Quickly leaving you today with something awesome I discovered in Hong Kong.  And it comes with a funny name, too, called Sandy Old Man!

I found it at a traditional Catonese-style pastry shop and thought to myself that it was just donuts, but as I bit into the sugar coated fried dough, this little fella instantly sank into an airy sponge with soft and almost custardy interiors.  After some much needed research, turned out that this thing which they call “Sandy Old Man”, are essentially pâte à choux donuts!  By frying this classic cream puff-dough, you get a slight crispier exterior with almost hallow interior, permeating a salivating aroma of eggs and butter.

Traditionally Sandy Old Man are only coated in granulated sugar, but come on, it’s Christmas.  Granulated sugar turns into light brown sugar, then festivity turns into a pinch of ground cinnamon, cloves and a slight sprinkle of salt.  Once the piping hot, light and airy donuts hit what I call the “Christmas sand”, the house will instantly smell like sweet, buttery and eggy holiday spirit.

I’ll take this sandy old man over Santa any day.




UPDTAE 2015/12/14:  The original measurement of 1/2 cup of flour worked for me, but because many had commented that their batter was too thin, I adjusted the recipe to 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp.

UPDATE 2016/01/11:  About comments that mentioned the batter was too thin – I tested the recipe again (added some weight measurements in the recipe, too) and it worked great with me.  Please note the “dough” should actually resemble a very thick batter.  By the way, I also just found out from my trip to Lisbon that these actually came from Portugal originally, and are called “sonhos” there which sounds  a lot like “sandy old man” in Chinese!  All makes sense now… :)



  • 1/2 cup (118 grams) water
  • 3 tbsp (42 grams) unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp (87 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • Canola oil for frying
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 1/4 tsp salt


  1. In a small pot over medium-low heat, add water, unsalted butter, sugar and salt, then cook until the water is hot enough to melt the butter (it should not boil). Turn off the heat and add the flour all at once, and stir with a fork until it comes into a smooth and even dough. Transfer the dough to a stand-mixer or into a large bowl, and stir for another min to cool it slightly. Add 1 egg and beat it into the dough until completely lump-free and smooth, then add the second egg and beat until the batter is shiny and smooth.
  2. Add enough canola oil to a small frying pot over medium heat. The oil's ready when it bubbles up gently around an inserted wooden chopstick. Scoop up around 1 tbsp of batter with one spoon, then scrape it gently into the oil with another spoon. Turning constantly and fry until the batter has puffed up (ALMOST DOUBLED in size, and will probably form a crack on the surface) and golden browned on all sides. This should take about 6 min to happen. If the donut browns too quickly before it puffs up, then the oil is too hot, and you should adjust the heat accordingly. Repeat with the rest of the batter.
  3. Drain the donuts thoroughly and set aside on a paper-towel to cool for 1 min, then coat it all over inside evenly mixed X'mas sand. Serve immediately.



  • literally imagining a sandy old sunburnt man right now showing way too much skin (my mom and i visited a gorgeous beach a couple months ago, but it was a nude beach and both of us were a little shocked. especially because we went there to enjoy our hot kouign amanns).

  • Seconding Katrina: the name is wonderful. I used to get these all the time from HK, but like most things in HK, I never actually knew the name of them! Your X’mas version looks absolutely delicious, I may just have to make these for my parents for the holidays :)

    • Dana, the moisture should be a very thick batter yes. If yours was too loose, then maybe the eggs happened to be bigger… I would add 2 to 3 more tbsp of flour to adjust. Hope this helps.

      • It was not a thick batter. I found another pat a chaux recipe and used it instead. It worked fine from there on out. Pat a chaux should be a dough when you add the eggs, not batter.

        • Dana, my pâte à choux has always been like a thick batter, but can be more ‘liquidy’ if the butter is salted. No idea why, but I make it ~30 times a year and always, always if it’s salted butter it’ll goop. Hope that helps!

  • Yum yum yum! I have a similar albeit gluten free recipe on my blog, which I use to make Spanish churros and I am so eager to make pâte à choux, but never find the time. You’ve inspired me that maybe for the holidays it will be made… Happy Holidays! Love reading your blog and enjoying your beautiful photography!

  • These look amazing, but I’m really just thinking of how jealous I am that you’re heading to Lisbon. We were there in June and fell in love. I listed our favorite restaurants here, but I really don’t know if you can go wrong, because the food is all so damn good.

  • OK I made these last night for a quick treat for my family but like Dana my “dough” was a batter. I literally added an extra cup of flour and it still didn’t turn into a dough. So I did what Roddie did (thanks Roddie!) and made funnel cakes. The consistency wasn’t there but oh the taste was. Yum! As soon as my mom tasted it she called it by its Chinese name. She took some home for my dad. Sooooo I don’t know why my dough was a batter but I’m going to work on figuring it out. Thanks for another great treat! Happy New Year!

  • I literally JUST finished making these. I’m fimilar with pate a choux, so I added flour until I got that kind of consistency. It ended up “doughy”, but the finished texture didn’t mimic that of a donut. I also, forgive me I’m rebellious, added some nutmeg and ginger to my “sand” ?????! I dipped them in honey butter before coating because prior to that, my sand wasn’t sticking. I’m going to do them exactly like you did them next time so I can give some TRUE feedback. As always, thanks for sharing!

    • Shanta, it really should be a thick batter instead of dough (I should change that in the recipe maybe). The texture would be more like a puff than a typical donut, and should double in size (usually happens during the last min of frying). The sugar will only stick when the donuts are warm. Hope you have better luck next time!

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