Sopapillas are one of many foods that New Mexico can call it’s own – The New Mexican Quick Bread. People call them little pillows, but the name really means “holding soup.” Their history is over 200 years old, originating in the Albuquerque, New Mexico area. It is often as much a staple of many New Mexican meals as the tortilla.
Both sopapillas and tortillas are used as “sop” breads, either soaking up the liquids in a dish, or stuffing them with the foods so they can be eaten without the use of knife and fork. The recipe for both the tortilla and the sopapillas are virtually the same, the difference is in the cooking method. Like tortillas, I learned this recipe from watching friends and relatives make them. So it is hard to say these are the exact measurements, as everyone I watched simply shook out some flour into a bowl and began adding the other ingredients just by putting them in their hands. They would make alterations based on the way the dough felt to them, much the same way as many people measure ingredients for biscuits after they had made them for many years. In fact, you will mix these much the way you do biscuits.
This recipe, comments, and photos are courtesy of Cynthia Detterick-Pineda of Andrews, TX.
In a large bowl, blend together the flour baking powder, and salt.
With a pastry cutter (unless you are one of those, like my teachers, who always used their hands) cut in the lard or shortening.
Add the milk all at once, and mix the dough quickly with a fork or by hand until the dough forms a mass.
Turn the dough onto a well-floured board and begin to knead the dough by folding it in half, pushing it down, and folding again. It should take about a dozen folds to form a soft dough that is no longer sticky.
Cover the dough with a towel or plastic wrap to let it rest for approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
Divide the dough in 1/2, keeping the 1/2 you are not working with covered with plastic wrap or a towel so it does not dry out.
Roll the dough half you have chosen on a floured board with gentle strokes. Roll the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. The more you work the dough, the tougher your sopapilla will turn out. However, to keep a sopapilla well puffed after cooking, you may want to work the dough a minute or so longer.
Cut the dough into rectangles that are about 10-inch by 5-inch. Divide the triangle into a 5-inch squares, and then cut this into a triangle. NOTE: If you find the dough beginning to dry as you work with the remainder, cover this loosely with a some plastic wrap.
Do not attempt to reform and roll the leftover dough scraps. They do not roll out well on the second try. You can cook these dough scraps along with the others, and they taste just as good.
Heat some vegetable oil in a large skillet or a deep fryer until the oil reaches about 400 degrees F. NOTE: Check the temperature of the oil with your digital cooking thermometer.
Carefully slide the first sopapilla into the hot oil. Submerge the sopapilla under the oil. It should begin to puff immediately. NOTE: Sopapillas - They either puff or they don’t puff. Their puff is what makes it a sopapilla - but don’t despair as both can be eaten. If your sopapillas are not puffing properly, the temperature of the oil may need to be increased or decreased. Environmental changes in temperature and altitude can make setting the temperature tricky at times.
Using a slotted spoon, turn the sopapilla over to brown the other side. Sometimes this can be difficult, as the sopapilla will want to stay on the side it was on. A little coaxing with your slotted spatula will help this. Hold it for only a moment, and it will adjust to the side it is on. Once both sides, approximately 2 minutes per side, are browned, remove the sopapilla to a surface to drain (paper towels or a draining rack will both work).
Sopapillas can be kept warm in a 200 degree F. oven for up to 1 hour. They refrigerate well and can be reheated in a 350 degree F. oven for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.