Heloisa Bacellar: Brazilian Empadas – Hearts of Palm Little Pies

Hearts of palm are one of the most beloved Brazilian ingredients. As a tropical country, we have a few different palm trees that provide tender and delicious hearts. The indigenous people that lived in Brazil before the Portuguese arrival at the beginning of the 16th century used to eat these hearts of palm, mostly from “juçara tree”. They introduced it to the Portuguese, and it was love at first sight.

For about five centuries, people used to simply cut down the palm trees in exchange for their hearts in the middle of the stem, a process that killed the root. After some time, people realized the importance of the preservation of the palm trees and now the legalized production is well structured, with certified proprieties that are allowed only to explore the species that sprout again after having their stems partially cut.

The quality of the most popular and commercial hearts of palms, usually “pupunha” and “açaí” (from the same palm tree that gives us the dark fruit that produces the energetic pulp that conquered the world), is amazing. It is tender, delicate and very versatile.

Photo: Ana Bacellar

The pupunha heart may be used fresh, just quickly boiled and seasoned, or grilled, but the preserved ones, just in water and salt, are the most popular and we can find them almost anywhere. We usually find them to buy in sticks, sliced or chopped, but the sticks are the most tender.

The preserved ones are used in salads, stews, stir-fries, soups and fillings of “pastel” (a delicious fried turnover), pies and much more.

I ended up choosing a recipe with a heart of palm filling for delicious little pies, named “empadas”. These empadas may be eaten as a snack, and may be found at any cafés, bars and “padarias”, our corner stores that sell bread, snacks and other quick meals. People love to eat them with chilled beer, as they make a pretty relaxed and homey get-together meal.

If you prefer, or don’t have the little pans, you may use one large springform (about 26 cm) and bake a double crusted pie.


Yields: 6 portions
Total time: 2 hours



  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 200 g cold butter, diced
  • 1 egg
  • flour to dust
  • 1 egg yolk to brush

heart of palm filling

  • 25 g butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 300 g hearts of palm (about 1 jar), thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp ketchup or tomato sauce
  • ½ vegetable bouillon cube
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 ½ cup milk
  • 2 tbsp parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • olive oil
  • salt and black pepper


Crust – Combine flour, salt and butter in a large bowl, rub with your finger tips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, and then add egg and work until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky (as needed, add cold water, little by little). Divide dough into 2 parts (1/3 for the top and 2/3 for the bottom), seal with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 days.

Filling, – Heat butter and a drizzle of olive oil in a medium saucepan, add onion and, when it begins to brown, add garlic, and fry until fragrant. Mix in sliced hearts of palm, ketchup or tomato sauce, vegetable bouillon cube, cornstarch – previously dissolved in milk – and, stirring constantly, cook until thickened. Adjust salt and pepper and, if necessary, correct acidity by adding a pinch of sugar; fold in chopped parsley and let cool.

Assembling – Set aside 12 medium little pans (about 6 cm). Dust a working surface with flour and, using a rolling pin, roll out the dough until thin. Cut 12 circles a little bigger of the top of the pans and set them aside. Line the bottom and sides of pan with the other part of the dough. Spoon the prepared fillings into each cavity, cover with the tops and press borders to seal. If you want, decorate the top with the dough trimming. Brush the top crusts with egg yolk, and refrigerate for about 15 minutes, while you preheat the oven to 180ºC (moderate).

Bake the little pies for about 25 minutes, until crust is deep golden brown.

Remove from heat, wait 10 minutes, unmold on serving platter and serve (or refrigerate and heat thoroughly in the oven right before serving).