Sonhos ~ Portuguese Doughnuts

Sonhos are orbs of fried dough that are similar to choux pastry or cream puffs yet easier to make. Crisp outside, airy inside, and with the perfect sweetness from a quick roll through cinnamon sugar. A Portuguese classic.

A red pot filled with sonhos dusted with cinnamon sugar and one cut Portuguese doughnut resting beside the bowl

There are countless variations on the sonhos theme all over Portugal. Generally speaking, these fried cakes that are airier than doughnuts are intended for Christmas time, although being so popular, they’re commonly made at other times as well, and some specialty patisseries sell them freshly made on a daily basis—with lines down the block.–David Leite

A cut sonhos laying on a white marble surface

Sonhos, in Portuguese, means “dreams.” Dreamy, indeed.

Sonhos | Portuguese Doughnuts

  • Quick Glance
  • (3)
  • 25 M
  • 1 H
  • Makes about 30 sonhos
5/5 - 3 reviews
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Special Equipment: Deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer


  • For the sonhos batter
  • For the cinnamon sugar
  • For deep frying
  • For serving


Make the sonhos batter

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the butter, sugar, and water to a boil. Add the flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan, gets hard to stir, and forms a stiff ball, 2 to 4 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium and continue stirring (oof!) until a thin layer of dough films the bottom of the pan, 1 to 2 minutes.

Plop the dough in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low speed for 1 minute.

Add the eggs to the dough, 1 at a time, beating on medium-high speed after each addition until fully incorporated before adding the next, about 1 minute for the first egg and slightly less time for each subsequent egg, about 3 minutes total. The dough may release some steam and that’s fine. When fully mixed, the batter will be glossy and smooth.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Make the cinnamon sugar

In a medium bowl, mix together the cinnamon and sugar.

Fry the sonhos

Add enough oil to a wide saucepan or Dutch oven to reach a depth of 3 inches (8 cm). Warm the oil over medium-low heat until it registers 300°F (150°C).

Using a 2-teaspoon cookie scoop or a rounded teaspoon measuring spoon, carefully drop a few globs of dough in the hot oil. Don’t crowd the pan as these little suckers really puff up!

The sonhos will quickly float to the surface. Fry until golden, turning them as needed so they cook evenly, 6 to 8 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sonhos to paper towels or a brown paper sack to drain for a few moments.

Toss the hot sonhos in the cinnamon sugar. Repeat with the remaining dough and cinnamon sugar

Serve the sonhos

Serve while still hot—maybe even while standing at the counter in the kitchen—whether plain or with honey, jam, or caramel. Originally published May 10, 2000.

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Recipe Testers' Reviews

These donuts were a huge hit! I had 2 teenagers taste test them while they were hot and fresh and they were in heaven! I'm hesitant to call them donuts as they're not doughy at all. They are extremely light—like crisp cream puffs!

The recipe was surprisingly easy and quite a bit of fun to make, especially the frying process. I'm typically not a fan of fried foods, but these were so entertaining. The real show starts about 2 minutes into the cooking process as they spin, grow, crack, and puff up and just when you think they're almost done, they dance a little more! You really only need very small balls of dough. They puff up so much!

The consistency was not at all cakey. It was like a cream puff—very light and big shiny holes. The edges were very crisp and yes, they had tapered little points. I tried them hot and fresh and they had a distinct eggy taste. I tried them later in the day (maybe 5 hours later) and they were still crisp and delicious but much milder and not "eggy" at all. I do not think these would be good the next day. They are definitely a "serve the same day" kinda thing.

I'm a purist and loved them just as-is with cinnamon sugar but my husband added some cherry jam to his and he loved them. I would definitely make them again.

The dough preparation for these sonhos is reminiscent of making choux pastry, which is something I stayed away from in the past because I was under the impression it's difficult. And while this recipe is a little more involved than a basic dough, it's definitely still possible for a beginner.

The dough began sticky but as I stirred but it tightened up until it became a fairly firm ball. There was a good deal of residual dough left on the sides and bottom of the pan and, after about a minute, this turned white as the dough continued to cook.

I actually made this recipe 3 times and believe that the difficulties I ran into were all because I didn't cook the initial dough mixture long enough. Undercooking at this point virtually ensures that the dough isn't smooth because the eggs won't combine into the flour mixture, no matter how long or hard you beat it. By the third test, my timing was still a little short but I found that the eggs and dough mostly combined.

I found the deep frying to be the easiest part of the recipe and the timing was accurate. They fried quickly and easily, and I much preferred the "free form" shape of these doughnuts because of all the extra crunchy bits. They weren't gooey on the inside and were still a nice golden brown on the outside.

I added Saigon cinnamon to my sugar in nearly a 1:1 ration but this is because we are big fans of cinnamon. I made one rolled in just sugar and it was alright but we all definitely preferred the cinnamon version. The final sonhos were fluffier and lighter and quickly devoured.

Overall, it's a simple enough recipe with a lovely result. I mean, they are really delicious when they are warm and still a little crisp, but the whole thing depends on the integration of the fully cooked flour and butter mixture. I can't emphasize enough the beating as the one thing that will make or break these lovely little cinnamon dreams.

These absolutely didn't even last long enough to be eaten cold.


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  1. I made this and they are so good! I wish I could have them all for my self but i made them for a project.

  2. I made these yesterday and was thrilled with the result. I’d tried several other recipes but these were the only ones that were like the delicious ones we had in Portugal: light and airy with a good outside crust, lovely custardy interior and not too oily. Perfect.

    1. Lovely to hear this, Lynne! Thank you so much for taking the time to let us know how well this recipe worked out for you. We couldn’t be more thrilled that these sonhos matched your experience of them in Portugal! This is why we do what we do. Looking forward to hearing which recipe on the site you try next…!

  3. My mother’s recipe calls for baking powder…Do you rely only on the eggs for raising the dough? I’ll try your recipe anyway. Sonhos truly are dreamy.

    1. Hi, Mel. There are different variations when it comes to this recipe. If you have the elbow grease and can really beat the dough (or do what I do and use a hand or stand mixer), you’ll be just fine.

  4. If I am making these for a big party so it won’t really be possible to serve them warm, does it make a huge difference? Are they just as tasty at room temp?

    1. Robyn, they’re always better warm, but you can serve them room temp. If possible, I’d suggest popping them into a 300-degree oven for 10 minutes before serving. That way they will taste even better.

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