Salvadoran Semita – Recipe!

My first taste of Semita, (a Salvadoran jam or marmalade filled pastry) was many years ago. Suegra had brought it back in her “encargos” from El Salvador and this one, although I didn’t know it at the time, was of great quality and very fresh. Suegra brought many Semitas with her and to keep from eating them I put them in the freezer – I soon found that they taste just as good frozen, (though that’s probably a very gringa thing to do.)

Once my stash of Semita ran out I was forced to buy some at the local Salvadoran-owned Latino market. I then discovered one more thing – Not all Semita are created equal. The Semitas bought locally were low quality – either because they were made to have a longer shelf life or because they weren’t and had gone stale. I vowed that one day I would bake my own Semita but I didn’t get around to it until a few weeks ago. The results were so fantastic that I would say this is one of the best things I’m able to make, (and Carlos fell in love with me all over again.)

Here is my recipe – I read a dozen Semita recipes and created my own. Sometimes straying from already established recipes while baking is asking for disaster, but in this case, it was sweet success. By the way, this recipe can also be used to make Empanadas de Piña, Pasteles de Piña or Pineapple Hand Pies.

Fun fact: There are different kinds of Semita. “Semita Alta” is thicker and other fillings include guayaba [guava] and higo [fig], but Semita de Piña is my favorite and it’s the most common.

If you mention Semita to a Mexican, they might think you’re talking about Cemita – a type of sandwich from Puebla.

Semita (Salvadoran Pineapple Jam-Filled Pastries)

Ingredients:

4 cups of flour
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature and chopped in pieces
2 tablespoons yeast
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 pinches of salt
1 jar pineapple jelly, jam or marmalade (if you can’t find at the regular grocery store, check the Latino market)
1/2 cup water

Directions:

1. In a very large mixing bowl, add the flour. Create a volcano with a hole in the center for the rest of the ingredients.

2. Into the volcano, add butter, yeast, eggs, sugar, salt and water. Mix all the ingredients by hand, kneading them together. (These measurements worked perfectly – I double checked by making the recipe a second time, but if for some reason the dough doesn’t come together after a couple minutes, you can add a little more water – If too sticky after a few minutes, you can add a little flour.)

3. The original recipes call for rising time – I skipped this completely. Don’t be afraid – keep going!

4. Remove a baseball-sized amount of dough and set aside, then break the remaining dough into 4 equal balls.

5. On a lightly-floured surface, roll a ball of dough out until it’s as thick as pie crust, (not too thin or you won’t be able to pick it up.) Use a knife to cut the dough into a rectangle shape. (It doesn’t have to be perfect but you can use a ruler if you want.)

6. Place the rectangle on a greased baking sheet. Top with a nice layer of pineapple jam, (a little thicker than you’d put on a peanut butter & jelly sandwich.)

7. Create another rectangle with the second ball of dough. Place this one on top of the jam.

8. Repeat with the 2 other dough balls. You should now have 2 rectangular Semitas on separate baking sheets, 1 ball of dough and dough scraps from when you cut out the rectangles.

9. Take your dough scraps and create a ball. Roll out on a lightly floured surface and cut into long strips as you see in the photos. Place on top of the 2 Semitas in a criss-cross pattern. Sprinkle each Semita with a tablespoon or two of sugar.

10. Pasteles de Piña: With remaining dough you could make another rectangular Semita or try your hand at Pasteles de Piña. Roll the dough out on a floured surface and then cut out circles using a large drinking glass. Roll out each circle a little more, trying to give it a more oval shape. Put a spoonful of pineapple jam in the middle. With a finger dipped in water, wet the edge of one side before folding over and sealing by pressing the tines of a fork against the edges. (Don’t worry if the dough breaks open a little or doesn’t totally seal. The jam actually tastes really good when it seeps out.)

11. Put the Pasteles on a greased baking sheet, sprinkle with sugar.

12. Baking Time & Temp: Both the Semitas and the Pasteles should be baked on the middle rack of a 350 F oven until golden brown. (You probably won’t be able to bake them all at the same time.) The rectangular Semitas need 30 to 40 minutes in the oven and the Pasteles might be done after 15 to 20 minutes – check them and decide based on color.

Makes: 2 normal-sized Semitas and 12 individual half moon pies/pasteles/empanadas.
Or: 3 normal-sized Semitas, or 36 half moon pies/pasteles/empanadas.
Note: A “normal-sized” Semita serves about 9 people.

