Empanadas vs Pastelitos

Empanadas and pastelitos are both beloved Latin American pastries filled with various sweet or savory ingredients, yet they have distinct differences that set them apart from one another. As you embark on a culinary journey to explore these delectable treats, you can learn about their origins, ingredients, and regional variations, as well as how to make them at home.

The main distinction between empanadas and pastelitos lies in their dough, fillings, and cooking method. Empanadas are typically made using a thicker dough that is either baked or fried, while pastelitos use a lighter, flakier pastry dough and are usually baked. Their fillings may range from meat and vegetables to fruit and cream, often unique to specific regions within Latin America.

Key Takeaways

  • Empanadas and pastelitos have different doughs, with empanadas being thicker and pastelitos being lighter and flakier.
  • Both pastries can have a variety of fillings, often influenced by regional preferences.
  • They can be made at home, allowing you to customize the flavors to your liking.


Ingredients and Dough

Empanadas, a popular dish in Latin America and Spain, are made with dough that is typically round and can be either savory or sweet. To make the dough, you’ll need flour, salt, butter, and water. Some recipes might also include eggs or baking powder. The dough should be elastic, and rolled out to a thickness that allows for easy folding and sealing around the fillings.

Varieties and Fillings

There are countless varieties of empanadas to suit every preference. The fillings can range from savory to sweet ingredients. In savory empanadas, you can find meat (beef, chicken, or pork), vegetables, cheese, or a combination of these. Sweet empanadas often have fruit, caramel, or chocolate fillings. Each region has its own unique twist on the traditional empanada, with different seasonings and fillings.

Cooking Methods

Empanadas can be either fried or baked, depending on your preference and local customs. Fried empanadas have a crisp, golden exterior, while baked ones offer a flakier crust. The choice between frying and baking can also depend on the specific fillings, as some might be better suited to one method over the other.

Origins and Traditions

Empanadas’ origin can be traced back to Galicia, a region in Spain. They were later brought to Latin America, where they evolved and diversified into different variations. Today, empanadas are enjoyed in numerous countries, each with its unique traditions and specific recipes. The turnover-like shape of the empanada makes it easy to carry and eat by hand, which has contributed to its enduring popularity across cultures.


Ingredients and Dough

Pastelitos are a delicious Puerto Rican snack made with a thicker dough compared to empanadas. The main ingredients for the dough consist of flour and water, creating a sturdy base that holds the turnovers together. Typically, Puerto Rican pastelitos have slightly sweetened dough due to the addition of sugar, making them ideal for both savory and sweet fillings.

Varieties and Fillings

There is a wide variety of pastelitos to suit any taste, with an array of fillings for you to discover. Common savory options include picadillo (seasoned ground beef), cheese, and seafood. For a sweet twist, feel free to try fruit or cream-based fillings. The possibilities are truly endless when it comes to these delightful turnovers. If you want to explore regional varieties, check out empanadillas, which are the Galician interpretation of pastelitos. Typically, the empanadillas are smaller in size yet similar in appearance.

Cooking Methods

Pastelitos can be prepared in multiple ways, with the most common method being deep-fried. By frying the pastelitos, you achieve a crispy, golden exterior that complements the tender dough and the flavorful fillings. However, if you prefer a healthier option, consider baking the pastelillos in the oven. This method allows you to still appreciate their traditional taste, albeit with fewer calories.

Origins and Traditions

The origins of pastelitos can be traced back to Puerto Rico, where they have become an essential part of the island’s culinary culture. These turnovers have their roots in Spanish and Galician cuisine, and over time, Puerto Ricans have embraced and adapted the recipe to suit local ingredients and preferences. Pastelitos are a common sight at both family gatherings and larger celebrations, and their versatile nature makes them an ever-popular choice among food enthusiasts.

Comparison: Empanadas vs Pastelitos

Dough and Ingredients

When comparing empanadas and pastelitos, you’ll notice some differences in their dough and ingredients. Empanadas typically use a flour-based dough, sometimes mixed with baking powder to give them a slightly flaky texture. On the other hand, pastelitos use puff pastry dough, which results in a flakier and more delicate crust.

