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What are cortadillos made from?

Cortadillos are a traditional Mexican dessert that are made by wrapping strips of tortilla dough around a sweet filling. They are a popular street food and dessert in Mexico, especially in the states of Puebla and Oaxaca. While recipes can vary, cortadillos are generally made from just a few simple ingredients.

The Tortilla Dough

The foundation of cortadillos is the tortilla dough that is used to wrap around the filling. Authentic cortadillos are made with a special type of dough called masa hojaldra or hojaldra for short. This dough has similarities to puff pastry and filo dough. It consists of many thin alternating layers of dough and fat (usually lard or vegetable shortening). This layering technique gives the dough its distinctive flaky, crispy texture when fried.

To make the dough, flour (usually all-purpose or bread flour) is combined with lard or shortening and a small amount of water. This basic dough is kneaded until smooth and then rolled out into a thin sheet. The dough is folded over itself multiple times, rolled out, and folded again. This process of rolling, folding, and rolling again creates the layered effect. Some recipes will go through this process as many as 12 times to create very thin alternating dough-fat layers.

While hojaldra dough is traditional, many modern recipes will substitute regular tortilla dough made with masa harina (corn flour). This quick tortilla dough consists of masa harina, salt, baking powder or lard and water or broth. The dough can be kneaded by hand or mixed in a stand mixer. While not as flaky, regular masa dough is an acceptable shortcut and simplifies theprocess.

The Filling

Cortadillos can be filled with either a sweet or savory filling. Traditional sweet fillings include:

  • Piloncillo – Unrefined Mexican brown sugar that has a molasses-like flavor.
  • Cajeta – A caramel-like syrup made from reduced milk and sugar.
  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Fruit purees or chopped fruit like guava or pineapple
  • Raisins or chopped nuts
  • Custards
  • Chocolate spreads or sauces

Savory fillings may consist of:

  • Shredded chicken
  • Refried beans
  • Cheese
  • Chorizo or other sausage
  • Potatoes
  • Picadillo – a Mexican ground beef mixture
  • Chiles
  • Tomatoes

The filling ingredients are prepared and cooked in advance, then allowed to cool before assembly.

Shaping the Cortadillos

To form the cortadillos, small portions of the tortilla dough are rolled into balls or ovals. The dough is then flattened into rounds about 3-4 inches across. A tablespoon or two of the filling is placed in the center of the round.

The edges of the dough are brought up around the filling and gently pressed together to seal in the filling completly. The dough will pleat and fold as it is sealed tightly. The cortadillos can be formed into half moon or rectangular shapes.

Frying the Cortadillos

Once formed, the cortadillos are fried in oil until golden brown and crispy on both sides. The oil should be around 375F. They are flipped halfway through frying so both sides brown evenly. The dough will puff slightly and develop flaky layers during frying.

Vegetable oil, canola oil, lard, or shortening can be used for frying. The cortadillos are done frying when they are golden brown and float to the top of the oil.

Finishing Touches

Once fried, the hot cortadillos are drained on a paper towel lined plate. While still warm, they are often dusted with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar for extra sweetness and presentation.

Cortadillos taste best when freshly fried and still warm. The tortilla is crispy and flaky on the outside while the filling inside stays warm and gooey.

They can be served as is or with fruit dipping sauces, whipped cream, or cajeta drizzled over the top. Enjoy cortadillos for dessert or a sweet after dinner snack!

Key Ingredients in Summary

Cortadillos have just a few main components:

  • Masa hojaldra or tortilla dough
  • A sweet or savory filling
  • Oil for frying (often vegetable oil or lard)

By layering thin tortilla dough with a fat like lard or shortening, the masa hojaldra dough gets its distinctive flaky texture when fried. This crispy exterior contrasts nicely with the sweet or savory interior filling.

Nutrition Information

The nutrition information for cortadillos can vary significantly based on the type of filling used. However, here are some general nutrition facts for a traditional sweet cortadillo:

Nutrient Amount
Calories Around 200 calories per cortadillo
Carbohydrates Up to 30g per cortadillo, mainly from the dough
Protein 3 – 5g per cortadillo
Fat Around 8-12g per cortadillo, from the dough and frying oil
Sugar Varies based on filling, around 5-15g per cortadillo

As a fried pastry, cortadillos are high in calories, carbohydrates, and fat compared to many other desserts. Moderate portion sizes are recommended when enjoying this sweet treat!

Cultural Significance

Cortadillos have importance both culinarily and culturally in Mexico. A few interesting facts about their history and significance include:

  • Originated in Puebla and Oaxaca, two states with strong culinary traditions.
  • Have been made for over 200 years.
  • Are traditionally served at Day of the Dead festivals.
  • Represent family and celebration in Mexican culture.
  • Passed down through generations as family recipes.
  • Are a symbol of Mexican hospitality to offer them to guests.

Understanding their cultural context helps elevate cortadillos from just another dessert to an experience of Mexico’s history and traditions.

History in Puebla and Oaxaca

Cortadillos originated around the 18th and 19th century in the central Mexican state of Puebla and the southern state of Oaxaca. These two regions are known for their mole sauces, chocolate, and many unique baked goods. Both also have strong indigenous and Spanish cultural influences that come through in their cuisines. The flaky dough technique used in cortadillos demonstrates this blended heritage.

Role in Day of the Dead

Cortadillos are traditionally served during Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico. This holiday takes place from October 31st through November 2nd each year. Family altars are built to honor deceased loved ones. The sweet cortadillos are left as an offering along with other traditional holiday foods. Their bright colors and sweet flavors represent the joy of reconnecting with those who have passed away.

Passed Down Through Generations

The recipes for cortadillos are often passed down through multiple generations of families. Mothers and grandmothers teach their daughters the special family recipes. This creates a special bond and preserves culinary traditions. Many women take great pride in their cortadillo recipe and only prepare it for special occasions.

Symbol of Hospitality

Offering homemade cortadillos to guests is considered an important symbol of hospitality in Mexico. The time and care put into making the special dough and fillings demonstrates the generosity and welcoming spirit of the host. Even street vendors take pride in serving high quality cortadillos to honor their culture.

Common Questions

What is the crispy dough called?

The traditional flaky dough used in cortadillos is called masa hojaldra or hojaldra for short. It is made similarly to puff pastry with a technique of layering dough and fat.

Do you fry or bake cortadillos?

Traditionally cortadillos are fried to get the distinctive crispy, flaky texture. However, some modern recipes may bake them with moderate success.

Can I make them without lard?

Yes, vegetable shortening is an acceptable substitute for the lard traditionally used in the dough. The distinctive layers will still form.

How long do they keep after frying?

Cortadillos are best within a couple hours of frying. After that, they lose their crispiness. Unfilled dough can be fried then frozen for longer storage.

What dipping sauce goes with them?

Sweet fruit dipping sauces complement cortadillos nicely. Guava, mango, strawberry, or toasted coconut sauce all pair well with the fried dough.


With just a few primary ingredients like masa hojaldra dough, lard or shortening, and a sweet or savory filling, authentic crispy and flaky cortadillos can come together. Traditional shaping and frying techniques produce the iconic dessert. Beyond just a tasty street food treat, cortadillos also represent family recipes, Day of the Dead, and hospitality in Mexican culture. With this context, enjoying the combination of crisp dough and warm filling becomes a way to celebrate Mexico’s culinary heritage.