Why You Should Fry Your Pâte à Choux

Chef George Mendes introduced us to our new favorite doughnut at last night's SAVEUR Supper

Sohnos
Fresh-out-the-fryer balls of dough, destined to be rolled in cinnamon sugar and dunked in salted caramel and passion fruit curd.Matt Taylor-Gross

This is one of those stories that tells you that if you want to vastly improve an already-delicious food, you should fry it.

In this case, the food in question is pâte à choux, the super-light, eggy French pastry that works exceptionally well as a custard- or pastry cream-holder in the likes of éclairs, croquembouches, and a slew of other French desserts. But when you fry little balls of pâte à chou and then roll them in cinnamon sugar, you don't end up with something so French. Instead, you have yourself a big bowl of the lightest I-could-eat-20-of-these doughnut that the Portuguese know of as sonhos. And the man we have to thank for the fried-food revelation is George Mendes.

“The essence of Portuguese food [is that] it's very communal, very festive.”

Last night's SAVEUR Supper with chefs George Mendes and Rui Correia started as most dinners do: We mosey around the dining room table with glasses of wine, reaching through groups of people to nibble on hors d'oeuvres, until we eventually find our seats to fill and refill our plates with all the dishes that go up and down the long wooden table. Sharing big, family-style dishes is "the essence of Portuguese food—it's very communal, very festive," Mendes said as he hoisted himself up onto the kitchen countertop to see all the guests and take a quick iPhone picture. And we ate—a salt cod, potato, and egg casserole reminiscent of a Spanish tortilla, Portuguese pork and clams, and fresh grilled sardines with pickled vegetables.

Kitchen Instagram
Matt Taylor-Gross

But the dinner didn't end as most do. When we had finished our mains, he told us to get out of our seats and come to the kitchen—we were eating dessert standing up, no plates. In the middle of the counter were brûléed pasteis de nata, which we recognized, and then less familiar: cinnamon-sugar "doughnuts" that we were told to dunk into sweet-tart passion fruit curd and thick salted caramel. And we dunked. A lot. Because while you can only eat a few cake doughnuts holes, you can eat many more sonhos, which truly dissolve in your mouth, less in an artificial Krispy Kreme sort-of way, and more in a "looks like I'll forever be frying my pâte à choux" sort-of-way. Those doughnuts are light and airy like the yeast kind, but come together in a fraction of the time. No waiting for yeast to rise, no punching down and rolling out dough. Plus their high egg content makes for almost custardy interiors.

You don't need to fill them like you would an éclair or profiterole, but take it from us and Mendes—dunk those little guys into pools of curd and caramel. Your fingers will get messy, but the second you pop a sonho in your mouth, you won't care. You'll lick your fingers. And then you'll go back for another.

For more scenes from last night, check out the gallery below.

Mendes Appetizer
Our favorite kind of lollipops = chicken lollipops, especially with chef Rui Correia's honey-infused house made piri piri.Matt Taylor-Gross
Mendes Cooking
Chef George Mendes dumps a tray full of crispy potatoes on top of clams, pork, and pickled vegetables.Matt Taylor-Gross
Sachs and Boulud
Chef Daniel Boulud, editor-in-chief Adam Sachs, and Lucky Peach senior editor Rachel Khong looking at something secret (and seemingly perplexing) on Boulud's phone.Matt Taylor-Gross
Portugal Wine
Thanks to Wines of Portugal for supplying us with some incredible bottles!Matt Taylor-Gross
Paella
Carne de Porco à Alentejana, which is Portuguese for "awesome pork and clams dish with pickled vegetables."Matt Taylor-Gross
Overhead Table Shot, Saveur Suppers
The full spread.Matt Taylor-Gross
Sachs, Boulud, Mendes
Adam Sachs, Daniel Boulud, Gavin Kaysen, George Mendes, Rui Correia, and Lior Lev Sercarz. "I am Pete Wells!" Boulud said through the wire skimmer.Matt Taylor-Gross
Mendes Course
Nothing like fresh grilled sardines.Matt Taylor-Gross
Mendes Kitchen
Mendes feeds a sonhos to one hungry guest.Matt Taylor-Gross
George Mendes Staff
Mendes and his kitchen posse after feeding us all.Matt Taylor-Gross
Mendes 1
No chef leaves the SAVEUR test kitchen without getting measured.Matt Taylor-Gross