Popular in the American Southwest and a staple in many Mexican households, the sopapilla (sew-paw-PEE-yaw) is a light fried bread, which puffs up and is hollow. They are served in numerous ways: sprinkled with sugar(s), drizzled with honey, opened up and stuffed, or for sopping up broth, soups, stews, sauces, gravy...
Mix the flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Cut in the shortening with a pastry cutter (I use my hands), and then add the warm milk all at once, stir with a fork (or once again, your hands) to make a sticky mass. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until you have a soft ball. Wrap in plastic wrap, and let it rest for 15 minutes to an hour. (At this point it's a pretty forgiving dough, I've let mine sit for most of an afternoon, but I don't recommend letting it go that long. I find 15-30 minutes to be optimal).
Now is a good time to start heating your oil for the deep frying, somewhere between 375F to 400F is what you are looking for.
Divide dough in half. Wrap the half you're not using back in the plastic wrap to keep it from drying out. Now we're going to roll the dough thin and flat. It's about 18 inches by 12 inches, you want it to be about 1/8 of an inch thick, so your dough may vary in size, the important part in the thickness. If it keeps springing back, roll it as thin as you can, let it rest 5-10 minutes more, then come back and roll it again.
Next cut the dough into 3-4 inch squares. It doesn't have to be perfect, They can even be triangles. If your oil is long in heating up, cover the dough with plastic wrap or a towel to keep it from drying out. And don't worry about the dough springing back or starting to raise, if that happens simply give them a light roll and stretch them back to the 1/8 inch thin.
About the hot oil, you can use a deep fryer, but really, all you need is at least two inches of oil in a heavy pan or skillet. I used my dutch oven because it's big enough to allow my to fry four at a time.
When your oil has reached temperature, drop one square into the oil. It should sink to the bottom and immediately begin to puff up and will rise back to the surface. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, flip the sopapilla over to cook the other side. This can be kind of tricky, they like to stay puffiest side up. Use the tongs, or spoon, to hold them in place if you have to. Cook each side until light golden brown, one to two minutes per side. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. You can keep them warm in a 200F degree oven until ready to serve. (They will hold for about half an hour). Once you've finished the first batch, start again with the other half of the dough.
You can dust these with sugar, sugar and cinnamon, powdered sugar, drizzle them with honey, spread them with butter, serve them with soup, it's up to you!
What if they don't puff??? Don't worry, they are still good to eat, like a miniature fry bread! Nine times out of ten, when it happens to me it's because my oil is not hot enough, check your oil temp. If they brown before they puff, your oil may be too hot, again, check the temp.
What if they start to bubble but don't make the big bubble? Again oil may be to hot, dough is cooking before the air can expand, or you dough may be a little too thick, try rolling it lightly to thin it down and try again!
The biggest reason an entire batch will fail is old, tired baking powder. This works best with fresh baking powder.
At first, try one at a time, until you see how they are doing, then work your way up to as many as your fryer or pan will hold. I've been making these for 40 years, and still only do 3-4 at a time. And some of them are just a trial to turn over!
This is the first recipe I've posted here, so if I'm not clear or you need further instructions, please let me know. Try it and enjoy!