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Recipe: sopaipillas

Over the weekend, we lost a longtime family friend. He was the father of one of my childhood besties. Even though he wasn’t related to me, I called him Uncle. That is how I was taught to address friends of the family – Uncle or Auntie. But I always thought of him as an uncle. He was a positive, kind, gentle, soft-spoken, and even-tempered man with a sense of humor and a genuine sincerity. He had a sweet smile and a demeanor that put people at ease. I loved him like family.

I shed my share of tears on and off throughout the weekend while Jeremy quietly handed me tissues and squeezed my hand. I know better than to think that the people we love will be there forever, and yet it still knocks the wind out of me when they are no longer here. Despite the frigid temperatures, I needed to get outside and move – get the blood pumping and take deep breaths of mountain air with each glide of my skis on silent snow. It’s how I sort my thoughts, heal a broken body or a broken heart, try to answer the unanswerable questions. It’s where I seek comfort.


I’m not much of a comfort eater. I don’t seek comfort in food. Typically, if I am in need of comforting, I’m not eating. But I do enjoy the occasional “comfort” food like anybody else. When I made chile rellenos over the holidays, we both felt as if something was missing… that finishing touch. The majority of the restaurant meals I’ve enjoyed over the past 20+ years in New Mexico ended with sopaipillas. It’s a simple fry bread served as hot pillows of dough with a bear-shaped bottle of honey on the side and little fanfare. New Mexicans love their sopaipillas.

flour, water, milk, vegetable oil, baking powder, salt, sugar

mix the dry ingredients together

work the oil into the flour with your fingers

stir in the milk and water

The recipe is simple enough, but what kept me away for so long was the frying. Man, I hate frying. I just don’t like dealing with the oil afterward – the clean up, the filtering, the storage (Boulder recycles used vegetable oil, so I save it up to recycle every few years which is better than the alternative). Every now and again it is worth the trouble though. I call those items fry-worthy and sopaipillas are most certainly fry-worthy.

mix it into a sticky dough

knead until “earlobe” soft

rest under a damp cloth

divide into three balls and rest some more

The first time I made sopaipillas, I followed the recipe instructions and made a batch of 12. They were cute and little – about the size of my palm. Jeremy informed me that these were on the small side, that typical sopaipillas were larger. On my second attempt, I made a batch of 8 and these were exactly like the ones we enjoyed in restaurants. I also got New Mexico’s native son’s approval.

roll out a ball of dough to about 1/4-inch thickness

cut into quarters

ready to fry

The key to rolling out the dough is to not manhandle it. Roll it out, but try not to press it down. Don’t overwork the dough or re-roll the dough either. The goal is to get a nice puffy pillow when you fry it and that won’t happen if you squash the hell out of the dough. Another important tidbit is to use fresh oil. Apparently, the smoke point of oil decreases with each use. The oil needs to be pretty hot in order to get the sopaipillas to puff properly. I used my frying oil a second time for the second batch and while they came out fine, I did notice more inconsistency in the frying on the second batch of sopaipillas. And finally, when you place the dough wedges into the hot oil, as soon as they rise to the top, ladle hot oil over the tops of the sopaipillas. This encourages them to puff up, which is what you want. It all happens quickly, so I don’t recommend trying to multi-task when making sopaipillas. Give them the undivided attention they deserve.

frying and puffing

serve hot

dessert sopaipillas are usually served with honey

There is no better sopaipilla than a fresh, hot sopaipilla. Carefully grab one, taking care not to burn your fingers, and pull a corner off. Drizzle honey into the opening as you turn the sopaipilla in such a way as to drizzle honey all over the interior of the fry bread. Jeremy’s mom recounted how, as a kid, Jeremy (or maybe it was his younger brother) once filled his sopaipilla full of honey. Oy.

