Mexican Pinwheels

Mexican pinwheels are the perfect make ahead appetizer, lunch or snack you won’t be able to stop munching!

These Mexican Pinwheels are always a hit at parties, holidays and get togethers with kids and adults alike.  They can be whipped up in practically no time at all, are easy to transport and are make ahead friendly – win, win, win!  This pinwheel appetizer recipe is made with creamy taco filling spiked with taco meat, cream cheese, sour cream, salsa, black beans, corn, jalapenos, cilantro and cheese spread over soft flour tortillas, then rolled up into mouthwatering, flavorful, hand held heroes.  Dunk the tortilla roll ups in salsa or guacamole and enjoy the best Mexican ingredients wrapped up in one fiesta bite. Here’s how to make the most fabulous pinwheels for your appetizer trays that aren’t misshapen and won’t fall apart- just in time for New Year’s. Let’s roll!

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top view of Mexican cream cheese pinwheels on a tray showing how creamy they are

Pinwheel Recipe

The first time I tasted cream cheese tortilla pinwheels was on New Year’s Eve from a platter from Costco.  It was love at first bite. Since then, I’ve been a huge fan of making my own pinwheel appetizers because:

  • they taste 1000X better than store-bought
  • are infinitely customizable
  • are quick and easy to prepare 
  • are make-ahead friendly
  • are easy to serve and easy to eat

Mexican Pinwheel Recipe

Today, I’m excited to introduce you to this spectacular mashup between your favorite cream cheese pinwheels and your favorite Southwest flavorings to create Mexican pinwheels! 

Flavorful. This combo has become my favorite pinwheel recipe because they are explosively flavorful, not to mention indulgently creamy with bright pops of sweet corn, hearty pops of black beans and spicy pops of jalapenos all in one simple bite size pinwheel.  

Customizable. Best of all, by making tortilla roll ups at home at home, you can customize them with your favorite add-ins or whatever you have on hand.  .

Make Ahead. These Mexican pinwheels are ideal for parties, especially when hosting, because you can make them ahead of time to avoid the last-minute rush, and you don’t have to worry about them staying warm or the hassle of reheating, they also transport easily. Simply plate, cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate, then serve and watch them disappear in a flash!

Tasty any time. While these tortilla pinwheels are perfect for a party, they’re also tasty as an afternoon snack (for kids and adults) or a fun dinner along with a simple salad.  When serving for dinner, I like to warm them up in the microwave for a few seconds then it’s like serving sliced burritos! 

a stack of pinwheel appetizers stacked on a platter garnished with cilantro

Mexican Tortilla Pinwheel Ingredients

These Mexican tortilla pinwheels taste even better than they look, all thanks to the magical combination of simple ingredients.  Here is what you will need:

  • Tortillas: burrito size flour tortillas that are 9-10 inches wide.  Do NOT Use corn tortillas, they are not large enough and will break and crumble when rolled.
  • Ground beef: tastes juicy and crumbles finely so you can make compact pinwheel appetizers.  The best meat to use is 85%-93% lean. That means 85% is lean and 15% is fat.  The fat will give the ground beef juicy beefy flavor without all the dripping grease. 
  • Garlic:  4-6 garlic cloves or you may substitute with 1 teaspoon garlic powder. 
  • Homemade taco seasoning: chili powder, ground cumin, smoked paprika, onion powder, oregano, salt and pepper.   I love making homemade taco seasoning because you can customize it to your palate and the specific recipe.
  • Cream cheese: full fat or reduced fat will both work, but full fat will taste more indulgently creamy because fat equals flavor. Make sure the cream cheese is super soft, you should be able to poke through it with your finger.
  • Salsa: use mild or medium salsa and then adjust the jalapenos to your taste.
  • Chopped green chiles: these come from a can and add a subtle tang to the cream cheese pinwheels.   Take care you choose MILD chopped green chiles because the hot can is HOT. Mild green chiles, however are more tangy than hot so you don’t have to worry about them making your tortilla roll ups spicy.
  • Chopped jalapenos: use canned jalapenos instead of fresh because they are soft and most importantly boast a spectacular tanginess to cut through the creaminess.  They also allow you to easily customize the heat by adding more a little at a time whereas fresh jalapenos should be sautéed first.  
  • Corn:  just ½ cup from a can adds subtle fresh corn flavor and delightful texture.
  • Beans: ½ cup black beans adds a hearty, earthy creaminess.
  • Cilantro: adds a zippy, citrusy freshness.   If you don’t like cilantro, just skip it.
  • Cheese:  sharp cheddar cheese for the most punch of flavor.

