This New Mexican classic is said to have originated in Albuquerque more than two centuries ago. The deep-fried “little pillow” of puffy dough is a wedge-shaped pastry traditionally slathered with honey or dusted with sugar and cinnamon, but it sometimes comes stuffed with meat, beans, cheese, and salsa. It tastes like a comforting cross between a moist doughnut and mini French toast. Variants occur in South America, sometimes served with mustard, guacamole, cinnamon, or ketchup—although not all at once! One of the best versions can be found at Rancho de Chimayó, ensconced in a converted adobe hacienda north of Santa Fe (Santa Fe County Road 98 #300, Chimayó; 505-351-4444; ranchodechimayo.com). Here's an adapted recipe from The Rancho de Chimayó Cookbook, by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison (Harvard Commons Press, 1991).
Makes 12 Sopaipillas
- 2 cups wheat flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, optional
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons oil, plus sufficient oil (preferably canola or corn) for deep frying
- 1/2 cup lukewarm water
- 1/4 cup evaporated milk, at room temperature
- Honey and/or butter to taste
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt; sift into a large mixing bowl. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of oil and blend with fingertips. Add water and evaporated milk; stir until mixture forms a sticky ball of dough. Turn out on a lightly floured surface and knead vigorously for about one minute. The dough should be “earlobe soft” and no longer sticky. Cover dough with a damp cloth and let it rest for about 15 minutes.
Divide the dough into three equal portions and form into balls. Cover the balls with damp cloth and let rest for another 15 to 30 minutes. (The dough can be refrigerated at this point for up to four hours.) Roll out each ball of dough on a lightly floured surface, forming a circle or oval about ¼-inch thick. (To keep dough from becoming tough, roll it quickly and handle it as little as possible, preferably only once.) Trim off ragged edges and discard. Using a sharp knife, cut each circle of dough into four wedges, then cover with a damp cloth. (Do not stack wedges on top of each other.)
Place a stack of paper towels near the stove. Pour oil for deep-frying into a wok or high-sided, heavy skillet to a depth of 2 inches and heat to 400 degrees. (Use a cooking thermometer to check, and do not allow oil to exceed this temperature. If oil starts to smoke, there is danger of fire.) One by one, carefully and gently drop wedges of dough into the hot oil. (Do not crowd too many pieces of dough into the wok or skillet, just three or four at a time.) The wedges will sink briefly, then balloon to the surface. Spoon oil over sopaipillas when they begin to float. After the tops puff up, turn over with tongs to cook the opposite side. Cook until light golden brown. Total cooking time should be about 20 or 30 seconds per side.
Remove from oil with tongs and drain on paper towels. (If sopaipillas darken before they are fully puffed, lower the temperature of the oil a few degrees before continuing.) Repeat process with two or three sopaipillas at a time until all dough has been fried. Place sopaipillas in a napkin-lined basket and serve immediately with honey and/or butter.
Chef's note: A cooking thermometer that registers up to at least 410 degrees is required for the recipe.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. Award-winning journalist Richard Mahler passed away in 2017.