Brazilian filled doughnuts (or sonhos) are one of the food types that I have often wanted to make. But I repeatedly shied away from the effort. Pretty much because they intimidated me. See, in Brazil, we never made them at home. They were professionally made in a bread bakery shop, called padaria, and they were always perfect!
But guess what? Turns out they aren’t so hard to make after all!
Maybe I should start by explaining that sonhos are not really doughnuts. I’ve never run into anything here in the US that is exactly like them. A sonho is like a fried doughnut, but with more of a beignet quality. Plus, they are stuffed with one of many varieties of different fillings, from whipped cream, to pastry cream, to guava paste (or any jam-like fruit filling), to doce de leite, which is today’s recipe.
The word sonho, in Portuguese, means “dream”. And these filled doughnuts are dreamy all right. A well-made sonho should be light and fluffy, with a springy texture to the dough when you bite into it. Unlike American doughnuts, the dough itself is not overly sweet. The punch of sweetness comes from the filling and the rolled coating of sugar on the outside.
When my sister Karen and I were little girls attending the American elementary school in our home town of Santos, there would often be a sonho for each of us waiting at home, under a clean white dishtowel, as an after-school snack. My mom would either get them at the padaria or from the street vendor the padaria would send through the neighborhoods to sell directly to households.
I loved sonhos so much as a little girl, and through the years, I have tried to describe them to Steve and my friends here in the US. But I don’t think I ever really did them justice. So, I decided to finally man up and try to make some.
As usual, I did my research, looking through several Brazilian recipes. And Brazilian recipes can be challenging sometimes.
I don’t know why, but culturally, Brazilians write recipes very cryptically. There are varied sizes of “cups” that can be used, but they often don’t disclose which they are recommending. And they never seem to fully describe the preparation, assuming that you know what you are doing and just needed the list of ingredients and some general guidelines. In other words, a Brazilian recipe is often hit and miss.
I finally tried a batch about a week ago, but I was not happy with it. The dough was not springy enough, nor was it quite sweet enough. Plus, they needed MUCH more filling. But after some adjustments to the recipe and the process, today’s result was SPOT ON! OMG, they were so like my childhood favorite that I knew I had to get rid of them fast for fear I would eat every single one!
let’s make some Brazilian caramel filled doughnuts
The recipe is actually quite simple. I regret waiting so long to attempt to make these.
Doce de leite is a creamy milk caramel that is very popular in Brazil as a sweet spread, or as a filling for cakes and pastries. I recommend making the doce de leite the day before and keeping it in the refrigerator until ready to use for the doughnuts. Use this recipe EXCEPT use two cans and cook under pressure for a total of 40 minutes instead of 20.
Start by blooming the yeast in the warm milk with a teaspoon of sugar. It should bloom nicely within 5 minutes, depending on ambient temperature.
Then pour all the dough ingredients into a bread machine set on the dough only setting. If you don’t have a bread machine, you can use an upright mixer. You will need to mix the dough for about 10 minutes in an upright mixer for a good knead, and then cover the mixed dough in a bowl to rise until double in size.
Using the bread machine on dough setting is faster because the bread machine creates a warm environment for the first rise. Between kneading and rising, it took my machine only 1 1/3 hours to get a wonderfully full and fluffy dough.
This is what the dough should look like after kneading but before rising.
Once double in size, turn the dough onto a clean, floured surface, and with a rolling pin, roll the dough to about 1/2 -inch thickness.
Then use a cutter of your choice to cut rounds into the dough. I used a 3-inch cutter. I don’t recommend smaller. In Brazil they make them at least half again larger if not more. Since I am no longer in grade school and try to manage my portions, a 3-inch filled doughnut is more than enough, thank you.
Place the cut rounds on a lightly floured sheet pan, then lightly sprinkle with flour and cover with a clean towel. Allow the rounds to double in size, and then fry in about 5 cups of canola oil at about 375° F. I used my 12-inch electric skillet because I can control the temperature gauge.
They only need about 1-2 minutes per side. Watch them carefully. The goal is a uniform golden brown that does not get too dark overall or produce darker brown spots on the top or bottom. If dark spots happen, it could mean that the oil is too shallow, and the dough is resting against the hot pan. Add more oil and allow it come to temperature.
Either drain the fried pastries on an open rack or directly on paper to absorb the excess oil. I prefer an open rack because the side that sits on paper might become a bit soggy. Allow them to cool slightly before filling, but they don’t have to be completely cool.