CAN I USE GROUND TURKEY?

Yes!  This pinwheel appetizer also works well with turkey.  The creamy filling helps disguise the fact you’re using a leaner protein. Whenever I use turkey in place of beef, I add 1 teaspoon beef bouillon.  I use this trick in my turkey tacos and turkey chili and it is AMAZING!  It infuses the turkey with rich, beefy flavor that will blow your mind.  See recipe variations section for more protein ideas.

pinwheels on a plate showing how thick to slice them

How to Make Pinwheels

These pinwheel appetizers stuffed with creamy, flavorful filling are guaranteed to be a hit at your next gathering.  Here’s how to make this easy recipe in just a few steps (full pinwheel recipe in recipe card at the bottom of the post):

  • Step 1: Brown the beef.  Cook the beef until almost cooked through then finish cooking with the garlic and seasonings.  Drain off excess fat then set aside to slightly cool while you make the creamy filling.
showing how to make Mexican pinwheels by browning beef in a skillet
  • Step 2:  Make cream cheese filling.  Whisk together the cream cheese, salsa and sour cream until smooth.  Stir in the corn, black beans, cheese, green chilies, jalapenos and beef. 
a collage showing how to make Mexican cream cheese pinwheels by adding cream cheese, sour cream and salsa, cheese, cilantro corn, cheese and beef to a bowl
  • Step 3: Make tortilla roll ups.  Working with one tortilla at a time, spread some filling to within ½-inch of the edges. Tightly roll up each tortilla.  
showing how to make pinwheels by spreading cream cheese filling onto tortilla then rolling up tightly
  • Step 4:  Sear tortilla roll ups.  This step adds flavor, but more importantly, seals the tortilla pinwheels closed.  Add rolls, seam side down, to a skillet and cook until golden on each side. 
showing how to make pinwheels by toasting the roll ups in a skillet
  • Step 5:  Chill tortilla roll ups.  Line the roll ups on plates/platter and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours in the refrigerator.
  • Step 6:  Slice and serve.  Slice the tortilla roll ups into 1-inch slices.  Serve the pinwheels chilled, room temperature or heated in the microwave for a few seconds. 
showing how to make pinwheels by slicing roll ups with a knife into 1-inch pieces

What to serve with Mexican cream cheese Pinwheels?

This pinwheel recipe is explosively flavorful on its own, but even more delicious dunked in guacamole or salsa.

  • Guacamole: I highly suggest my guacamole recipe or you can use your favorite recipe or store bought usually found in the deli section. When I am feeling lazy, I will even omit the red onions and garlic and substitute with garlic and onion powder.
  • Salsa: store bought salsa is always an easy topping (I love Mateos from Costco) or go gourmet with my homemade restaurant salsa that’s easy to make in the blender once you have all of the ingredients.  

Tips for Making tortilla roll ups

This pinwheel appetizer stuffed with creamy, flavorful filling are guaranteed to be a hit at your next gathering.  Follow these tips and tricks to make them even more of a success:

  • Buy large tortillas.  Look for burrito size flour tortillas and not just large tortillas.  You want tortillas that are at least 9 inch or 10 inches, any smaller and they are too small a roll-up with less filling and less spirals.  
  • Use fine ingredients. Crumble the beef into small pieces and use finely grated cheese so the filling isn’t bulky and the cream cheese pinwheels roll up tightly. If you add bell peppers or any other add-ins to the filling, dice them finely.
  • Spread on a thin layer of filling, but not too thin. It’s important to have enough filling so there is enough ratio of filling to tortilla but not so much that you can’t tightly roll up the tortilla.  I’ve found you need more filling in this pinwheel recipe than others due to the ground beef, about a heaping ¾ cup or scant cup. 
  • Roll the tortillas very tightly.  The trick to beautiful pinwheels is to roll the tortillas very tightly, especially in the beginning, otherwise you’ll end up with a hole in the middle of the roll-ups.  Rolling the tortillas tightly also creates a tight, compact pinwheels with more swirls.
  • Don’t skip the sear.   Toasting the seam side of the tortilla roll ups acts like glue and seals the tortilla pinwheels closed. 
  • Refrigerate the tortilla roll ups for at least 3 hours.  Don’t shortcut the chilling time.  This gives the filling time to set and firm up, otherwise, the roll ups will get smashed when you try and slice them. 
  • Cover the pinwheels tightly with plastic wrap.   This will prevent the tortillas and the filling from drying out.  Dry tortillas can crack when sliced and a dry filling won’t be as satisfyingly creamy.  
  • Slice the pinwheels with a sharp knife.  Originally, I tried using a serrated knife, but found my sharpest chef’s knife worked the best.  So, you may need to switch up knives to find the best option.
  • Don’t slice the pinwheels too thin.  Aim for at least 1-inch-thick slices.  If the slices are too thin, there isn’t enough tortilla in each pinwheel to create a sturdy structure and they are more likely to fall apart.
holding a platter of pinwheel recipe

