You should try a batch of these mouthwatering doughnut holes right now, while you sit home and fight the world’s newest foe. Whatever the climatic condition in your neighborhood, the bolinho de chuva (rain cake) will combine peace and calm to your day.
The little, fried sweet dumplings coated with cinnamon and sugar is more popular in Brazil than in the U.S. The closest North American version of this delicacy is the doughnut hole. The sweet delight is as easy to make as it is delicious. Fast and inexpensive, bolinho de chuva calls for a few simple ingredients that are ordinarily found in most kitchens. The smooth dough of eggs, sugar and flour, dropped in hot oil with the help of an ice cream scooper, brings about one of the most comforting treats I know.
In my mother’s house, we knew it by sonhos, which means dreams; my mother used to make them for the afternoon coffeebreak. My father liked his sonhos without sprinkles — neither sugar nor cinnamon. The rest of us enjoyed our doughnut holes slathered in both toppings. So, there was always a small tray with some austere looking sonhos next to the festive platter full of sugary dressed dreams reserved for us.
I watched my sisters testing their culinary ability around a bowl of inexpertly mixed dough, which in spite of their clumsy attempt, most of the time turned out delicious just the same. The young girls of that time often listed the bolinho de chuva as one of their first gastronomic accomplishments.
In the U.S., most people claim that the doughnut originated when a baker decided to save baking time and placed almonds and other nuts in the center of the dough, which took longer to bake — thus the doughnut. The doughnut hole is said to have started at a maritime journey, when a captain skewered the doughnuts on his spears before frying it for his crew. The “waste not” culture of the time prompted them to fry the center dough pushed out by the captain’s spear — thus the doughnut hole.
My grandmother, who seemed to know the origin of all things, recounted the tales of a small village, where freshly baked bread was delivered daily to every house… unless it was raining. On those rainy days, the villagers would make a large batch of the friendly bolinho that soon took the name of bolinho de chuva. Some families, who liked the bolinho de chuva, more often than the village’s temperate weather dictated, decided to make the delicacy also on sunny days and called it sonhos.
Long before I found my wisdom, my darling friend Terezinha, used to soothe my teenage angst with a batch of sonhos and sung me happy birthday every time my misunderstood heart ached. I had grown to like my sonhos with a soft center - Terezinha used to fry me a small batch of sweet dumplings in extra hot oil, so giving a warm undercooked soft center to my sonhos.
I don’t make bolinho de chuva very often, but every time the mood strikes, I think of my friend, I fry a batch of crunchy sonhos with a raw center and sing happy birthday to the both of us.
Whether you call it doughnut hole, bolinho de chuva or sonhos, you can count on those little sweet dumplings to rescue you from the throws of existentialism or to celebrate the triumphs of your wisdom.
2 cups flour
2 eggs, room temperature
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
Oil for frying (canola)
4 tablespoons sugar + 2 tablespoons cinnamon (for coating)
1. Sift the flour using a fine mesh sifter into a medium bowl.
2. Add the eggs to the flour and blend
3. Slowly add the milk, mixing it well
4. Add the sugar and beat to form a smooth soft dough
5. Lastly mix in the baking powder blending well, but do not beat it.
6. Place frying oil in a medium, heavy bottom pot (the oil should be at least 3 inches deep) Use a 1-inch ice cream scooper to drop the dough into hot oil.
7. Do not crowd the dumplings — fry in small batches.
8. Fry until golden and strain each batch and place onto a paper towel lined platter.
9. Roll strained dumplings into sugar and cinnamon mixture and place on to a rack for few minutes before serving.
Makes about 25.