Then, using a slim, serrated knife, gently cut horizontally through the middle of the pastry until the last 1/4. Add a heaping tablespoon of the milk caramel filling, and place back on the rack. Repeat until all the doughnuts have been filled.
Then roll the filled doughnuts in a shallow bowl filled with granulated sugar until all sides are coated.
For the highest quality, serve as soon as possible. The taste and texture hold up well for a few hours. They are still good the next day, but the dough is not as fresh and springy.
Ok, everyone. Time for serious stuff. My batch last week was nothing special, but I have to tell you that the adjustments for this second batch took me by surprise. I was transported to my childhood, that’s how authentic they tasted. These were SOOOOOOO good!
Truth be told, they were TOO good. I ate one and had to distribute the rest to family. Steve’s on the road, and I did NOT need that much temptation under my roof.
I could have easily eaten 3 had I not exercised the self-control it took to pack all the rest into three paper bags and deliver them to Steve’s dad, Steve’s cousin, with a third bag for his cousin to deliver to his own dad, Steve’s uncle Bill.
Poor Pops has not been feeling well the last few days. He was brought down by a nasty cold so I made him a batch of my restorative chicken and rice soup on Friday. Steve and I checked in on him on Monday and he said he could use more soup by midweek. Part of my decision to dump these filled doughnuts on him was to check and see how he was doing.
Well, not only was he feeling better, he reached right inside the bag and ate a sonho right then and there. When I heard “Oh, yeah, them are good!”, I knew I’d hit it out of the ball park. He was happily munching away when I walked out the door.
And, as I write this, my cousin-in-law Lisa messaged me to tell me how amazing my “devil doughnuts” are. I took that as a compliment.
Brazilian filled doughnuts, or sonhos, really are a dream. They bring back wonderful childhood memories for me.
Try them yourself. You and your family will fall in love and maybe build your own memories around this delicious sweet treat!
- FOR THE CARAMEL (DOCE DE LEITE) FILLING
- 2 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
- Follow Doce de Leite recipe, EXCEPT cook for 40 minutes under pressure
- FOR THE DOUGHNUT
- 1 cup warm milk
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 4 cups flour
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 3 tablespoons softened butter
- 5 cups approximately, canola oil for frying
- 1 cup, approximately, sugar for dipping the doughnuts
- Prepare the caramel (doce de leite) filling in advance, allowing enough time for the cans to fully cool before opening. The filling can be prepared hours or a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
- To make the doughnuts, warm the milk to about 110° F, add the teaspoon of sugar and the yeast. Whisk until well blended, although clumps of yeast may remain.
- Set aside for 5 minutes or until the yeast blooms and starts to rise in a foam.
- Combine all the doughnut ingredients, including the yeast and milk mixture, in the pan of a bread machine set to dough only and allow the bread machine to mix, knead, and proof the dough until double in size (about 1⅓ to 1½ hours).
- Turn the dough onto a clean floured surface and with a rolling pin, roll to about ½-inch thickness.
- Using a 3-inch round cutting tool, cut as many doughnut rounds as possible from the dough.
- Place cut doughnuts on a large, lightly floured sheet pan, sprinkle lightly with more flour, and cover with a clean cloth. Allow to rise until double in size (about 1 hour).
- Heat the canola oil to 375° F in a heavy pan or a large skillet.
- Fry the doughnuts, 5 or 6 at a time, until a medium golden brown, flipping to cook both sides evenly. If dark spots develop, the oil may be too shallow and the dough may be touching the hot pan. Add more oil and allow to come to temperature.
- Transfer fried doughnuts to a raised rack to drain, or to a paper-lined pan to absorb any excess oil.
- Allow the doughnuts to cool slightly, but they can still be warm.
- Using a thin serrated knife, cut each doughnut in half horizontally to all but the last ¼. Then fill each doughnut with a heaping tablespoon of the caramel filling. Continue until all doughnuts are filled.
- Add sugar to a shallow bowl and roll each doughnut in the sugar until coated on all sides.
- Serve as quickly as possible for best quality.
Excess dough can be discarded or saved to fry up and coat with cinnamon and sugar for a quick snack. Or, excess dough can be reshaped and rolled for more doughnuts, but the surface is likely not to be as smooth on the second group as the first.