Brazil’s most popular street food, pastel, is a treat you will never forget! Crispy, deep fried and bursting with delicious fillings. Absolutely irresistible!
I don’t know why it took me this long to share a recipe for Brazilian Pastel here on the blog! I’m crazy about them and can eat the whole batch by myself. (Well, maybe that’s why…)
If you’ve ever been to Brazil, you know we adore our pastel. You will find it at the feira (our farmer’s market), the pastelaria (shops that sell only pastel), beach kiosks and at bars. I have never met a Brazilian who doesn’t indulge in these bad boys every now and then. And they go great with either a glass of cold beer or with sweet caldo de cana (freshly pressed sugar cane juice).
Sweet and savory filling options are abundant, but I decided to share three of the most popular ones: beef, creamy hearts of palm and cheese. And you will want to try them all!
What is pastel?
It is deep fried dough filled with assorted fillings. Similar to an empanada? Yes, but not the same. Much crispier and much better! Sorry, hermanos.
I confess I was a little intimidated before I actually got around to finally make them myself. I thought there was no way something so spectacular could be made at home. But it can! And it tastes just like the ones I used to get at the feira!
The dough is very foolproof and easy to handle. It consists of a handful of ingredients: flour, salt, water, oil, vinegar and cachaça. Yep, you heard it right! Cachaça is the secret ingredient that makes this dough so perfectly light and crunchy. I highly recommend you don’t skip it! It is just a little bit and the alcohol will cook out during frying at high temperatures, so it’s safe to feed the kids.
It is also vital to knead the dough until it is smooth and not sticking to the counter and/or hands. That way, you can be sure you will be able to roll it paper thin so your pastéis (that’s the plural of pastel) come out as crunchy as they can be!
If you don’t have time to make the dough, you can take a shortcut and use store bought empanada dough or wonton wraps. It won’t be the same, but still delicious!
A brief history of Pastel
There are two main hypothesis of how this iconic street food was invented.
The first one believes that it was the Chinese immigrants who adapted their egg rolls to Brazilian ingredients, creating what is now the Brazilian pastel. The other claims that it was actually the Japanese who came up with it, inspired by their gyoza.
Whichever version you choose to believe, we can’t deny that it was the Japanese immigrants that actually got the pastel to be so popular. Fleeing Japan after the World War 2, they opened their own pastelarias (establishments that were thus far typically Chinese), to disguise their nationality and escape the prejudice post war.
As I mentioned earlier, the options are endless. Other than the classics that I am sharing today, some very popular finds are: chicken and catupiry (a soft cheese, similar to cream cheese), pizza (cheese, tomato and oregano), bacalhau (cod), carne seca (dry beef), shrimp, guava and cheese, dulce de leche, among many others. There’s even pastel de vento (which translates to “pastel filled with air”), when it’s just the fried dough and no fillings. But we usually use this term to criticize an establishment, when they don’t fill the pastel enough, leaving a lot of empty space.
You will also find gourmet versions, like four cheese, feijoada, stroganoff, octopus, artichoke and brie, brigadeiro and Nutella. Bars are always coming up with fun flavors! Always served with hot sauce on the side!
Pretty much anything can be made into a pastel. It is a great way to use leftovers that are sitting in your fridge.
Can I freeze Brazilian Pastel?
In my humble opinion, pastel is always better fresh.
However, you can freeze them (for up to 3 months) after assembling. Just set them on a baking sheet, over parchment paper, and cover with plastic. After they are frozen, you can transfer them to a ziplock bag.
When ready to serve, simply deep fry the frozen pastéis straight from the freezer! Just be careful that the oil is not too hot or they will burn on the outside while still frozen inside.
And that’s it, friends. You’ve been asking me for more Brazilian recipes and I’m working on them.
A batch of Brazilian pastel is always a great call, but especially amazing to serve when watching sports (like the World Cup final this weekend) or having friends over for drinks. It’s a great snack for the kids too.
I hope you give it a try and enjoy it as much as we do!
- 3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 tablespoon salt (or to taste)
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon cachaça
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- ½ pound ground beef
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- ⅓ cup olives, sliced
- ⅓ cup chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 cup milk
- ½ cup tomato sauce
- 1 (14 ounces) can hearts of palm, roughly chopped
- ⅓ cup chopped olives
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- 8 ounces cheese (you can use mozzarella, cheddar, provolone or whatever cheese you fancy!), sliced or cubed
- In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Make a hole in the middle and add the water, oil, vinegar and cachaça. Mix well, using your hands, then transfer to a flour dusted surface and knead until the dough is smooth, elastic and no longer sticking to your hands or counter. Cover with a towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
- In a large skillet, over medium high heat, add the olive oil and then sauté the onion and garlic until translucent, about 2 minutes.
- Add the ground beef and cook, breaking it into a few large pieces with a wooden spoon. Let the meat brown without moving it for a few minutes.
- Break the beef into smaller pieces and continue browning. Do not stir continuously, so the moisture can evaporate and allow the meat to brown. The meat might release some water. Just continue cooking until all the water has evaporated, as excess moisture might make the pastéis soggy.
- Once the beef is evenly browned, season with salt and pepper. Add the olives and parsley, then remove from heat. Reserve.
- In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium high heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until translucent, about 2 minutes.
- Add the flour and stir to incorporate. Then add the milk and whisk until it thickens into a cream.
- Add the tomato sauce, hearts of palm and olives. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat. Add the chopped parsley and mix to combine. Reserve.
- Divide the dough in half. On a floured surface, roll out one of the halves as thinly as you can (about a 9 by 12-inch rectangle), without tearing the dough. Using a round cookie cutter (I use a 4-inch), cut about 15 circles of dough and reserve on a baking sheet, over parchment paper. You can also cut them into rectangles, as small or big as you'd like.
- Place a couple of tablespoons (or cubes/slices of cheese) of the desired filling on each circle and then fold into a semi circle, pressing the edges shut. Using a fork, pinch them together all the way around.
- Roll out the reserved dough and repeat the steps above.
- Heat a deep saucepan with enough oil to cover the pastéis to about 350F (hot but not smoking). Cook the pastéis in batches until crisp and golden brown, flipping once, about 2 minutes.
- Transfer to paper towels and serve immediately!
You can cut the pastéis into the classic, street version, rectangles, or the bar, smaller version, half circles (pictured in this post).
The dough is elastic enough that you won't have a problem sealing the corners, but you can also use some cold water to help. Pressing the edges with a fork guarantees that the pastéis won't open when frying!