tear off a corner (eat or reserve for later to dip in honey)

drizzle the honey

Jeremy and I both agreed that these were exactly like the sopaipillas we have enjoyed in New Mexico. It reminded him of home. The crisp outside and soft, doughy inside are perfectly paired with sweet, gooey honey. And they’re fun to eat. It would surprise me if one didn’t find some comfort there.

best when fresh

[print recipe]
from The Border Cookbook

2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsps sugar (optional)
1 1/2 tsps vegetable oil
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup milk, at room temperature

Whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar (if using) together in a large mixing bowl. Work the vegetable oil into the flour mixture with your fingertips. Stir the water and milk into the flour mixture until you get a sticky dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead it until it is “earlobe” soft (about a minute). Form it into a ball and let the dough rest, covered with a damp cloth, for about 15 minutes. Divide the dough into 3 balls (2 balls if you prefer larger sopaipillas). Cover the dough balls with the damp cloth and let rest for 15-30 minutes. At this point you can refrigerate the dough for up to 4 hours. Dust your work surface with flour and roll out a ball to a 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick circle. If you have any protruding edges, trim and discard to get a circle. Take care that you don’t re-roll the dough because it results in a dense dough. Cut the circle into quarters. Repeat for the rest of the dough balls.

Heat about 2 inches of fresh oil (canola, peanut, vegetable) in a deep pan to 400°F. Use fresh oil because the smoke point of oil drops with each use. Carefully add 2-3 wedges of dough at a time. As they rise to the surface of the oil (this happens in about 10 seconds), ladle hot oil over the tops to promote ballooning. I found I only needed to ladle oil over the tops once. When the sopaipillas are puffed and the bottoms are golden (30 seconds to a minute), flip them over and continue to fry until golden (30 seconds to a minute). Remove from hot oil to paper towels. Serve hot with honey. Makes 12 small sopaipillas or 8 large sopaipillas.

36 nibbles at “comfort”

  1. debbie says:

    I have had these drizzled with chocolate and powdered sugar. They look so delicious!

  2. Kristin says:

    I’m sorry for your loss. That knocking the wind out of you thing is so real.

  3. Jane M says:

    Ok I’ve just GOT to try this recipe!!! I too have 2 Aunties and Uncle! My husband thinks in a freak! GAAAH! D

  4. TheKitchWitch says:

    I’m so sorry, Jen. :(

  5. Cindi says:

    I would say some comfort food was in order after your loss. :( So sorry, Jen.
    And the sopaipillas look delicious! Now I’m craving one…

  6. Sarah E. Welch says:

    I grew up eating these in Louisiana & Arkansas at the many tasty Mexican joints available there (why, Colorado, why don’t you have better Mexican food?!). Anyway, they were just like these but dusted with cinnamon sugar while they were still hot. Some restaurants used these as part of a sundae…a ball of fried ice cream (butter pecan rolled in corn flakes was the best), then a few of these around, topped with honey, chocolate sauce, and cinnamon. That was definitely a shareable desert :)

  7. Grace says:

    These sopapillas look amazing, as did your chili rellenos. They inspired me to order some at a favorite Mexican place on Saturday, but new ownership had taken over, and they were so disappointing, compared to how delicious yours looked. Just want to say that your photos and your recipes are amazing, I’m thankful for you and and your blog!
    Also, I’m so sorry about your uncle passing away.

  8. Stephen Andrew says:

    YUM. And this could so easily be vegan. Thank you!!

  9. Liz N. says:

    Jen, I am so sorry for your personal loss. Sending you a virtual hug! Your sopaipilla recipe is one that I will try soon. Frying is not something I enjoy doing. There is only one occasion where I feel it’s worthwhile: Making my mom’s Lumpia Shanghai (Filipino eggrolls). These sopaipillas might be a good second reason! I found my stomach growling as I was looking at these photos. YUM!

  10. Meredith says:

    So happy to have a good recipe that does not involve lard. And, I always get annoyed, no matter how good the restaurant, if they bring the sopaipillas WITH dinner! (Because in NM, there are those that eat sopaipillas with dinner and those that eat them as dessert – just like there are those who like green chile and those (wrong) folks who like red!)

