Over the years, I’ve tried a myriad of Christmas desserts, from chocolate cakes to tiramisu, puddings, and pies. One treat I haven’t tried in a long time is Sonhos (Portuguese Doughnuts), from my native Brazil. You find a little fried doughnut, or something similar in most international cuisine, like Beignets in France, Bomboloni in Italy, Berliner in Germany, Churros in Mexico, and Sufganiyot in Israel.
The frying aspect makes for a crispy and satisfying pastry, a small bite of joy. You prepare what is essentially pate-a-choux, then employ the Sonhos trademark: little doughnuts that are light and airy on the inside, crispy and caramelized on the outside. See short video of these babies frying. These sonhos are a revelation when served with chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, jam, or even plain, just coated in cinnamon sugar. The biggest challenge about making these? Not eating them as you do so.
Especially this time of the year, making Sonhos invokes a sense of nostalgia for a time when I used to eat them in Brazil at padarias (bakeries) where they’re sold. In fact, it’s hard to remember the last time I made Sonhos (Portuguese Doughnuts) from scratch. It was probably when I was still living in Brazil, exploring our baking repertoire.
The urge to make them hit me when a client asked me to teach them in a cooking class. She wanted to make them with her family with that in mind: bringing everybody together with fun kitchen projects over the holidays.
Days before printing the recipe, I went to the kitchen to test it out making them with water, with milk, with butter, sonhos without butter, with eggs, and fewer eggs. Man, I love my job.
Moments like these fill my heart with joy as I cook, bake, test, write, style, take photos and videos. Who knew that a whole progression of culinary production would unfold from those pastries? Yes, I take pictures, lots of them, as the art of photographing food and making videos gained a whole new meaning in today’s era of social media.
But the culmination of happiness happens when you cook with others and gather with family in the kitchen over Christmas, bonding over a meal prepared by many hands. This cooking class happened in person. The first since the start of the pandemic. We chopped, braised, assembled, fried, cooked, and cooked some more. Our class was a mix of beautiful recipes and family team collaboration.
Despite covid numbers rising, I’m so glad we did it. As I followed the news, I was afraid they would cancel the class. They were worried I was going to cancel as well. None of us did, which tells me that we all urge for this activity, and for togetherness.
The word Sonhos translates to dreams, the fuel for our souls. Welcome family, welcome memories, welcome friends, and welcome dreams! I don’t know what the future holds for us, for the world, or for the current Covid situation. Who knows what social media will be here 10 years now? All I can say is one thing I know for sure: I am a dreamer and, as long as I’m alive, I’ll keep on dreaming.
Sonhos (Portuguese Doughnuts)
Makes about 20 doughnuts
For the Batter:
1 cup water
1 stick (115g) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
For the Sugar Coating:
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
½ cup sugar
Canola Oil as needed for frying
Prepare the Batter: In a saucepan, combine the water, butter, salt, and sugar, and bring to a boil.
Remove the saucepan from the heat, and add the flour, all at once.
Return the saucepan to the stove and stir the mixture with a wooden spoon for approximately 2 minutes over medium heat, to dry out the paste. (You dry it out by moving it from side to side, in the saucepot, with a wooden spoon.)
Pour into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat at low speed, letting the steam escape.
Add the eggs, one at a time, until the batter is nice and smooth. Don’t overbeat it. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Prepare the Coating: In a shallow bowl, mix cinnamon and sugar.
Fry the Sonhos: Fill a medium saucepan with oil to a depth of about 3 inches (about 3 cups) and heat the oil to 350˚F. Using a small ice scream scoop or a small spoon, scoop a few balls and drop them into the hot oil. Work in batches and don’t crowd the pan. Adjust the heat and temperature of the oil as needed. Cook until the sonhos as nicely golden brown all over, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sonhos directly from the oil to the sugar coating, rolling each in sugar all over. You want to roll them in the sugar while hot so the sugar sticks. Repeat with all the dough. Let them cool for 5 minutes before serving. Serve them with chocolate sauce or caramel sauce.
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