Arizona Cheese Crisp

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Here’s one of my favorites recipes from my mother—what she calls a “Sonoran Quesadilla,” known in Tucson, Arizona where they’re from as “cheese crisps”.

Unlike our usual stove-top quesadilla made with corn or flour tortillas and jack cheese, cheese crisps are open-faced, and made with very large flour tortillas, that are toasted with butter and cheddar cheese, and often topped with strips of mild green chiles.

According to my Tucson-native mom, these open-faced quesadillas are made with especially large, thin, flour tortillas that you could find in Sonora, the northernmost state of Mexico. Typically they are served on a large platter, sometimes cut like a pie, for everyone to share.

They are crispy, buttery, and absolutely delicious.

The tortillas one uses to make cheese crisps are much thinner than the sturdy burrito-sized flour tortillas we found to make these. It just means we need to cook them a little longer to get them crispy. Don’t pile on the cheese too much; as with pizza, doing so will weigh down the result.

Arizona Cheese Crisp Recipe

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  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: Makes one large Sonoran quesadilla

If you want to have green chiles on your quesadilla (they are optional), you can either roast your own (use Anaheims, Hatch, or Poblano) or use canned whole green chiles.

To roast your own, blacken them over a gas stove, on a grill, or under a broiler, then put the chiles in a covered bowl for a few minutes, then rub off the blackened skin.

(See How to Roast Chiles over a Gas Flame video.) Then de-seed them and cut them into strips.

Ingredients

  • One large, burrito-size (13-inch diameter or larger) flour tortilla
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 or 2 roasted green chiles, peeled, seeded, cut into strips (optional)

Method

1 Preheat your oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle.

2 Butter a flour tortilla all the way to the edges: Place the flour tortilla on a large baking sheet (a dark baking sheet or cookie sheet will work best. Spread the butter all over the top of the tortilla, all the way to the edges. The butter is important for the flavor of a cheese crisp, so don't leave it out!

arizona-cheese-crisp-method-1

3 Bake the tortilla until lightly toasted: Bake the plain buttered tortilla for about 6 minutes or until it begins to get lightly toasted. (Check on the timing for your particular oven.)

arizona-cheese-crisp-method-2

4 Sprinkle with cheese, add green chile strips, return to oven: Remove the tortilla from the oven and sprinkle with the cheddar cheese, leaving about 1/2-inch from the edges. Add strips of green chiles in a star pattern if you want.

arizona-cheese-crisp-method-3 arizona-cheese-crisp-method-4

Return the tortilla to the oven and cook for 2 more minutes, or until all of the cheese has melted. Remove from oven and eat!

My mother will use her oven's convection setting when she makes these cheese crisps. For convection, she'll put the buttered tortilla into a cold oven and heat on convection at 375°F for 7 to 10 minutes. Then she'll sprinkle the cheese and return the quesadilla to the oven for a couple more minutes.

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Links:

Flour Tortillas: Where they came from and how to make them

Quesadilla Recipe

Classic Cheese Crisps - from What's Gaby Cooking

Oven Toasted Sonoran Quesadilla

Showing 4 of 49 Comments

  • Cin

    Must have learned this recipe when at ASU in the 70s – been making them since then. I have always used butter and call mine ‘Mexican Pizza’ (didn’t know what they were called). They are really good with a side of homemade salsa and some sour cream. Yum!

  • Ooooh, cheeeeezy

    I remember calling these “cheese tostadas” when we used to go to… Karichimaka?…in Tucson, out by the airport, IIRC. This would have been in the early 70s. They used to put them on little stands on top of the candle on the table to keep them warm.

  • Cindy

    Oh how I miss this treat. The butter is the key. Pinterest has a recipe for Sonoran tortillas. I am in Heaven!

  • Claude Glover

    I was a kid in Tucson, my dad was stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB and a big night out for our family was to go to Casa Molina. At the time I was crazy and didn’t like Mexican food EXCEPT for the cheese crisps. I’ve wised up since, of course, but here in Houston this delicacy remains unknown. Too bad. I think they would be enormously popular. Thanks for the recipe!

  • Jeanette

    Looks delicious. From Phoenix and my mother worked at mexican restaurants durning my childhood. We loved going to the restaurants to get a Pepsi and a cheese crisp. Nothing like it. Crispy, buttery, and cheesey. I always believed the difference is quesadillas are grilled, cheese crisps are baked. Quesadillas, the tortilla is not previously cooked, cheese crisp, the tortilla is crisped before the cheese is added. Either way, delicious.

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