  11. Linda says:

    I’m sorry to hear of your loss, Jen. I, too, have lost family friends who were family. Even when our loved ones get older (never OLD), I think deep down we expect them to be around forever.

    Hugs and kisses (and tissues)

  12. Sally - My Custard Pie says:

    Sorry to hear about another sad moment in your life but thanks for sharing.

  13. Katrina says:

    Oh, I’m so sorry to hear about the death of a dear family friend. Such an unsettled feeling as our parents and friends are no longer in the here and now, and one I still can’t seem to adjust to – they will be missed forever.

    LOVE your marvelous sopaipillas – lovely little pillows of deliciousness!

  14. spicytofu says:

    This looks so delicious!!!!! I think it’s very common that Asian people call their close friend’s parents Aunties or Uncles although they are not blood related. Even I address my parent’s friends the same way, and I am not close to their friends at all. It’s just a way of showing your respect.

  15. Kathy Swanson says:

    Sorry about the loss of your family friend Jen. I understand your feelings of pain at his death. It is hard to come to grips with the idea that he is gone. But is he really – he will live on in you as long as you remember the wonderful, warm person he was and all that you shared.

  16. Ed G - NM xpat says:

    The nice thing about having sopaipillas & honey WITH the meal, is that they are second to none at putting out the fire if the chile is a little too hot for you. I like green but prefer red chile.

  17. Brenda M says:

    I’m sorry for your loss as well. We in Hawaii also call older, respected people who are not necessarily related by blood as “Auntie” or “Uncle.” Your recipe sounds like our local malasadas. Can’t wait to try it!

  18. Peggy says:

    These look perfect! Such a beautiful golden brown =)

  19. Jen says:

    As a New Mexican currently residing in Europe, you have quite literally made my day. These were my absolute favorite treat growing up in Santa Fe, and after college in California and the subsequent move to Italy, there has been a tragic, sopaipilla-shaped hole in my life. So thank you, thank you, thank you!

  20. Rocky Mountain Woman says:

    so sorry for your loss. I have lost someone dear also recently, but I do look for comfort in food and these look comforting…

    hang in there,


  21. clarissa671 says:

    Hi there.. Im sorry to have heard about the loss of your uncle.
    As i was reading thought your directions, it sounded very similar to one of our desserts on Guam.
    I was reading further and it sure sounded like it. But we call ours on Guam bunelos munglu.
    Which means air doughnuts.
    Thanks for sharing all your wonderful recipes.

  22. eemilla says:

    I am sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing a fry worthy dish.

  23. jill says:

    Oh those look yummy! I love how all your pics are so precise. The dough balls so perfect, the quarters so perfect…very pleasing to the eye. xo

    Sorry for your loss….

  24. jenyu says:

    Kristin – thank you, and yes it really is so real.

    TKW – thanks, sweetheart xo

    Sarah – yeah, I had some at Efrain’s recently on a lark and they were soooo disappointingly flat and heavy and blegh.

    Grace – thank you, dear xo

    Stephen – awesome!

    Liz – oh man, lumpia shanghai? Now THAT is something I would totally fry for!

    Meredith – ha ha ha!!!

    Linda – it’s so very true. Thank you and hugs back at you.

    Sally – it’s life, right?

    Katrina – I fear it happens more and more as we age and I agree, it’s never something you can get used to.

    spicytofu – yes, all of my Chinese friends address each others’ parents as Auntie and Uncle, but the point was that Uncle Paul was not just “uncle”, he was like family to me.

    Kathy – thank you, dear Kathy. That’s a lovely way to remember and honor him. xo

    Ed G – uh oh! I think people from NM have very specific opinions on these matters of red vs. green and sopaipillas with or after dinner :)

    Brenda – I’ve had malasadas before. In fact, I must admit I’ve sampled MANY malasadas :) Sopaipillas are hollow on the inside, whereas all of the malasadas I’ve had are solid (and delicious – oh my gawddddd). That said, they both hold a special place in my heart because fried dough is one of the best things EVER :) <3

    Jen - awwwww!!