Fillings and Flavors

Both empanadas and pastelitos offer a wide variety of fillings and flavors. Empanadas often contain meat, such as ground beef, chicken, or pork, along with vegetables, cheese, and spices. Some empanadas even include sweet ingredients, like raisins. Pastelitos, while also available in savory versions with meat and cheese, are more commonly found filled with sweet fruit jams or guava paste.

Cooking Methods and Techniques

The cooking methods used for empanadas and pastelitos also differ. Empanadas can be either baked or fried, with frying being more common in certain regions. The dough for fried empanadas often contains more oil, resulting in a crispier texture. Pastelitos are typically baked, allowing the puff pastry to rise and create layers of flakiness.

Cultural Significance

Empanadas and pastelitos both hold an essential place in their respective culinary traditions. Empanadas are widely popular across Latin America, with each country often having its own unique variations in terms of fillings and dough preparations. Pastelitos, primarily associated with Cuban cuisine, are a popular appetizer, dessert, and snack enjoyed by many communities where Cuban immigrants settled.

In summary, both empanadas and pastelitos offer a range of flavors, ingredients, and cooking techniques that make them distinct from each other. While they share some similarities, their differences in dough, fillings, and cultural backgrounds ensure that each remains a unique and cherished part of culinary traditions.

Regional Variations

In Latin America, you’ll find a variety of empanadas and pastelitos with different fillings and preparations. In Argentina, empanadas are often filled with meat, commonly beef, and seasoned with spices like paprika and cumin. They can also include ingredients such as chopped olives, boiled eggs, and raisins. The dough is usually made of wheat flour and baked or fried.

In Puerto Rico, meat-filled pastelitos, also known as empanadillas, are a popular snack. They are typically deep-fried and filled with seasoned beef, chicken, or seafood. Cheese, vegetables, and even fruit fillings can also be found. The dough is often made with wheat flour and sometimes cornmeal, making it crispier than Argentine empanadas.

Chilean empanadas have their unique spin, often filled with a mixture of ground beef, onions, black olives, hard-boiled eggs, and raisins. These empanadas are typically baked, although fried versions can also be found.

In the Philippines, you can find empanadas with different dough compositions. Their fillings usually consist of meat, seafood, and vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and beans, seasoned with soy sauce, garlic, and onion. The dough is commonly made with rice flour, giving it a light and flaky texture.

South American countries have their distinct variations as well. For example, in Colombia and Venezuela, empanadas are typically made with cornmeal dough and filled with meat, cheese, and vegetables, before being deep-fried.

Exploring different regional variations of empanadas and pastelitos allows you to appreciate the diversity and creativity of culinary traditions across Latin America, South America, and the Philippines.

Making Empanadas and Pastelitos at Home

Empanadas and pastelitos are both delicious treats that can be made at home with simple ingredients. You can create a variety of recipes with different doughs and fillings, giving you endless options for satisfying your craving for savory or sweet pastries.


For empanadas, you’ll need to prepare a dough made from wheat flour, water, shortening or fat, and a pinch of salt. Pastelitos, on the other hand, require puff pastry dough, which has more layers and is lighter. Both types of dough are relatively easy to make, but you can also find them pre-made at many bakeries or grocery stores.


Next, consider your desired filling. There are countless possibilities for both savory and sweet fillings. Some popular options for savory empanada and pastelito fillings include:

  • Pork: Seasoned with onions, peppers, and spices like nutmeg or annatto powder.
  • Arabian: A mixture of ground beef, onion, and spices, including cinnamon and cumin.
  • Catalan: Spinach, pine nuts, raisins, and spices cooked together.

For sweet empanada and pastelito fillings, you can try:

  • Cream cheese: Sweetened with sugar and mixed with fruits like guava or strawberries.
  • Apple: Thinly sliced apples cooked with sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Cooking Methods

Once you’ve decided on your dough and fillings, it’s time to assemble. First, roll out your dough flat and cut it into circles for empanadas or squares for pastelitos. Place your desired filling in the center of each piece, fold the dough in half to completely encase the filling, and crimp the edges. Experiment with different cooking methods to find your preferred texture. You can bake empanadas and pastelitos at 375°F (190°C) for around 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Alternatively, you can also fry the pastries in hot oil for a crispier texture.

