“Dreams” Portuguese Doughnuts

Sonhos are fried cakes like small doughnuts but much lighter in texture. There are many variations on the theme all over Portugal. Generally speaking, fried cakes are intended for the Christmas season, but, being so popular, sonhos are made at other times as well, and some specialty patisseries sell them freshly made on a daily basis.–Edite Vieira

LC Sonhos Note

Sonhos, in Portuguese, means “dreams.” We can think of no more fitting name for something so dreamy. This recipe suggests dusting the deep-fried dough with cinnamon and confectioners’ sugar, although we have it on good authority that they are also often dunked in a simple syrup or caramel sauce.

Special Equipment: Deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer

Portuguese Doughnuts Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 1 H
  • Makes 24 sonhos


  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • Ground cinnamon


  • 1. In a medium saucepan, bring the water, butter, and salt to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to form a ball. Take the pan off the heat and place it in your kitchen sink after you partially fill the sink with cold water. (This helps cool down the mixture.)
  • 2. After the mixture has cooled a bit, beat in the eggs, 1 at a time. Continue beating the dough to aerate it. Add enough oil to a deep pot to fill it partway and heat it over medium heat until the oil registers 360°F (180°C) on a deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer. When the oil is ready, deep-fry spoonfuls of the dough until golden. Using a slotted spoon, tongs, or a spider, transfer the doughnuts to paper towels to drain.
  • 3. To serve, dust the hot-from the-oil sonhos with a mixture of confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon to taste. Serve warm.
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  1. Carla Pinheiro says:

    Dear Edite:

    I have tried most if not all of your recipies and they are delicious. You remind me of my very talented late aunt Maria Alcina,who had been cooking for very rich families and was pretty much loved not only for her caring nature but also by her creativity and great flavour in her dishes. I hope one day to follow in her footsteps.

  2. breana says:

    I had these at school today and they are YUMMY!

  3. Maria says:

    Can the massa for the Sonhos be made in advance and deep fried later.

  4. Teresa says:

    I have the most wonderful memories of my Portuguese grandfather’s sonhos – two towers of fluffy doughnut-y wonderfulness, one sticky and drippy with honey and one coated in powdered sugar, that we would devour after a big fish dinner on a Sunday afternoon. Thanks for making my day with a great memory.

  5. Carmela howcro says:

    My Portuguese friend gave me her recipe for sonhos, and it has dry yeast added to the recipe. There are no directions for letting the dough rise. It just says to mix in the yeast and flour, then to heat up the oil and drop the dough by spoonfuls into the hot oil. I hate to make them and waste the ingredients. Have you heard of a recipe for sonhos with yeast added that does not have to raise? I would truly appreciate your expert response.

    Thank you!

    • David Leite says:

      Carmela, I haven’t personally. I’m not sure how the dry yeast would have time to activate before it was killed in the hot oil. Im going ask Sofia, one of our recipe testers who’s Portuguese.

    • Sofia, LC Senior Tester says:

      Each time I made them I never added dry yeast, though I do know of people that use self-rising flour, so that the “sonhos” become more fluffy and airy. I actually prefer them a tad more dense, so I believe this may be a difference in personal taste, family traditions and perhaps regions of Portugal? The recipe I always used was from my grandmother, so not sure if the recipe was from Lisbon or the Minho area. Hope this helps. Perhaps you may want to try both ways and see which you prefer? Let us know if you have further questions and make sure to let us know how you like this recipe.

    • Michele says:

      When you add dry yeast, you’re making malasadas. They’re similar to sonhos but slightly different.

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