Back in their home country, Salvadorans eat pupusas for breakfast much like Americans wolf down pancakes, but with one basic difference: Their cakes tend to be savory, not sweet. This version, from Food staff writer Tim Carman, is filled with fresh cheese and sweetened lightly with citrus zest and heavy cream. The trick is to use a tiny amount of the latter, if desired, otherwise the filling will become too wet, which will break down the structure of the masa dough. It makes for a messy pupusa.
The key to good pupusas is to pat them thin enough so the masa dough doesn't overwhelm the filling. This takes time and practice. You also must keep your griddle or skillet clean as you cook, scraping away any browned bits of masa. Char is not the look to go for here.
You'll need a probe thermometer for the filling.
Serve with a pat of butter and a dollop of your favorite jam.
Make Ahead: The masa dough can be made 3 or 4 hours in advance; it should be kept at room temperature in a bowl covered with a wet towel. The pupusas can be prepared in advanced, individually wrapped and refrigerated overnight or frozen up to two weeks. The filling can be prepared a day or two in advance and the leftovers, if any, can be refrigerated for up to a week.
Yield: Makes about 8 pupusas
- For the filling
- 1 quart whole milk, preferably creamline
- 1/3 cup cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream (optional)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 strips crisped bacon, coarsely chopped
- Finely grated zest of 1 orange (approximately 1 tablespoon)
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (approximately 2 teaspoons)
- For the masa
- 3 cups instant corn masa flour, preferably Maseca brand
- 2 1/2 cups warm water
For the filling: Clean and sterilize a large pot, colander, metal spoon and probe thermometer.
Gently heat the milk to 190 degrees in the pot, occasionally stirring with a metal spoon to prevent scorching. Once the temperature registers a constant 190 degrees on the thermometer, pour in the cider vinegar and turn off the heat. Allow the milk to curdle, about 5 minutes.
Strain off the liquid (whey) through a colander and allow the curds to cool. Transfer to a bowl and, if desired, fold in the cream to smooth out the cheese. Add the salt, bacon and orange and lemon zests, mixing well to incorporate. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
For the masa: Combine the masa harina and 2 cups of the water in a large bowl; mix by hand to achieve a smooth dough, with the consistency of Play-Doh. If necessary, add the remaining 1/2 cup of water, one tablespoon at a time. The dough should not be sticky to the touch. Cover and let it rest in a cool place for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
To assemble: Fill a small bowl with warm water for dipping your hands as you form the pupusas; your hands should be moist but not soaked. Divide the dough into eight equal portions (of approximately 2.5 ounces each). Take a portion, and press and rotate it firmly in your hands until the dough forms approximately a 5-inch disk. Spread two heaping tablespoons (a little more than 1/2 ounce) of the filling evenly over the top of the pupusa, leaving about a 1/4-inch margin around the edges. Fold up the edges of the disk into a ball, being careful to keep the filling at the center. Press and rotate the ball of dough again in your hands to produce an approximately a 5-inch pupusa, about 1/2-inch thick. (Do not worry if some cracks form and the filling peeks through the masa. The cooking process will help sear and seal those cracks.)
If preparing them ahead, the pupusas can be individually wrapped and refrigerated overnight or frozen for a couple of weeks.
When ready to cook, heat a dry griddle or skillet over medium-high heat until it is quite hot. Place the pupusas on the griddle; cook about 2 1/2 minutes on each side, until lightly browned on both sides.
Adapted by Food staff writer Tim Carman, from a recipe in "Latin American Cooking Across the USA," by Himilce Novas and Rosemary Silva (Knopf, 1997).
Tested by Tim Carman.
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