It all started when I was about... ten years old. We lived in Tucson, Arizona and every once in a while my mom and I liked to go exploring... just driving around to places within town we've never been before and seeing what shops we could find. Well one day we decided to trickle into the South Side of Tucson... from a distance we saw the steeple of a beautiful church and wanted to take a closer look. So we drove closer and closer and finally arrived right in front of the church. Down the road from that church we noticed a tiny strip mall... and I mean tiny... maybe I shouldn't even call it a strip mall... it was only three shops all connected. The largest of the three shops was a butcher of some sort with the words Meat Factory right in front... I can't remember exactly what the shop was in the middle... for some reason I want to say it was some type of hair salon... and on the left was a bakery. My mother LOVES bakeries and likes to see what they all have... so of course we park and go in.
This was a Mexican bakery... and I remember they had large cakes for every occasion which was probably their biggest selling item. They had these Mexican breads that my mother loved that almost look like buns in the shape of sea shells. Then we saw the empanadas... now we had empanadas before from several different bakeries and they were all just okay... in fact... I didn't really like empanadas all that much. They had cherry and pumpkin I believe and my mother bought a pumpkin one for each of us... we went and sat in the car and ate our empanadas. Oh... My... Goodness... they were the most delicious pumpkin empanadas we had ever had in our lives! My mom went back in and bought a dozen to take home with us! We went home and everyone agreed that they were as delicious as we thought and we knew we'd be returning to that bakery.
Now this side of town and this bakery were EXTREMELY far from where we lived... so it ended up being a couple of months before we couldn't handle it any longer and needed to go and get some more. Well guess what.... we had NO IDEA where it was!!! We obviously knew how to get to the south side, but the south side was fairly large and of course we had no idea even what the name of that bakery was! So we're driving around where we THINK it might be and we're having no luck whatsoever in finding it. Then all of the sudden guess what we see off in the distance... THE CHURCH STEEPLE!!!! We remembered that we had gone to that church and that it was just down the road from it!! I'm actually laughing out loud right now as I remember this because of how excited we got and we're shouting to each other... "The church! The church!!" LOL!!!!! As though we had found buried treasure... well to us... it was! So we make our way to the church and take the same path we took that very first time and there it was... those three little buildings all connected... the meat factory, the salon, and the bakery. No wonder we didn't remember the name of the bakery there WAS no name on the building!! We must had just looked through the windows the first time and noticed they had baked goods.
So we walked in and bought another dozen so satisfied that we had found it. We might have asked at that point what the name of the bakery was but I don't remember and neither does my mom it was so long ago. We wouldn't go often, again because of the distance, but we always found it because of that church. My mother ended up moving across the country to Atlanta and I stayed in Arizona and went to the University of Arizona. I think once or twice I went by myself since being at school placed me closer to that side of town and came home with half a dozen pumpkin empanadas that I enjoyed all by myself :). After about five years my mother moved back home and we decided it was time to make another run for our delicious treats. As we turned onto the street where the three little shops sat, something didn't seem right... as we got closer our hearts sank... they had closed... for good. We didn't know what to do! We had even went into the meat factory (the salon or whatever it was never seemed to be open when we were there) and asked them if they had just switched locations and they knew nothing. Not for many long years would we ever taste as delicious pumpkin empanadas as we did from that bakery.
We would go and try some out from different bakeries over the years and I went back to "not liking" them... they just didn't even compare anywhere else. Until now... My mom came to stay with us while my husband traveled out of town for a long period of time and when she got here she said... "I'm going to perfect empanadas for us"... So she got started... day after day she'd have another batch ready and I was the taster. They were all good but batch after batch I'd say "Nope too crisp", "Nope too chewy", "Nope, nope, nope"... She had the filling down pat right from the get go... it was just the dough we were figuring out. Then one day... I knew it just by looking at them... "THOSE are going to be it!!" I said. Just like she always does she raised one questionable eyebrow saying "How do you know you haven't even tried them yet..." Oh but I was right... They... Were... PERFECT!!! It took her about four batches to get there... going through tons of different cookbooks combining different ingredients from different books mix matching all of them and finally coming up with her own.... of course not measuring a SINGLE ingredient except by the palm of her hand (just like her tortillas).
So I grabbed a pen and paper and said "Hurry! Tell me the ingredients at least so you don't forget!" and we listed everything down and then she made another batch and we dissected it measuring out each ingredient after she threw it in the bowl. LOL.... Now that I think about it I could only imagine how strange we must look... My mom pouring an ingredient into the palm of her hand and throwing it into and bowl and me scooping it all out of the bowl putting it into a measuring to see how much it is. Ay ay ay! We're crazy! LOL!
So that is the story of our perfect empanadas... If you decide to make these for yourselves please remember this story and remember how much love, time and effort was put into them. Also as you measure out your ingredients, remember these aren't EXACT... In fact... if you want them as PERFECT as ours... I would make each measurement just a little below heaping. Don't level off the flour, sugar, etc... make it all a little heaping. I hope these empanadas are as enjoyable to you as they are for us. These are truly from the heart. So here it is... My Mother's Empanada Recipe.