New Mexico Sopapillas

I love these guys – puffy, airy little pastries designed to do one thing: be a delivery mechanism for awesome flavors.  They are a staple of New Mexican cuisine, and as far as I can tell, almost exclusive to it as well.
Sopapilla literally means “little soup pillow” and that’s what they are best at – sopping up delicious sauce from the plate, or soaking in delicious chili.  My first encounter with a sopapilla was at a Sadie’s in Albuquerque, NM back when I was in high school.  This was also the first time I encountered Chili Verde, chili in general, and food that was legitimately spicy.  I had been wanting to try to make these for years, but for a whole variety of reasons never got around to it until the other night, and they were amazing.  Sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon sugar or a drizzle of honey, they also make an awesome breakfast.  Also, this was REALLY easy.

Time: 30 minutes
Level: Easy
Cost: Really, really cheap seeing as they’re made from stuff you probably have on hand
Makes:  Approximately 18-24 sopapillas

Ingredients

  1. 3 cups all purpose flour, plus perhaps 1-2 TBSP
  2. 2 tsp double-acting baking powder
  3. 1 tsp salt
  4. 1 cup whole milk
  5. 1/4 cup warm water
  6. 6 TBSP unsalted butter, melted
  7. 1.5 quart (48 oz) vegetable or canola oil, for frying

Instructions

  1. Combine dry ingredients (1-3) in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.
  2. Create a well in the bowl using the dry ingredients, it should look like a little volcano; a mound of ingredients with a little hole, perhaps 2 inches in diameter, in the top.
  3. Combine wet ingredients (4-6) in a 2 cup measuring cup and whisk briefly to combine.
  4. Add about half of the wet ingredients to your flour-mixture volcano.  Using your hands, begin scooping the dry ingredients from the edges of the volcano into the wet ones on top.  Add the rest of the wet ingredients and continue to mix until a rough dough has formed.  If your dough is super sticky, coat it with 1 TBSP flour.  Once the dough is fairly consistent, coat with 1 more TBSP flour and cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel.  Punch down and fold a few times to make sure everything is really worked together.  Allow dough to rest for 20 minutes.
  5. Once dough is rested, remove it from the bowl and divide into two parts.  Place one part back in the bowl and cover while you work with the other part.  On a lightly floured work surface, use a rolling pin to roll the dough out to about 1/8 inch thick, trying to get it as consistent as possible.  Cut off rounded edges to make a rectangular piece of dough and discard the trimmings.  Cut dough into rectangles approximately 1.5″ x 2″.  Repeat with the remaining dough.
  6. Heat oil in a large pot to 375°F – 400°F
    • Cook’s Note:  When frying stuff, I’ve found that my 5qt sauté pan is actually the perfect size.  480z of oil comes do about 2″ deep, which is all you really need to fry just about anything.  The fact that it’s fairly wide (12″ across) means that the oil will come up to temperature more quickly and I can fry things in larger batches.  There’s only one serious drawback:  A sauté pan has a handle, and handles can be accidentally knocked, and the potential for knocking a large volume of 400°F oil onto yourself or the floor is a VERY bad thing.  So, if you use your sauté pan for this, PLEASE make sure the handle is pointed AWAY from you, toward your stove, and well away from any place it could be inadvertently knocked.
  7. Once oil is up to temp, carefully slide a sopapilla into the oil.  It will submerge, sizzling quite a bit, and then float to the top.  Then the magic happens:  Before your very eyes, it will puff into a beautiful little pillow.  Continue to fry for 2-3 minutes until golden brown, and the flip with a slotted spoon to brown the other side.  Once you’ve done one as a tester, you can probably do 3-4 at a time.
    • Cook’s Note:  If your sopapilla doesn’t puff, chances are your oil isn’t the right temperature.  It’s got to be hotter than 350°F but no hotter than about 410°F.  Remember:  Every time you add a sopapilla to the oil, it’s going to bring the overall oil temp down a couple of degrees.  This is why I recommend starting with your oil somewhere between 375°F – 400°F.   Either that or you’re trying this at high-altitude.  In either case, if after a few test batches your sopapillas don’t puff, don’t worry – they’re still tasty.
  8. Once fried, remove sopapillas to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain.  Repeat until all sopapillas are fried.  They can be kept warm in a 200°F oven for 30-45 minutes.  Also, they refrigerate pretty well and can be gently reheated in a 325°F oven until just warmed through, about 5 minutes.

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