My pinwheels are falling apart, what am I doing wrong?

If your pinwheels are falling apart there could one of four things wrong, or a combination:

  • not enough filling:  make sure to use at least ¾ cup and spread almost to the edges
  • not wrapping the tortillas tight enough:  compactly rolling the tortillas helps it “glue” together
  • not searing long enough:  toast the seam side of the tortilla roll up until it seals/melts closed
  • not refrigerating for long enough:  the rolls need at least 3 hours to chill otherwise the cream cheese filling is too loose and doesn’t bind the tortilla pinwheels together
  • the pinwheels were sliced too thinly:  thin pinwheels are too flimsy/not structurally sound

Pinwheel Recipe Variations

Possibly the best thing about this pinwheel recipe is it’s easy customize with your favorite add-ins or whatever you have on hand. Don’t love heat?  Skip the jalapenos. Want more crunch?  Add bell peppers are lettuce.

The options are limitless!  Here are just a few ideas:

  • Tortillas: choose from a wide variety of tortillas as long as they are at least 9 inches wide. Try oat bran, wheat flour or for gluten free, try spinach tortillas, cauliflower tortillas, almond flour tortillas, etc. 
  • Protein:  use anything you’d like!  Shredded chicken, ground turkey, carne asada, etc.  See below section for lots of ideas.
  • Filling:  swap the black beans for more corn, or the corn for more black beans, or omit altogether.  You can also swap some of the corn and/or black beans for finely diced red or green bell pepper, lettuce, black olives, poblano peppers, chayote, spinach, or pickled red onions.
  • Jalapenos:  use hot sauce or cayenne pepper to taste instead.
  • Salsa:  try salsa verde instead of traditional tomato salsa.
  • Cheese:  swap the cheese for Mexican cheese blend or pepper Jack.  I wouldn’t go with just Monterrey because it is not flavorful enough.  You could also add Cotija cheese in combination with other cheeses.
  • Taco seasoning:  swap the seasonings for 2 tablespoons taco seasoning.

CAN I USE a different PROTEIN?

Yes, you can make pinwheels with practically any protein as long as it is chopped very finely.  You don’t want the protein/filling to be bulky otherwise the tortilla pinwheels won’t roll up tightly.

If making this pinwheel recipe with a different protein recipe, follow the directions for that recipe and skip the homemade taco seasoning for the pinwheels. Here are some options:

pinwheels on a plate showing how thick to slice them

How to serve Pinwheels

  • Lunch:  pinwheels aren’t just for appetizers!  Kids (and adults!) will love them for an easy lunch too.  I like to microwave a few pinwheels for 10-15 seconds so they’re warm but they can also be served cold.
  • Snacks:  grab a few from the refrigerator in between meals for snacking.  They are more filling than junk food!
  • Appetizer:  Mexican pinwheels will be a hit at any gathering (like upcoming New Year’s!) because you can make them ahead and don’t have to worry about reheating them or serving them warm. 
  • Dinner:  serve them up for dinner with salad such as Mexican Salad, Southwest Salad, Mexican Street Corn Salad, or Corn Salad with Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette; fruit such as pineapple, Pina Colada Fruit Salad, or Perfect Fruit Salad. If you skip the salad, go with roasted veggies like roasted broccoli or asparagus, but instead of Parmesan, try Cotija cheese to stick with the fiesta flair.

Can you make Mexican Pinwheels ahead of time?

Yes, like any cream cheese pinwheels, Mexican Pinwheels are actually meant to be made at least 3 hours ahead of time so they can chill and firm up enough to slice in the refrigerator. The tortillas are the best (and even still a little crunchy) if served the same day, but the pinwheel recipe can be made up to 24 hours ahead of time.   If you make them any farther ahead, they are still delicious, but the tortillas get softer the longer they sit and after a couple days can become a little soggy. 