Posted on June 2, 2012, in food/drink, recipes, Salvadoreños and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Tracy, Thank you for this delicious recipe. I made it today for my husband and he loved it.

    • Tracy López

      Yay! Thanks for the comment, Michelle. Glad it came out for you and that your husband loved it. I made it a third time this afternoon, this time with guava/guayaba jelly. It’s cooling right now so I haven’t tasted it yet, but it looks good. The guayaba jelly from Goya seems to me more liquid-y than the McCormick piña so some leaked out from between the 2 layers, but I think it’s going to be fine :)

  2. I’m eating my freshly baked semita while writing this!! I woke up early this morning and the previous commenter inspired me to try it. Although I did have to make a substitution…strawberry jam for piña…it’s what was on hand. I often make biscuits from scratch in the morning, and they kind of taste like biscuits already jammed, only a little sweeter.
    Interesting you don’t have to wait for them to rise. I wonder if it would taste different. A helpful tip I’ve read on line before and use for the butter is to grate it on the large holes of a cheese grater. It seems to be easy to mix in this way.
    The rest of the familia is still sleeping (and the BIG semita is still cooking)…looking forward to hear what they think about it!

    • Semita de fresa! LOL, sounds good to me :)

      Discovering that the dough didn’t need rising time was an accident. I was in a rush to make it the first time because we were planning to go to a friend’s house within the next couple hours. I decided to just push ahead and hope for the best. Without rising time the semita tastes just the same as semita I’ve had in El Salvador so I have no idea why one would want to give it time to rise although I don’t think it would hurt anything. More rising time, I suspect, would change the texture slightly.

      As for mixing the butter in, that’s a cool tip about using the cheese grater, but then I’d have to clean the cheese grater. LOL. I prefer to just let mine sit at room temp. until it’s squishy and easy to mix in by hand.

      Thanks for trying the recipe, Susan! :)

      • Ha! Funny!…but just some hot water and the butter washes right off. Actually, I like to think of it as a little arm workout…my arms sure are tired after doing it.

  3. I have to try this!!! Thanks for sharing your recipe! Just ate a pupusa and now I want semita…

  4. try it with “cajeta” (boiled condensed milk) and nuts instead of any jelly, (that’s Monterrey, Nuevo Leon style) it’s simply delicious.

  5. Would you have the recipe to make pasteles de piña?

    • Sorry, real Salvadoran pasteles de piña, I haven’t made yet – but these little semita-flavored pasteles de piña are really good :)

  6. You wouldn’t know it by looking at me due to my family’s European ancestry, I was born in in San Salvador, El Salvador. My mother, a Salvedoreña, was married to by dad, an American at the time. When I was about 18 months old, we moved to the US. As a child we frequently visited El Salvador, but not enough to learn and speak fluent Spanish (my Spanish is horrible and broken). Plus, my cousins all say that I’m very “gringa” in my mannerisms because I eat peanut butter and I do not verbally punctuate my sentences with: “al la puchica!” I rarely visit El Salvador because it is ungodly expensive to fly there; however, family will often visit here in the states. The love to bring my favorite treats like: semita, pupusas, tamales, quesadillas, aderogyl (a vitamin supplement), etc… I will try your recipe, as I just ran out of frozen semita, and my prima will not be back until April for a coffee growers convention.

    • Nice to meet you and thanks for sharing a little about yourself :) I hope the recipe works out for you – feel free to drop in and let me know!

      (As for freezing semita, I used to freeze the ones we’d get from El Salvador, partly so they would keep longer and partly so I wouldn’t eat them all at once — eventually I discovered I liked the taste of them frozen, too LOL.)

  7. Your recipe sounds very delicioso, thank you for sharing. Here in Australia, we make our own pineapple filling as we don’t get many imported Latino goods. I think it gives a tastier and thicker consistency then the bought jelly type, but I have yet to try your version.

  8. I would prefer using our homemade salvadorean pineapple jam…i dont think is jam its dulce. but this is a easy way to do it!! haha Tracy i think my parents might know your husband if he is from Santa Ana ?? He looks familiar!!

    • Hola Gabriela!

      That would be hilarious but not surprising. I swear, my suegra was always bumping into people in the United States that she had known back in El Salvador! … Carlos is actually from Soyapango, San Salvador though!

  9. Husband just came back from El Salvador and he brought some semita with him, but I’m already wondering what to do when that runs out! This recipe will be our solution. Thank you so much.

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