    RMW - thanks, babe xo

    clarissa671 - yes, I believe they are cousins at the very least! Many versions of fried dough exist and I personally feel that they are ALL WONDERFUL :)

    eemilla - thank you.

    jill - xo

  25. William Neill says:

    Thanks for this. I went to CU in the 1970s, and there was a Mexican restaurant downtown called Michael’s. They made sopaipilla sundaes that were devine. Hot with vanilla ice cream melting on it, and a sweet secret sweet sauce. Have you heard of this. Been wanting one ever since my Boulder days…

  26. William Neill says:

    Whoops… I now see sundaes mentioned…

  27. Rachael @ Tokyo Terrace says:

    Since we moved to Colorado, everyone keeps telling me I need to go to Casa Bonita to have their sopaipillas because they are “the best”. But I’ve also been warned to stay away from any of the other food on the menu because I WILL get sick. It’s just the way it goes. I’d rather skip Casa Bonita and eat these!

  28. 25 Delicioso Recipes for Cinco de MayoCelebrating Family says:

    […] Seasoning Mexican Rice (Pictured) Pozole Rojo Vegan Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodles Sopaipillas Margarita Lime Sherbert  Margaritas (20+ variations!) Easy Cheese Chicken Enchiladas Chicken […]

  29. The Mystic Kitchen says:

    […] Seasoning Mexican Rice (Pictured) Pozole Rojo Vegan Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodles Sopaipillas Margarita Lime Sherbert  Margaritas (20+ variations!) Easy […]

  30. Linda says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. After living in New Mexico then moving back up north asking for sopaipillas and getting a flat cracker like thing ( very disappointing) I miss stuffed sopaipillas too. So I learned to make them and other comfort food from NM. I have tried to explain what a real sopaipilla is supposed to look like and taste like but I get blank stares a shakes of the head. Oh well. Thank you for the recipe.

  31. Cyndi says:

    This is what I’ve been looking for for years. I had these in Albuquerque, NM in 1981 and about ate myself sick they were so good! Now when I see them on the menu they are never sopaipillas but fried flour tortillas! You can’t put honey in a fried tortilla!! *L* These look yummy!

  32. Joey says:

    My grandmother taught my mom then me how to make these. However, we always had them with a pot of ham and beans instead of the honey. Oh so good!

  33. warda says:

    Hi , I made it , but it was not that puffy, only few turned successful , but the it was mainly crispy like fried bread!! I did the exact recipe given here, except for the sugar as it says optional….Can you help me and tell me why??!? Thank you.

  34. jenyu says:

    warda – hmmm, I’ve made this several times now and only had a few unsuccessful attempts. I find they don’t do as well if you refrigerate the dough and then take it out again to fry. Also, if you work the dough too much when rolling it out, I’ve run into some problems. Did you ladle hot oil over the top when you dropped them in? That helps them puff up too. Also, were you using fresh oil and did you have it at the proper temperature (using a thermometer)? Those are the first things that come to mind… Or weigh the flour?

  35. Karen says:

    I’m sorry for your loss, Jen.

    Thank you for this recipe. I bookmarked it a while back, and just got around to making it tonight. They looked just like your photos! They were delicious. After making more than one internet recipe that didn’t perform as advertised, I can tell you that this one will definitely not disappoint you if you try it.

    Next time I think I’ll use White Lily biscuit flour for an even lighter texture, and their will be next times for sure. :-)

  36. Eda says:

    Here it is a mere six years after you wrote this post that I stumbled across it and now have the courage to try making sopapillas for the first tie since high school and just in time for Cinco de Mayo, not that it matters here on the Big Island, but thanks for the writing. Blog recipes are so much better than cookbooks!

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