Sweet Potato, Caramelized Onion, and Bacon Empanadas

People always ask me if I would be interested in one day opening a restaurant, and my answer is always "no, absolutely not, no way, not ever."

Because that's just not my thing. I like to come up with recipes and write about them. I love to talk about food and teach people how to make delicious things in their own kitchens. And I especially (especially!) love cooking for friends and then sitting down to eat with them.

But I would never want my own restaurant.
That said, I think that if I were forced into it in some kind of very weird and unlikely life or death situation, the likes of which only ever arises in those conversation starter card games, I would choose to open a small empanada shop featuring all kinds of sweet and savory empanadas with different kinds of crusts and dipping sauces.

And, I would call it "EmpaNanda's." (Some of you might know that "Nanda" is kind of a family nickname that came about when my then-baby brother was unable to pronounce my name.)

These Sweet Potato, Caramelized Onion and Bacon empanadas are the sort of thing I'd offer at EmpaNanda's. (Although until then, I'll just serve them at Thanksgiving and I think that is what you should do, too!)

These were inspired by an appetizer I had at a restaurant a couple years ago that featured sweet potato dumplings served with an onion and bacon jam on the side. It was one of those appetizers where they served us three and Eugene and I had a bit of a stand-off over the last one. (We ended up splitting it, reluctantly.)

I loved the combination of the sweet and smoky with the onion jam, and knew I wanted to recreate it at home with a flakier dough and all the flavors tucked inside for easier eating. (And I would definitely make more than just three!)

These empanadas are AWESOME.  Sweet and smokey and salty and just a little bit spicy. They are like little pockets of Fall in a flaky package.

This recipe isn't hard, but there are a few steps involved. And I'll warn you that to make these, you need a bit of patience so that you can properly caramelize the onions.

You can't rush caramelized onions, folks!

To cook them properly it takes at least 40 minutes...really more like an hour. People usually just saute (or even burn) their onions and then call it a day. They still taste good, but it's a far cry from the sweet toffee-like silkiness of real caramelized onions, which is what makes these empanadas sing.

For the bacon, you want something smoky and cut thick so that it can stand up to the other flavors. In NYC, I love bacon from Schaller & Weber, which I buy via Fresh Direct. Try their double smoked bacon, if you get a chance.

And then there is the dough! This is a crazy easy dough and it's so flaky that I dropped and broke two empanadas while plating them.

I don't like fussing around with complicated doughs, which is why this one is perfect--it's made with cream cheese and comes together quickly. It's wonderfully soft and pliable and rolls out easily so you can get these puppies filled and baked and in your mouth as quickly as possible.

Serve these with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt (actually, I basically just ate these with an entire carton of Greek yogurt) or sour cream.

You're welcome!

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Sweet Potato, Caramelized Onion, and Bacon Empanadas

For the dough
 1 8-oz package cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the filling
3 large sweet potatoes
1 large yellow onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 strips thick-cut bacon
1 tablespoon smoked spanish paprika
1 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
For the egg wash
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon paprika

First make the dough. Beat cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer on high until smooth and creamy. Switch mixer to lowest setting and add flour slowly until completely combined. Remove dough from bowl and shape into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour (can be made ahead up to 48 hours).

While the dough chills, prepare the filling. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse and scrub the sweet potatoes, place on a baking sheet, and bake 40 minutes or until tender. Once baked, remove from oven and let cool before splitting and scooping the filling into the bowl.

While the potatoes bake, combine butter, oil, onions, and salt in a heavy-bottom pan over medium-low heat and stir to coat the onions well. Let cook for about 30 to 45 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so to keep the onions from burning. The onions are ready once they are dark brown in color and smell nutty and sweet.

Dice the bacon and cook in a separate pan until crisp. Add the caramelized onions, the bacon, the smoked paprika, black pepper, and cayenne to the sweet potatoes and mash and stir to evenly distribute the filling.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Remove the dough from the fridge, dust your counter with flour, and roll out to 1/4" thick. Use a 4" round cutter or upturned bowl to cut out circles, rerolling and cutting any remaining scraps.

Fill each circle with about 2 tablespoons of filling and fold over, using a fork to crimp and seal the edges. Arrange on the parchment lined baking sheet and repeat with rest of batch.

Whisk together the egg, water, and paprika, and use a pastry brush to brush the tops of the empanadas with the egg wash. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until empanadas are golden. Serve immediately with a side of plain yogurt for dipping.

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