Bolas de Berlim – How to Make Portuguese Custard Donuts

There’s nothing better than a freshly made Donut – or Doughnut. From the basic sugar glazed to more elaborate versions, this bread-like sweet holds a special place in everyone’s heart. No wonder it is a world classic. Donuts are so popular that some countries even have a ‘National Donut Day’ to honour the sweet treat.

Origins of the Bolas de Berlim

First records of the creation of this popular sweet dates back to the 14th century, with reference to a dough cake in the German cookbook ”Küchenmeisterei (Mastery of the Kitchen)”, published in 1485. Differently from today, these cakes had no holes in them, and were not necessarily even sweet. Similar recipes for a ‘dow nut‘ seemed to have appeared in England in 1800. It was only in the early 20th century that the dessert made it to the US. Through Dutch settlers, the ‘oily cakes’ were taken to Manhattan (New Amsterdam) where they gained their current and well known ring shape.

Donuts in PortugalBolas de Berlim

It is believed that donuts were introduced to Portugal by Jewish refugees during World War II when they began to work for local pastelarias and cafés. The recipe was later adapted to the local taste, gaining the traditional Portuguese egg cream filling. In the Azores, when they are known as malasadas. They are typically served without fillings, only sprinkled with a mix of sugar and cinnamon. In other parts of the country, especially in the Algarve, they are known as Bolinhas de Berlim meaning Berlim little balls, in a reference to the original Berliners. They are slightly bigger than Berliners, and cut halfway through like a sandwich, stuffed with egg custard, chocolate, and other cream-based fillings.

Bolas de Berlim - Portuguese Donuts

Bolinhas are typically appreciated at the beach, with dozens of vendors selling slightly bigger sized donuts than the German classic. They make the perfect beach snack due to their round shape, easy to be held even by children, and the sweet contrast it provides after a sea swim. The best thing is that you don’t even have to go to anywhere to buy them, the vendors will bring them to you, so keep you ears open to the distinctive way the treat is announced!

About Our Bolinha de Berlim Recipe

The secret for a good Bolinha is in the dough which should be fluffy and lightly sweet. The bread-like consistency is achieved by using fresh yeast. We used wet yeast, but you can substitute it with a smaller amount of dry yeast. When it comes to deep frying the donuts, the best oil temperature is around 180 °C, for those who don’t have access to a kitchen thermometer, you can test the temperature with a small ball of dough. When the oil reaches the right temperature, it should create gentle bubbles around the dough it as it fries. As for the filling, we used the classic Portuguese Doce de Ovos, that can be replaced by any fillings of your preference. It is important to make sure the filling has enough structure to remain inside the donuts. As anything deep fried, they are best enjoyed fresh, and although less fluffy, they will still be delicious the next day if kept in an airtight container.

Bolas de Berlim - Donuts from Portugal

Bolinha de Berlim Recipe – Portuguese Custard Cream Donuts

For the Dough:

  • 1 ½ cup all-purpose flour – 250g
  • 2tbsp granulated sugar – 25g
  • 3tbsp vegetable oil – 40ml
  • 1/3 cup full fat milk – 80ml
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 25g fresh yeast or 12g dry yeast
  • Icing sugar for coating the donuts

For the Egg Custard

  • 2/3 cup water – 150ml
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar – 300g
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 10g corn starch
  • 20g unsalted butter – diced

Making our Egg Custard

  1. Start by combining the water and the sugar in a small saucepan, place it over low heat. Let it simmer until it reaches 100 °C. In case you don’t have a kitchen thermometer, it should be ready when you lift a spoon of the syrup and the liquid falls in a large drop leaving a short and thin string behind. Allow it to cool for a couple of minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, gently beat the egg yoks, then add the starch. Mix thoroughly, then slowly pour the syrup on top of the mixture, stirring it.
  3. Return the mixture to the saucepan, place it over medium heat. Stir the custard until it starts to boil, continue to stir for another minute before removing from the heat.
  4. Add in the butter cubes, stir well until completely melted and absorbed.
  5. Transfer the custard to a shallow bowl, cover it with cling film, making sure the film touches the custard in order to prevent a crust from forming.
  6. Allow it to settle in the fridge for a couple of hours before using.

Making the Dough:

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients. This step can vary depending on the type of yeast you are using. The yeast we used don’t require activation prior to use, if that’s not your case, start by activating the yeast with sugar and lukewarm milk before you combine the remaining ingredients.
  2. With a dough hook or your hands, mix well until combined. Then knead it for approximately 10 minutes. If needed, gradually add some extra flour. The dough should be on the wet side and will gain consistency as you knead it. It should be ready when the dough become smoother, and when you stretch a piece of dough It doesn’t break and looks slightly translucent.
  3. Shape it into a ball, cover the bowl with a damp cloth. Let it rise for 1 hour approximately, or until it doubles in size. You can make a shallow cut on the surface in order to follow the growth.
  4. Transfer the dough to a flour dusted surface, use your hands to gently flatten it. Divide the dough into 12 equal parts as if you are slicing a pizza. Roll each piece into a tight ball.
  5. Sprinkle a large baking tray with some flour, then place on it each ball, leaving some space between them. Cover it with a cloth, let it rise again for approximately an hour or until it doubles in size.
  6. Place a deep pan (preferably with a thick base) over low to medium heat, add enough vegetable oil to deep fry the doughnuts. Heat the oil until it reaches 180 °C or follow the dough test as mentioned before.
  7. Place two plates near the stove, cover one of them with kitchen paper, and add some icing sugar to the other.
  8. Gently transfer the dough balls to the oil, fry them in small batches in order to avoid temperature changes. A dough scrapper can help with the process of transferring. Fry both sides until golden brown. Remove from the oil, placing it over kitchen paper. Wait for a minute or two before you roll them icing sugar.
  9. Allow the donuts to cool completely before cutting and adding the filling.

We hope you enjoyed this recipe of Portuguese Donuts! Next time you crave something sweet, why not try our Portuguese Rice Pudding recipe, or the traditional Pastel de Nata? If you tried our recipe, let us know in the comments!

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