Category Archives: Mexican

Pumpkin Cheesecake Sopapilla Bars

Merry Christmas everyone! Wouldn’t you know it, it’s Christmas Day and here I am trying to make a post about a pumpkin-themed dessert bar from before Thanksgiving :) Better late than never though, right? I have been traveling a lot for residency interviews these past couple of months, so it has been impossible to sit down and make a post with all my pictures. At some point, I was told that we (the interviewees) were flying around like lost planets in space, and I thought that phrase captured the circumstances quite well! Indeed, at some point, having been in three different time zones and 2 different coasts in the span of 3 days, my internal clock was completely out of whack and I only ever knew to do whatever the time on my watch dictated I should probably do. It’s been an experience! But one that I have thoroughly enjoyed for the number of new friends I have made and future colleagues I have met during these trips. Like the excitement of starting college and medical school, there comes an excitement of starting residency where I will have yet another opportunity to meet new people and bond over our unique experiences together. Most folks only get to do this once for college; I feel extremely privileged to be able to do it three times :)

Pumpkin cheesecake sopapilla bars

So back to the pumpkin bar! One of my favorite flavors of the fall season is pumpkin. I look forward to it as the leaves start to turn color in early October, and when the cans of pumpkin start to go on sale in the grocery stores, I know it is time to break out the pumpkin themed desserts. Sure there is always pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread, but I am perpetually looking for different and unique ideas that incorporate pumpkin. This year I saw a post on Willow Bird Baking about pumpkin cheesecake sopapilla bars, and it piqued my interested because of how it combined two things I love (pumpkin cheesecake and sopapillas [a Mexican crispy fried dough topped with cinnamon sugar and honey]), and how it was sinfully easy to make (you cheat by using cans of crescent roll dough). You layer the dough on the bottom of the cheesecake to serve as a crust, and then you layer it on top of the cheesecake to bake into a “sopapilla” topped with cinnamon sugar for a crunch. Sure, it is neither cheesecake nor sopapilla in their true forms, but as my friend put it… the bars tasted like a cross between pumpkin pie and churros. Now that’s a lot of fun in a simple bar!

Pumpkin cheesecake sopapilla bars

Pumpkin Cheesecake Sopapilla Bars (makes half a 9×13″ pan, or approx 9 bars)

Recipe slightly adapted from Willow Bird Baking


For the bars:

  • 1 can crescent roll dough (I used reduced fat)
  • 1 package (8 oz.) of cream cheese (I used light/Neufchatel), at room temperature
  • 1 cup of canned pumpkin
  • 3/8 cup granulated sugar (measure out 1/4 cup and then add another half of a 1/4 cup to it)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • Pinch of salt

For the topping:

  • 3 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • Honey (for drizzling on top when serving)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease your 9×13″ pan (or you may use 8×8″).

2. Open and unroll crescent roll dough, divide into two halves. Press half the dough into the bottom of your pan to cover half of the 9×13″ pan – you may have to press to thin out the dough a bit. Don’t worry about sealing the edges of the triangles together.

3. Take the rest of the crescent roll dough and press it out over a piece of plastic saran wrap, until it is approximately the same size as the piece in the pan. (You may find it useful to lift your second piece of dough with the saran wrap and gently lay it over the first piece in the pan to compare the size). Try to pinch the edges of the triangles together on this piece so that the top layer of dough will be evenly sealed. Set the second dough aside.

4. Make a small divider from aluminum foil, doubled over, and set it along the edge of the dough to help contain the bars to one side of the pan. Tuck the bottom of the foil just underneath the dough to keep it secure.

Bottom layer of dough with foil divider

5. In a bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar together until fluffy. Add pumpkin, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and salt. Stir well to combine.

Pumpkin cream cheese filling

5. Carefully spread pumpkin cream cheese mixture over the layer of dough in the pan.

6. Using the saran wrap, flip the second piece of dough over and lay it gently across the top of the pumpkin layer. Don’t worry if it doesn’t lie perfectly flat, just try to keep the seams closed. Peel off the saran wrap.

