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A sopaipilla, sometimes spelled sopapilla, is a piece of fried dough that is sweetened with honey. Sopaipillas are often referred to as “little pillows” because of their puffed appearance after frying. They are closely related to other pastries made of fried dough, such as doughnuts, bunuelos and churros.
The basic method of cooking a sopaipilla involves combining flour, oil and salt — and sometimes ingredients such as baking powder or evaporated milk — into a soft dough. The dough is formed into balls or small triangles, and they are dropped into a pot of hot oil. Each dough ball is fried until it is golden and “puffed” on one side, then it is flipped over and fried until it golden and puffed all over.
Sopaipillas traditionally are served warm, and they are often made sweet with honey or sugar. They also are commonly made savory by adding a stuffing of meat, beans or vegetables, similar to a taco or an enchilada. Sopaipillas are also often served as a substitute for bread or rolls.
Variations of sopaipillas can be found in certain regions of North, Central and South America. In Chile, they are traditionally made with a winter squash, usually zapallo, although canned pumpkin is also used. The squash is mixed with flour and lard to form the dough, and the finished pastry is often served with an unrefined cane sugar syrup flavored with citrus and cinnamon. Chilean sopaipillas are also sometimes served with condiments such as mustard, ketchup, butter, manjar or a pepper sauce known as pebre. They are most commonly eaten at teatime — particularly on cold, rainy days as a pick-me-up.
In Peru, sopaipillas are called cachangas and are most commonly eaten for breakfast. They are traditionally made with corn flour. This variation is usually larger in size but more thin and crispy than other sopaipillas. In the United States, the sopaipilla is popular throughout the Southwest and is most commonly associated with New Mexico, the city of Albuquerque in particular.
Many people contend that sopaipillas originated in Albuquerque in the late 1600s or early 1700s, but the pastry also seems to have international roots. The word "sopaipilla" derives from the Spanish word sopaipa, which refers to a fried dough with honey. The Spanish word is derived, in turn, from the Mozarabic word xopaipa, which referred to bread soaked in oil. Mozarabic was spoken by people on the Iberian Peninsula in Europe from the fifth century to the eighth century.