Why This Recipe Works
- Roasting the butternut squash creates a deep caramelized flavor and creamy texture in the dough that mimics the zapallo camote squash that is traditionally used.
- Gently kneading the dough by hand until smooth avoids excessive gluten development, ensuring tender results.
- Poking the dough rounds thoroughly with a fork before frying “docks” the dough, preventing it from puffing up too much while frying.
A steaming bowl of sopaipillas pasadas—lightly salted fried dough soaked in a spiced dark syrup—is a potent childhood memory for many Chileans. Upon coming home from school in winter, soaked to the bone under a wind beaten umbrella, we would find our moms or grandmas frying the round, yellow, camote squash-based dough pieces, each one glowing like the missing sun. Sopaipillas pasadas is perhaps the most seasonal of the Chilean dishes: We only eat it in winter, and only when it rains. If it’s not raining, somehow, it just doesn’t taste the same.
That’s why, along with the first rains of May or June, the whole country plans for the same activity: making sopaipillas pasadas at home. The French bulldog-sized zapallo camote squash, slowly ripened during Chile’s long summers and mild falls, starts being sold by the chunk in the food markets, cut by request with huge serrated knives specially crafted for the task. Meanwhile, chancaca—our version of panela, or cane sugar—flies off the grocery store shelves. While there are versions of sopaipillas made without zapallo camote squash in the dough, the kind I know and love best usually contain zapallo camote.
Recipes for sopaipillas pasadas, and also a savory variant served with a salsa called pebre (I’ve included instructions for both sweet and savory preparations below), are passed down in families, and everyone defends their own way of shaping and piercing the sopaipilla dough; their own take on the sweetness, thickness, and spices on the chancaca syrup; and even whether you like them pasadas (steeped in the syrup) or savory.
If enjoyed savory, they are best served freshly fried, still crispy, and topped with spicy pebre salsa, made from tomatoes, onions, chile peppers, and more. Chilean restaurants will often serve the savory version of sopaipillas with pebre as an appetizer; an alternative to bread and butter, if you will. I love these squash-filled, doughy pastries served both sweet and savory.
While I was living in the US and then in Denmark, I had to make do without my beloved Chilean pumpkin variety (zapallo camote) and chancaca (Chilean unrefined sugar). In my quest to recreate sopaipillas pasadas while away from home, I managed to find good replacements for these key ingredients. While butternut squash is less dense and less intensely flavored than Chile’s zapallo camote, I found that roasting butternut deepened and sweetened its flavor enough to approximate zapallo camote.
As Mari Uyehara points out in her guide to winter squash, roasting butternut squash “concentrates the squash’s flavor by evaporating moisture, converting its complex carbohydrates to sugars, then caramelizing those sugars.” This concentration in flavor and transformation of the flesh to a creamy-smooth texture from roasting made it a great stand-in for my beloved camote. When it came to replacing the sweet, dark, and complex chancaca, I found panela or piloncillo to be worthy stand-ins. Both replacement options are made from raw cane sugar and have a complex sweet flavor profile similar to chancaca, but they are much lighter in color as they do not have the added molasses as chancaca has.
This recipe will fill your kitchen with the heartwarming aromas of the Chilean kitchen. Eat sopaipillas pasadas as a sweet treat with a cup of hot tea on a cool rainy day, or enjoy savory sopaipillas with pebre as a comforting snack.
Sopaipillas (Chilean Fried Pastries)
These Chilean fried dough rounds can be served two ways: soaked in a spiced syrup for a comforting sweet treat, or served freshly fried and crispy with salsa.
- For the Sopaipilla Dough:
- 1 medium butternut squash, (about 2 pounds; 900g), halved lengthwise and seeded 2 teaspoons (10ml) vegetable or other neutral oil
- 3 1/2 cups (1 pound; 455g) all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 teaspoons(10g) baking powder
- 1 tablespoon (10g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; if using table salt, use half as much by volume
- 3 ounces (85g) vegetable shortening, melted and warm
- 3 to 6 tablespoons (45-90ml) warm water
- 2 quarts (2L) vegetable or other neutral oil, for frying
- For Sopaipillas Pasadas (Sweet Sopaipillas):
- 14 ounces (400g) chancaca, panela, or piloncillo (see notes)
- 1 1/2 ounces (45g) granulated sugar
- Four 2-inch pieces (5g) orange peel
- 4 to 5 sticks (5g) whole Mexican cinnamon (Ceylon)
- 2 cloves
- 1 1/2 ounces (45g) cornstarch stirred into 1 1/2 fluid ounces (45ml) water to form a slurry
- For Sopaipillas with Pebre:
- 4 medium ripe tomatoes (about 18 ounces; 510g), peeled, seeded, and finely diced (see notes)
- 1 small white onion (about 4 ounces; 115g), finely diced
- 1 medium fresh ají cristal hot pepper (or any other spicy and citrusy yellow hot pepper such as lemon drop or hot yellow banana peppers), deveined, seeded, and finely diced
- 1/4 packed cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
- 1 small clove garlic, finely diced
- 1/4 cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) Chilean hot sauce, such as ají pebre, or any other mild hot sauce, such as sriracha
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon merken (optional, see notes)
- Salt, to taste
For the Sopaipilla Dough: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 400°F (205°C).