Top layer of dough is placed

7. Pour the melted butter gently over the top of the second dough layer. Stir together the sugar, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice for the topping. Sprinkle evenly over the tops of the bars.

Cinnamon sugar topping

8. Bake for 30 minutes or until tops are golden brown. The cinnamon sugar on top will be liquid. Remove from oven and cool completely in pan. The cinnamon sugar topping will set up nicely as a crust.

Sopapilla bars finished baking

To serve: You may refrigerate the bars and serve them cold or warmed slightly in the microwave. I like to give a light drizzle of honey over the tops of the bars and add a dallop of whipped cream sprinkled with pumpkin pie spice to garnish. I think the bars would be fantastic with some vanilla ice cream as well :) Enjoy!

Pumpkin cheesecake sopapilla bars

Bonus fun facts: While I was on the interviewing trail, many interviewers asked me about my food blog, as it was something that I put on my application under “hobbies”. They often asked me how time-consuming it is to make the food, do the food photography, and then write the post. I would say that making the food and writing the post is the least time-consuming part. The food photography is what takes time to set up and do. For those of you that are curious, for this recipe, I took a total of 112 pictures from which I selected the above photos to post. I’ve had upwards of 200+ pictures for a particular recipe, and as few as 10-20 pictures if I don’t photograph the process.  Many people like to spend time editing their photos with software afterwards, but that takes even more time and you can edit photos endlessly to suit your tastes, so I don’t go down that route very often unless my pictures were taken in poor lighting. Anyway, just to help you put it in perspective if you’ve ever wondered :) Happy holidays!

Pumpkin cheesecake sopapilla bars

Thursday, May 10th

11:00AM Molecular Biology Lecture
1 strawberry Special K bar.

12:00PM Building 4 Cafe
1 box (12 half-sized pieces) of spicy salmon sushi with cucumber. 1 bottle of spring water (17.5 oz). Wow this sushi was way too spicy for my taste. Usually when I get it it's got a kick but it doesn't make me stop and pant and gulp down water. Today it was just nuts, I felt like I was trying my best to eat spicy Korean food or something.

7:00PM Baker Dining
2 chili dogs with a few onion rings and salsa on the side. I was pretty hungry because the sushi didn't go a good job filling me up, so I went for the unhealthy but filling and yummy comfort food for dinner :P Boy did it hit the spot.

Monday, April 30th

10:00AM MIT Shuttle en route to lab
1 Promax mini-bar. I was hoping to get something different at a wellness week healthy breakfast event this morning, but apparently they ran out of everything except cereal when I had gotten there. I was in a rush to get to lab, so I just poured some frosted cheerios into a ziplock bag for snacking on later. The Promax bar did a good job of tiding me over until lunch though, especially considering that it is only 1/4 the size of a normal protein bar.

1:15PM Lab Lounge
Leftovers from a Whitehead seminar. 6 oz of roasted seasoned chicken (white meat), 3/4 cup of Italian pasta salad (bowtie pasta with chopped up peppers, onions, carrots, and grape tomatoes, topped with Italian dressing and romano cheese). I wanted to avoid the carbs in the pasta salad, but I didn't have a whole lot of options, since the chicken and pasta salad were the only leftover food available. (If I had gone elsewhere to buy food on campus, the choices would have been worse, trust me). The roasted chicken was not bad though, albeit bland. I guess that's a good thing. The pasta salad was actually quite delicious, especially with the crunchy vegetables mixed in. It reminded me of mango salsa for some reason. Meal eaten with 2 cups of water (16 oz.)

4:30PM Dorm Room
Small handful of frosted Cheerios, just to hold me over until dinnertime. Thank god they're made with whole grain oats lol. 1/2 bottle of water (8.5 oz.)

