Fry jacks are a staple in Belizean cuisine: delicious golden and crumbly fried dough. They are very similar to the New Orleans beignet, fried bread, and to Latin American sopapillas (alternately spelled sopaipilla), which are made with flour tortillas, and often topped with cinnamon, honey and whipped cream. Sometimes the fry jack is called the beignet without the powdered sugar, since they are typically topped with either honey or jam, or served as a breakfast food with savory accompaniments like beans, bacon and eggs.
Basic fry jacks are made from simple recipes that combine shortening, flour, water, salt and baking powder. The dough is then quickly fried in hot oil, which causes the dough to rise slightly, and produces a crunchy, crispy, golden brown rectangle or triangle. When sopapillas are made, tortillas may be sliced, or they may be fried whole, with the tortilla becoming puffy and crispy as it cooks in the hot oil.
Though fry jacks are often compared to beignets, they may differ in ingredients. In New Orleans, two types of beignets are popular. Some use choux pastry, which may contain egg, and others use a yeast-raised dough, which creates a much higher rise. However, the amount of difference between fry jacks and beignets is pretty slight, and many people would gladly have either since both foods are highly praised by lovers of fried foods.
Another distinction between fry jacks and beignets is toppings. Beignets are almost always served with powdered sugar, but fry jacks are usually split into two categories: those topped with jam or honey, and those topped with refried beans. In this way, the fry jack is much more alike the sopapilla, which may also not be served a dessert, but as part of an entrée. Of course many people don’t eat fry jacks or beignets as a dessert, but as breakfast or part of a midmorning snack.
For people in the know about this delicious fried bread from Belize, there are a number of variants that get rave reviews. Plantain and mango types are mentioned with reverence. Another Belizean breakfast favorite is Johnny cakes, very similar to fry jacks in ingredients, but baked instead of fried. Both breads may contain lard, though trends today have more cooks replacing the lard with vegetable shortening or vegetable oil.