Empanada vs Pastelillo: Are Empanadas and Pastelillos Different?

Generally speaking, empanadas and pastelillos are pretty similar.

They are both made by folding dough or bread around a stuffing, which usually consists of meat, cheese, huitlacoche, vegetables, or fruits. Hence, both can either be served as a savory dish or a sweet treat.

However, there are some essential differences that set one apart from another. Now, let’s differentiate empanadas and pastelillos so that you will never be confused again. 

Related: Most popular Mexican foods


An empanada is a type of baked or fried turnover consisting of dough and a filling, common in Southern European, Latin American, and the Philippines cultures. Its name comes from the Galician verb empanar, which means “wrapped” or “coated” with bread. 

Empanadas are made by folding the dough over the filling, which could include meat, cheese, tomato, corn, or other ingredients, and then baking or frying the resulting turnover.

The way empanadas are served differs among regions. Argentine empanadas are frequently served as a starter or main course at celebrations and festivals. In these events, empanadas would be freshly prepared with a variety of flavors and fillings. Likewise, empanadas are an important meal in Chilean cuisine. Many Chileans believe this to be their most characteristic dish, as it is frequently consumed in huge quantities during the country’s national celebrations. 

Meanwhile, in Belize, empanadas are called parades — a popular street food item. They are often packed with fish, chicken, or beans and prepared with masa (corn dough) and then usually deep-fried and topped with cabbage and salsa. 


A pastelillo is a smaller empanada made by folding the dough over a filling and pressing the edges with a fork. Yet, pastelillos differ in the composition of composition their dough, resulting in a yellow tint before and after cooking.

Many people also know of this dish by the name pastelito, which is another name for a sort of pastelillo that is made with puff pastry dough and is baked rather than fried.

Empanadas vs Pastelillos: 5 Differences

Origin (Spain and Puerto Rico)

Empanadas are considered to have originated in Galicia, a region in northwest Spain, but their exact origin is unknown. Llibre del Coch by Robert de Nola, a cookbook published in Catalan in 1520, references empanadas stuffed with fish in recipes for Catalan, Italian, French, and Arabian cuisine. Now, the empanadas are an important dish in Mexican cuisine.

Meanwhile, pastelillos originate from Puerto Rico and remain a popular dish in this country. The flavor of Puerto Rican pastelillos is also said to be the most authentic and distinctive to fans of this dish.


Both pastelillos and empanadas have a crucial ingredient in their batter that sets them apart from other dishes: annatto. Annatto, also known as roucou or achiote, comes from achiote seeds (from a tropical tree). This substance is used to produce a carotenoid-based yellow or orange food coloring. It also has a distinctive scent of pepper and nutmeg and gives the dishes a sweet and peppery flavor.

The pastelillo has a higher content of annatto powder in the pastry mix. Hence, pastelillos can be slightly sweeter than empanadas. This ingredient also makes the key difference between Puerto Rico’s pastelillo and that of other countries.

As well, the dough for pastelillos can be thinner than that of empanadas. While pastelillos dough is similar to pasta dough, empanada dough can be comparable to pie dough.


Pastelillos are smaller turnovers made from a thin dough that is crimped at the edges and fried. Meanwhile, empanadas are bigger turnovers with rolled edges and thicker dough. 


People have found a way to include a variety of fillings, from meats and veggies to fruits, in the 2 recipes. Also, the filling of both dishes can be modified to make the end result either sweet or savory. 

Many may think that since the dough for pastelillos is sweeter, pastelillos would go better with a sweet filling and make an excellent dessert. However, this sweet dough can also work with savory filling to create a surprisingly addictive flavor.

The Recipe

Both are turnovers with dough and filling, but pastelillos usually have a different edge compared to empanadas. The edge of a pastelillo is pressed with a fork for its distinctive outer layer.

Although both dishes can be deep-fried and baked, empanadas are often deep-fried, while the pastelillo is usually baked. Hence, if you are confused between the two, you can check whether your dish is deep-fried or baked to tell them apart.

My Review

Despite the long list above, the differences between empanada and pastelillo aren’t that significant, to be honest. This is the reason why many people use the two terms interchangeably. 

However, now that you can tell these two dishes apart, you can wow your Latin American friends and make your cooking much more authentic.

Now, let’s learn how to make both dishes in your home kitchen.  

How to Make an Empanada

Since the empanada dough can be paired with the fillings of your choice, we will show you how to make the best dough so that you can have a good basis to customize your own empanada.