On a rimmed baking sheet, brush butternut squash with oil and place cut side down on baking sheet. Roast, flipping squash to cut side up halfway through, until tender and golden brown at edges, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly, about 5 minutes.
Scoop 8 ounces cooked squash flesh and transfer to a food processor, high powered blender, or immersion blender jar. Save remaining roasted squash for another use. Process squash, scraping down sides of processor bowl as needed, until completely smooth, about 2 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt until combined. Using a wooden spoon, stir in squash puree and melted shortening until combined and some lumps form.
Stir in warm water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until a rough ball forms (total added water may range from 3 to 6 tablespoons).
Transfer dough to a clean work surface and gently knead by hand until dough feels smooth but still firm, 1 to 2 minutes; do not over-knead the dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest on counter for 15 minutes.
Unwrap and transfer sopaipilla dough to a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll dough into a 16-inch circle, about 1/4-inch thick. Using a 3-inch round cutter, cut circles from the dough.Transfer dough rounds to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Dough scraps may be gathered together, rerolled to a 1/4-inch thickness, and cut into more rounds. You should have about 26 dough rounds total.
Using a fork, prick each dough round three times (making sure to poke all the way through the dough as this reduces dough from puffing too much while frying).
Set wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. Line rack with a double layer of paper towels. In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat to 350°F (175°C). Gently place 5 sopaipillas in hot oil. Cook, adjusting burner as necessary to maintain oil temperature around 350°F (175°C) degrees, until golden brown on undersides, about 2 minutes. Using a spider skimmer, gently flip sopaipillas and fry until second sides are browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer sopaipillas to prepared rack. Return oil to 350°F and repeat with remaining sopaipillas in batches of 5 at a time.
For Sopaipillas Pasadas: In a large pot, stir together chancaca, granulated sugar, orange peels, cinnamon sticks, cloves and 1 1/2 quarts (1.4L) water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chancaca is dissolved.
Whisk cornstarch slurry to remix. Return syrup to a boil over high heat and pour cornstarch slurry into boiling syrup while whisking. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Transfer fried sopaipillas to the hot syrup. Soak sopaipillas until softened to desired consistency, 15 to 90 minutes (see notes). Return to a simmer before serving in individual bowls. Serve 2 to 4 sopaipillas per person with additional hot syrup ladled over top.
For Sopaipillas with Pebre: In a medium bowl, stir together all the pebre ingredients and season with salt to taste. Let stand at room temperature until flavors meld and vegetables begin to soften, about 20 minutes. Serve pebre alongside freshly fried and crispy sopaipillas.
Rolling pin, 3-inch round cutter (any cookie cutter, pasta cutter, or sturdy drinking glass ranging in size from 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches will work in this recipe), spider skimmer, Dutch oven
Chancaca is made from raw sugar and molasses from sugar beets, whereas panela and piloncillo are made from just raw cane sugar. While all 3 are very close in flavor, chancaca is much darker in color.
For the sopaipillas pasadas, the final soaking time in Step 12 is a large range to reflect personal preference of how softened you choose the fried pastry to be. Some prefer their sopaipillas lightly soaked, while others will soak them overnight, until the sopaipillas almost dissolve into the syrup. Find your own preferred level.
If you can’t find good tomatoes in the middle of the winter, do as we do in Chile and replace tomatoes with diced green onions or leeks: a perfect pebre de invierno.
Merken is a smoky, spicy seasoning made by the indigenous Mapuche people in central-southern Chile. If unable to find, just omit from the recipe.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Dough can be made up to 4 hours ahead, covered with plastic wrap, and kept at room temperature until ready to use. Alternatively, dough can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring dough to room temperature before shaping.
Cut sopaipilla dough rounds can be frozen while still raw, then stored flat in freezer bags or containers, separated by parchment paper. Thaw completely before frying.
Syrup can be cooked through step 10 and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week. When ready to use, bring to a simmer in a large pot and continue with the cornstarch slurry in Step 11.
Pebre can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 day.