6:30PM Baker Dining
1 entree of chicken fajitas, eaten as lettuce wraps. I love chicken fajitas, but seeing the flour tortillas that came with the entree made me a bit sad, so I decided to have some fun by making them into lettuce wrap chicken fajitas! And boy were they tasty as ever! The fajita fillings were given to us separately, so that we could fill our own fajitas to our liking. It came with 4 oz. of grilled chicken, grilled bell peppers and onions, salsa, sour cream, shredded cheese, and a side of Spanish rice. I substituted the rice with a side of garlic sauteed green beans (much tastier than Baker's regular steamed green beans!). Then I proceeded to fill my entree box with the largest leaves of lettuce that I could find at the hamburger condiment station.

Here are the fajita fillings. Mmm!

It was so much fun making my lettuce wraps! I'd put a big leaf of lettuce on my palm, and line up chicken pieces along the length of it. Then I'd throw on the grilled peppers and onions, and I even put the green beans in my wrap (it went really well actually!). Finally I'd put in a few teaspoonfuls of salsa and a sprinkle of the shredded cheddar cheese. I added just a smidgen of sour cream to a couple of the wraps to give it some extra flavor, but overall I left it alone. I think wrapping the chicken fajita fillings in lettuce actually made them taste better than if they were in flour tortillas, since the lettuce is so crisp and refreshing. So good!!! Here are some shots of my creation:


Dinner complimented with 1.5 bottles of water (25.5 oz).

12:00AM Dorm Room
1/2 bottle of water (8.5 oz).

1:00AM Baker Gym
30 minutes on the elliptical, 10 minutes of stretching.

2:00AM Dorm Room
Post-workout snack: 1 oz. of roasted unsalted almonds, with 1.5 teaspoons of honey, and 1 bottle of water (17 oz). I was thinking how weird it is that I was eating almonds smeared with a little bit honey and really really enjoying them, then I remembered that honey roasted almonds are a popular item, so duh it makes perfect sense. Dunno why I never see people eating them this way though.

Monday, April 16th

12:30PM Greg's Room
2 slices of Papa John's pizza that I got from the Baker pizza & ice cream social on Saturday (whee leftovers!). One slice of sausage, one slice of Hawaiian. I think the uh, pineapple on that pizza was the most significant source of fruit I've had all weekend… how sad!

7:30PM Greg's Room
Leftover part of calzone from takeout on Friday night, with marinara sauce. What a lazy long weekend… leftovers and relaxation and most importantly, no work done! Too bad my boyfriend was in lab every day until past 11pm :(

12:45AM Greg's Room
Leftover King To pork chops with some rice and canned chili. lol at least chili is really good for you…

3:30AM Greg's Room
1/2 mug of hot chocolate, with 5 Teddy grahams.

One week until my 22nd birthday! Wow I feel old… I want to stay 21… :P

Friday, April 13th

9:30AM Dorm Room
2 Special K bars (strawberry and chocolate drizzle). I had to present a really important powerpoint presentation to a different lab that our lab is collaborating with, in order to show them the data from all the experiments I've been doing since January. The meeting was at 11am, so I wanted to make sure I wasn't hungry and my stomach wasn't going to be growling during the meeting. It turned out quite well actually.

12:30PM Whitehead Friday Forum
1/2 cup of Indian curry with chicken and vegetables, mixed with rice. 1/2 cup of ziti baked with ricotta and marinara. 1 chocolate cookie with white chocolate chips. What a relaxing meal after I gave my presentation. I practically fell asleep during the seminar part of the lunch haha.

7:30PM Greg's Room
Some leftover orange chicken from Kendall Square food court (Beijing Cafe). Maybe 1/2 cup of chicken chunks and 1/2 cup of fried rice.

1:00AM Greg's Room – Takeout from International Pizza & Mexican Food (what a weird name)
1/2 a calzone with grilled chicken, roasted peppers, and cheese. Vanilla frozen yogurt with frozen cherries and chocolate mix-ins for dessert.

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