Monday, 3 March 2014

sonhos | Portuguese RECIPE

I want to share with you the recipe for a traditional Carnival treat from Madeira island. They are called 'Sonhos', which means dreams in Portuguese. And the name is quite fitting because they are a hollow and light, deep fried dough dream! My grandmother used to make them this time of the year, and it was one of my favourite things when I was a kid. I would sit in front of a plate full of 'Sonhos', heavily drizzled with sugar cane molasses (as it is traditional on Madeira island), and the rest of the world would just stop existing until I was finished with them. And... well... apparently that hasn't changed! I made a bowl of 'Sonhos' yesterday afternoon and none lasted the night. 

It was the first time I tried making these, so I actually over fried a few until I got the oil temperature right (and yes, I ate them anyway). I got the recipe and instructions - old family recipes always come with lots of instructions - from my mother and I'll do my best to explain it all properly here. But a piece of advise before I start with the recipe per se: having a male specimen with strong arms close by might come handy. 

you will need:
a bottle of vegetable oil for deep frying (I used sunflower)

½ cup water
½ cup milk
1 table spoon butter
2 lemon peels
1 cinnamon stick
pinch of salt

1 cup flour
2 tea spoons baking powder

4 eggs

making the dough:
Mix the baking powder with the flour and reserve.

Put the water, milk, butter, cinnamon, lemon peels and salt in a medium pot on the stove. As soon as it starts boiling, move the pot away from the stove and remove the cinnamon stick and the lemon peels.

Add the flour, all at once, to the liquid and stir vigorously, with a wooden spoon, until it forms one big ball of dough. And this is when another person might be useful to help. One should hold the pot firmly, while the other stirs. Then let the dough cool down (about 10-15 min).

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing it very well in between. And again, help is very welcomed here. The dough will no longer be like a ball but just a gooey, sticky thing. Let it rest for 30 min.

frying the dough:
The oil should be at about 160.C, but I don't have a kitchen thermometer so I had to adjust between batches. I found out that something between n.3 and n.4 on my electric stove was the ideal. The reason why you don't want it to be very hot is because the dough needs to stay in it for some time. There's a fascinating  process that needs to be completed before you can take them out. 

With a table spoon grab a bit of dough, more or less the size of a walnut. The dough will almost triple it's size while frying, so you don't need to put a lot to start with. With a quick movement of your finger (but carefully, we are talking about burning oil here!) drop the dough in the oil. You can do this 3 or 4 times, depending on the width of the pot, but keep in mind the dough will need some space to move around. I put 3 pieces at a time. 

Now the funny part - the dough will turn itself around, no need for micro-managing it, and eventually the outside will burst and dough will come out and start frying too. This should happen once or twice, and it's what will make them so light and almost empty inside. All you have to do is pay attention and remove the 'Sonhos' from the pot once this process is finished (meaning: if they start getting too dark and haven't done anything interesting for a couple of minutes). Put them on a plate covered with kitchen paper, to absorb some of the oil, before placing them in a bowl, plate or tray. And finally, just let them cool down before eating (or do as I do and risk a stomach ache...don't judge).

Like I mentioned before, I eat them with sugar cane molasses... to me that's the pinnacle of delight. But I'm not sure how easy it is to find that in other parts of the world. And also it may be one of those...ermm...acquired taste situations. So, an alternative, also typical from Madeira island, is to have them with a sugar and lemon syrup. Though personally I find that disgusting... 

photos by | life as a moodboard |

And that's it. Not all that complicated. 
I thought at least my Portuguese readers might like to give a try. 
If you do, I'd love to hear about it!


  1. Well done!

    ".......and haven't done anything interesting for a couple of minutes)."


  2. Looks delicious, I would like to try that recipe. By the way your blog is fantastic :)

    Cathy Vargas
    Vintage Girl

  3. Oh...também tentei fazer ( estando longe de casa é a única coisa que lembra a carnaval ) mas não ficaram com tão bom aspecto como os teus! A receita é a exatamente a mesma mas eu exagerei no ovos...nunca tinha feito! Para o ano acerto :) Beijinho*

    1. Adoro estas receitas que me fazem lembrar a minha infância! Ás vezes tenho sorte e acertam à primeira, mas outras vezes também falham. Espero que para o ano os teus também acertem :) xx


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