Things to Prepare

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ to 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and a half stick unsalted butter 
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of water or milk (essential for adjusting the texture of your dough)

Step-By-Step Guide

  • In a food processor, combine flour and salt. Then add the butter and pulse to combine.
  • Continue pulsing until a clumpy dough develops, then add the egg and the water or milk (in small increments to adjust the texture of your dough).
  • To prepare empanada dough by hand, follow the same steps as above, but mix the ingredients together with your hands.
  • Divide the dough into two large balls and flatten slightly into disks. The dough can be used right away or kept chilled until needed (1-2 days max).
  • Roll out the dough onto a thin sheet and cut out circular disc shapes (use round molds or a small plate).
  • Use right away or keep in the fridge or freezer for later.
  • If you use it immediately, place a tablespoon of the filling in the middle of each empanada disc to assemble the empanadas or turnovers. Be sure to not add too much filling, or you won’t be able to close your empanada properly. 
  • After sealing your empanadas, making sure no filling will leak out during the deep-frying process, you can deep-fry your empanadas and serve them hot.

How to Make Pastelillos

Things to prepare

  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup water
  • vegetable oil (optional, for frying only)

Step-By-Step Guide

  • In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • In another bowl, combine the flour and shortening. Cut the shortening into the flour using a pastry cutter or fork. Using a fork, stir in the egg.
  • Using a fork, mix in the water a bit at a time. The dough will be brittle or in pieces when finished mixing.
  • Dust a work surface with flour, then roll out the dough on it. Form the dough into a rough ball using your hands. Knead the dough with your palms as if you were doing laundry on an ancient washboard.
  • Knead the dough until it is soft and smooth. Form the dough into smaller balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and set aside for 30 minutes to rest.
  • Roll the dough out and cut it into thin circles.
  • Place 1 spoonful of picadillo or other fillings in the center of a circle of dough.
  • Wet the dough’s edges with water using the tip of your fingers, and fold the dough in half. Pinch the dough together with your fingers, and then use the teeth of a fork to press it together. 
  • Bake your pastelillos in the oven or deep-fry them until they are golden brown


What are the ingredients in an empanada?

Typically, an empanada has a flour dough filled with savory ingredients like meat, cheese, and vegetables. However, there are also sweet variations that include fruit and sugar in the filling.

What’s inside of a pastelillo?

Pastelillos are very similar to empanadas, except the dough is made with puff pastry instead of flour. The most common fillings for pastelillos are meat, cheese, and vegetables. However, there are also sweet variations that include fruit and sugar in the filling.

Which one do Puerto Ricans prefer?

Puerto Ricans generally prefer empanadas over pastelillos. The dough is more flavorful, and the fillings are more diverse. Pastelillos are generally seen as a less authentic option.

Which is more popular in Chile: empanadas or pastelillos?

Empanadas are more popular than pastelillos in Chile.

They are most commonly found in bakeries and street stalls. The dough is made with flour, and the fillings can include meat, cheese, and vegetables. There are also sweet variations that include fruit and sugar in the filling.

Pastelillos are not as common in Chile, and they are generally found in restaurants instead of bakeries or street stalls. The dough is made with puff pastry, and the fillings are typically meat, cheese, and vegetables.

There are also sweet variations that include fruit and sugar in the filling.

Are there different types of containers for both pastelillos and empanadas?

Yes, there are different types of containers for both pastelillos and empanadas. Empanadas are typically served in a paper wrapper or a plastic container. Pastelillos are most often served in a ceramic dish.

Which one is more popular in the United States?

Empanadas are more popular since they are more versatile. They can be filled with both sweet and savory ingredients, and they can be served in both snack-sized and meal-sized portions. Pastelillos are not as common, but they can be found in some Latin American restaurants.

Can you freeze them before cooking them or not at all?

Empanadas can be frozen before cooking, but pastelillos should not be frozen. This is because the dough for pastelillos is made with puff pastry, which does not freeze well.

What is the difference in calories?

There isn’t a big difference in calories between empanadas and pastelillos. However, empanadas typically have more calories because they are typically filled with meat and cheese. Pastelillos are generally filled with vegetables, which have fewer calories.


After reading our comparison of empanadas vs pastelillos in detail, I hope that you have acquired enough information to tell these two dishes apart. Look at the dough, the size, and the way each dish is cooked closely, and you’re good to go.

If you find this article helpful, don’t forget to bookmark it and come back for more valuable tips.

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