Want to take these to a potluck/gathering, how should I do that?

Pinwheels are ideal to take to a potluck/party/gathering because you literally can make everything ahead of time.  Simply line/stack the cream cheese pinwheels on a platter, double wrap in plastic wrap and you’re all set.  Make sure to slice the pinwheels at least 1-inch thick so they are nice and sturdy for transporting.

Storage info for tortilla roll ups

Store the Mexican cream cheese pinwheels tightly covered with plastic wrap for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.  Keep in mind, however, pinwheels are at peak freshness and best served the day they are made because the tortillas will soften over time. The pinwheels will still be tasty but not the impressive freshness you want for serving guests. 

Can you freeze pinwheels?

Yes, pinwheels freeze very well for up to two months.  To freeze, line the pinwheels on a baking sheet or platter so they aren’t touching and place in the freezer to flash freeze.  Freeze until solid, about 2 hours then transfer to a freezer-safe storage bag. Press out as much air as possible before sealing to prevent freezer burn.  When ready to serve, thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

showing how to serve Mexican pinwheel recipe by dipping into guacamole

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Mexican Pinwheels

These Mexican Pinwheels are always a hit at parties, holidays and get togethers with kids and adults alike.  They can be whipped up in practically no time at all, are easy to transport and are make ahead friendly – win, win, win!  This pinwheel appetizer recipe is made with creamy taco filling spiked with taco meat, cream cheese, sour cream, salsa, black beans, corn, jalapenos, cilantro and cheese spread over soft flour tortillas, then rolled up into mouthwatering, flavorful, hand held heroes.
Servings: 90 pinwheels
Prep Time: 4 hrs
Cook Time: 20 mins

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Ingredients

  • 7 9-inch flour tortillas (or 6 10-inch tortillas)
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, minced (may sub 1 tsp garlic powder)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp EACH smoked paprika, onion powder, salt, dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, very soft
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup salsa
  • 1 cup finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup corn, rinsed, drained, dried
  • ½ cup black beans, rinsed, drained, dried
  • 1 4 oz. can chopped mild green chilies
  • 1 4 oz. can chopped jalapenos
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, minced (measure before chopping)

For Serving (optional)

Instructions

  • Brown beef in a large skillet until almost cooked through, crumbling it into fine pieces with the back of your spatula. Add garlic and all seasonings and cook through. Drain off any excess grease (if there is any); set aside.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, salsa and sour cream until smooth. Stir in all remaining ingredients (including beef), starting with only 2 tablespoons jalapenos and adding more to taste if desired.
  • Working with one tortilla at a time, spread about ¾ cup (1 cup if 10-inch tortillas) filling to within ½-inch of the edges with an offset spatula (if you have one). Tightly roll up each tortilla.
  • Heat a large skillet over medium heat then add tortilla roll ups seam side down, 1-2 at a time. Sear the seam side closed then toast the roll ups until golden on all sides. If you’re in a hurry, you can just sear the bottom seam side closed.
  • Line roll ups in a single layer on a platter and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight before slicing (otherwise they won't be firm enough and will smoosh).
  • Once chilled, slice the roll ups into 1-inch slices. You can also chill, slice and then chill until ready to serve Serve the pinwheels chilled, room temperature or heated in the microwave for a few seconds. Serve with salsa and/or guacamole for dipping.

Video

Notes

  • Ground chicken or turkey:  use the same seasonings and add 1 teaspoon beef bouillon if desired while cooking.
  • Recipe variations:  see post for additional recipe variations, tips and tricks.
  • Storage:  Store the pinwheels tightly covered with plastic wrap for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.  Keep in mind, however, pinwheels are at peak freshness and best served the day they are made because the tortillas will soften over time. The pinwheels will still be tasty but not the impressive freshness you want for serving guests. 
  • To freeze: Line the pinwheels on a baking sheet or platter so they aren’t touching and place in the freezer to flash freeze.  Freeze until solid, about 2 hours then transfer to a freezer-safe storage bag or freezer safe container with parchment in between the layers. Press out as much air as possible before sealing to prevent freezer burn.  When ready to serve, thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

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2 Comments

  1. Flora says

    Awesome site! Can’t wait to try them!Thank you!

    • Jen says

      Thank you Flora! I hope you love them as much as us!

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