Debbie Dominguez has taught at Delaware's Arts Castle for many years, and if she's learned one thing about stimulating kids' creativity, it's that the brain is connected to the stomach.
Cooking also provides a palette for all kinds of learning - math, science, social studies, you name it. Mix it all together, and the learning goes down as easily as the scrumptious treats the kids cook up with Dominguez.
On one rainy Friday this summer, Dominguez and her son, Michael, who is also an art teacher, guided their seven students, ages 6 through 12, on a multi-disciplinary tour of various South American cultures.
In between the torn-paper, rain-forest collages and the oil-pastel drawings on black construction paper, the kids made sopaipillas (pronounced "soh-peye-PEE-uhz), a fried-dough pastry dusted with cinnamon sugar (honey is another sweetener often used in the preparation).
"They can do anything (in the making of sopaipillas) except the hot oil," said Dominguez, explaining why she likes this recipe even in a makeshift setting like the Arts Castle's painting and drawing studio.
She had a large wood cutting board set up on one drafting table, and an electric-pan frying station on a card table. The kids took turns measuring, mixing and rolling out the dough.
"We're using canola oil. Does any one know why?" Dominguez asked her young charges, gathered around the mixing bowl. They discussed why this type of oil is better for heart health.
A measuring cup yielded a discussion about fractions, while baking powder lent itself to a chat about chemistry and leavening agents.
Once all seven children had taken turns rolling the dough to an even quarter-inch thickness, they used a biscuit cutter to punch out small circles of dough that they toted over to the frying station. Dominguez gently dropped the circles into a thin layer of more canola oil that had been heated to 400 degrees.
"Now tell me when it starts to get brown on the edges and we'll flip it," Dominguez told the kids. It only took two to three minutes before each circle was puffy and perfect to flip onto a Styrofoam plate covered with a paper towel, where it was dosed with cinnamon sugar. A couple of minutes of cooling and the kids began devouring their treats.
"It's awesome," announced Evan Tarnawsky on his way back to the frying station with a second dough circle to cook up.
10 minutes to mix dough
1 hour to let it sit
5 minutes to roll out
Cooking and Cooling Time: 5 minutes
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons canola oi (for dough)
- 1 cup of canola oil (for frying)
- Cinnamon sugar to taste (most people prefer a ratio of 8 parts sugar to 1 part cinnamon)
FOR THE GROWN-UP AND KID TO DO:
Measure the flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl. Pour in the water and 2 tablespoons of canola oil. Mix together with a spatula. The dough should have a slightly tacky, springy feel when mixed properly. Cover the bowl and dough with plastic wrap or a towel, set aside and let it sit for at least an hour, and up to three hours at room temperature. The dough can also be made ahead, covered and chilled in a refrigerator overnight: Just let it warm to room temperature (while covered) before rolling out.
Sprinkle flour on a flat surface (like a cutting board or clean counter). Shape the ball of dough into a flattened circle about six inches in diameter. Using a rolling pin that has been dusted with flour, roll out the dough, starting in the center and pushing outward. Pick up the circle of dough occasionally and turn it over to roll the other side until the dough is a big circle about 18 inches in diameter and a quarter-inch thick.
Pour up to a cup of canola oil into a frying pan so that it's no more than a quarter-inch deep, and slowly heat to about 400 degrees. If you don't have a candy thermometer or are not using an electric pan, just make sure the oil doesn't start smoking (then it's too hot and will spatter more easily). Drop in a small piece of dough to test the oil; if small bubbles appear immediately around its edges, then it's hot enough.
Cut out circles of dough, using a biscuit or cookie cutter, and hand them to the grown-up.
Gently drop the dough circles into the oil. Watch for the edges to start browning, and then flip over with a spatula. This takes 60-90 seconds on each side. When the surface is browned and bubbled all over, remove to a plate covered with a paper towel.
Sprinkle cinnamon sugar over the sopaipilla. Wait 2-3 minutes for it to cool before eating. And you're done!
Sopaipillas are also called cachangas in Mexico. The word "sopaipilla" originates from xopaipa, an Arabic word by way of Germany then Spain, which means "bread soaked in oil."
Depending on where they're made -- South or Central America, or the Southwestern U.S. -- sopaipillas can be served as a breakfast dish with sweeteners like honey or sugar, or as a savory side dish at dinner with mustard, hot butter or a condiment known as pebre (a mixture of onion, tomato, garlic and herbs).