about empanadas made with everything from Thanksgiving leftovers to a recent report of beets, kale and goat cheese. The Oltmans make everything from scratch in a commercial kitchen in Tacoma with a small team of employees, using as many ingredients from the farmers markets as they can.

Apple and dulce de leche empanadas

The rich and buttery empanada shells from Pampeana Empanadas bake up flaky and moist, and are so delicious that I’d eat them empty. But if you can’t get them, use the best quality puff pastry you can find — just roll it out to two-thirds of its original thickness and cut 5-inch circles. Chill the cut dough before filling.

1½ pounds Fuji apples (or any variety you like that will keep some texture when cooked)

1½ teaspoons cinnamon

Small pinch ground cloves

1/3 cup dulce de leche

12 empanada shells, defrosted but cold

1 egg

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Wash and core the apples. Cut them into 1- to 2-inch chunks and chop them coarsely in a food processor (do not puree). Put them in a large saute pan with the cinnamon and cloves, and cook over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until the apple softens and any excess liquid has evaporated. Turn off the heat and stir in the dulce de leche.

2. Transfer the filling to a clean bowl, cover and refrigerate until completely cold.

3. To assemble, put about 1½ tablespoons of cold filling in the middle of an empanada shell. Fold the dough over the filling and pinch all the way along the edge to seal. Double seal the edge either by pressing along the edge with a fork, or by crimping or folding the edge of the dough into a pattern (see YouTube for examples).

4. Arrange the empanadas at least 2 inches apart on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Whisk the egg and brush onto the empanadas, sprinkle with a mixture of the sugar and cinnamon, and freeze until solid (at least one hour).

5. If not baking immediately, store the frozen empanadas in a freezer bag. Otherwise, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the frozen empanadas until golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool five minutes before serving with extra dulce de leche for dipping.