Mexican puff pastry: thank a Maximilian

Let us turn our attention to the strange case of Mexican Emperor Maximilian and puff pastry empanadas called bolovanes.

On June 19, 1867, Mexican Emperor Maximilian rose before dawn in the town of Queretaro to be gunned down by a firing squad of seven soldiers. His execution closed a violent revolutionary period in Mexican history. But it also illustrates how a country’s hatred of the outsider is often matched by swiftly adopting an enemy’s best food traditions.

For no sooner was heard the last words of Maximilian von Habsburg, “Viva Mexico,” than his legacy of French gastronomy, and especially baked goods like puff pastry empanadas, was taken on by Mexico.

If you’ve ever eaten a chicken red moll bolovanes in Mexico., you’ve eaten a savory vol-au-vent with a popular local filling. Or if you’ve bought from a Mexican street vendor a torta — a sandwich filled with chorizo or pulled pork and stuffed in a bolillo, or French roll bread — you’ve tasted the culinary legacy of Maximilian and his wife, Empress Carlota, long after Mexico’s patriotic revolt against an ill-fated French empire was concluded.

This lasting French conquest of Mexican food continued under the long reign of president Porfirio Díaz from 1876 to 1911. The Mexican dictator was an enthusiastic Francophile keen to shrug off the image of peasanthood. So he looked to replace local dishes inspired by the country’s indigenous and Spanish food traditions with French cookery where possible.

The Mexican elites, eager to leave the enchiladas and tamales of the lower orders behind, followed suit by promoting la comida afrancescada, a French-Mexican fusion.

Making a flaky and crunch puff pastry in humid Mexico is surely a challenge to ensure the butter and dough are the same consistency. The Mexicans were helped in the task by the steady amount of French bakeries and chefs that popped up during Maximilian’s French occupation.

Have a go yourself. Here’s a recipe for a puff pastry empanada from the popular A World of Flavours blog.

Puff Pastry Chorizo “Empanadas” w/ baby spinach and Salsa Verde
Serves 6

Empanadas (make filling ahead)

Ingredients:

1 package puff pastry (sheets)

1 tbsp olive oil
About 4 medium yellow potatoes, peeled and diced.
1/2 yellow onion, diced
6 oz chorizo sausage, removed from casing
2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
2 tbsp canned green chiles
salt to taste
4 oz cream cheese
6 oz montery jack cheese or mexican cheese
6 oz baby spinach (about 4 cups fresh leaves), steamed and drained.

1. Preheat oven to 400.

Make filling (can make ahead and freeze):

1. Cook chorizo sausage over medium-low heat until oil has separated and sausage is cooked. Remove sausage from oil, drain and set aside.

2. Par-boil or steam potatoes in microwave until just tender.

2. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Cook onions and potatoes until golden brown. Add chorizo. Cook, covered until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes, stirring often.

3. Add cilantro, salt and pepper to taste.

Assemble:

1. Thaw puff pastry about 45 minutes at room temperature.

2. Cut each sheet into three equal parts (or more for smaller puffs).

3. Spread 1 tbsp of cream cheese on bottom of pastry.

4. Layer a bunch of spinach, then top with 2 tbsp chorizo-potato mixture and some grated cheese.

5. Fold pastry over and gently press.

6. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes.

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