Additional Flavor

For an extra burst of flavor, consider dipping your empanadas or pastelitos into a sauce. Savory empanadas pair well with chimichurri or salsa, while sweet pastelitos can be drizzled with a sugar glaze or served with fruit compote or syrup.

By exploring different doughs, fillings, and sauces, you can create an array of delicious empanadas and pastelitos in your own kitchen. Enjoy the process of finding your favorite combinations and mastering the art of making these scrumptious pastries.


In comparing Empanadas and Pastelitos, you’ll notice that both pastries have distinct qualities. By understanding their differences and similarities, you can make a confident decision on which one to choose for your next snack or meal.

Empanadas, with their various fillings and types of dough, offer you a versatile option. You can enjoy them baked or fried, savory or sweet, and find them in many regions around the world with their own unique twists. Use this information to explore new flavors and experiment with different recipes.

On the other hand, Pastelitos provide you with a more specific experience. Their puff pastry dough and sweet or savory fillings make them distinctive treats often enjoyed alongside a cup of coffee or tea. Keep in mind the characteristics of Pastelitos, as they can be a part of your culinary journey in Latin-American and Caribbean cuisines.

Remember, both pastries can be enjoyed in various ways and incorporated into your celebrations, gatherings, or even as a simple snack. By knowing the distinct qualities of Empanadas and Pastelitos, you can appreciate the culinary artistry behind them and make an informed choice for your taste buds.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main difference between empanadas and pastelitos?

Empanadas are a type of pastry with a folded, crescent-like shape filled with various ingredients, commonly meat, vegetables, or fruit. Pastelitos, on the other hand, generally have a square or rectangular shape and are often filled with sweet ingredients like guava or cream cheese. Both empanadas and pastelitos use a similar dough, but the fillings and shapes differ.

What are the key ingredients in an empanada dough recipe?

An empanada dough recipe typically requires flour, fat (like butter, shortening, or lard), salt, and cold water. Some recipes may also include an egg or sugar, depending on whether the empanada has sweet or savory filling.

Are Puerto Rican empanadas different from other types?

Yes, Puerto Rican empanadas, also known as pastelillos, are deep-fried rather than baked like other types of empanadas. Additionally, the fillings may differ slightly, with a combination of ground meat, sofrito, olives, and spices commonly found in Puerto Rican empanadas.

What is the origin of pastelillos?

Pastelillos are thought to have originated in Spain and were brought over to Latin America and the Caribbean by Spanish explorers and settlers. As with empanadas, the name and preparation may vary by country, but the concept remains the same: a pastry dough filled with savory or sweet ingredients.

How do you properly pronounce ‘pastelillos’?

To properly pronounce ‘pastelillos,’ say ‘pahs-teh-LEE-yos.’ It is important to pronounce the double ‘l’ as a ‘y’ sound, as it is common in Spanish pronunciation.

What is the history behind pastelillos?

The history of pastelillos traces back hundreds of years to Spain, where similar pastries were already popular. As Spanish explorers and settlers introduced the concept to the Caribbean and Latin America, each culture adopted and adapted the recipe, resulting in the wide variety of pastelillos and empanadas found today.

Empanadas vs Pastelitos

Here's a recipe for pastelitos:
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine Latin, Puerto Rican
Servings 4
Calories 288 kcal


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 cup guava paste cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese softened
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar


  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter and mix with a pastry blender or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  • Add the water and mix until the dough comes together. Form the dough into a ball and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
  • In a separate bowl, mix the guava paste, cream cheese, and powdered sugar until well combined.
  • On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch thickness. Cut the dough into 3-inch circles.
  • Place a spoonful of the guava and cream cheese mixture onto each circle. Fold the circles in half and press the edges together to seal.
  • Brush the tops of the pastelitos with the beaten egg.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.
  • Serve warm and enjoy!


Hope you enjoy making and eating these delicious pastelitos!


Calories: 288kcal
Keyword empanadas vs pastelitos
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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