|New Orleans Style Beignets - recipe in post|
To say The Fiancé has a sweet tooth is an understatement. He's not your average dessert-loving, chocoholic candy fiend... the man's got taste, and not just any sweet treat will do. He's a self-proclaimed snob when it comes to confections... and since I get to indulge in all kinds of incredible foods as a result, I have to say I'm okay with it.
Weekend mornings at our house are lazy, as they should be. In fact, we rarely have weekend mornings, so much as weekend afternoons. Almost every Saturday, we go out to get coffee and a pastry. Almost every Saturday, The Fiancé orders a nice French crueller, hot out of the fryer from our local bakeshop. And almost every Saturday, he takes one bite, let's out a happy little sigh, and then goes on to regale me with stories of his trips to New Orleans as a kid, and of the many beignets he consumed there. The fondness he holds for these doughnuts is clear in the boyish grin on his face as he tells me about them for the hundredth time - rich, eggy, fluffy little pillows of dough, doused in powdered sugar and still warm inside... I once ate a dozen of them in one go! He tells me again and again... and again and again I listen, and hold in the back of my mind this promise: one day, my dear, I will make these for you.
And so I have.
Café du Monde, in the French Quarter of The Big Easy, is famous for their Beignets and Chicory Coffee. Not many things pair better than sweet doughnuts and dark coffee, and though I've never been to New Orleans rumor has it they do it best. The Café sells boxed beignet mix (along with cans of their signature chicory coffee), but with plenty of recipes around the web I was more than happy to try my hand at making them from scratch. The Fiancé was not disappointed.
The word beignet is French for fritter, and can mean most any yeasted doughnut. In most instances, however, it is used to mean these familiar squares. You may think from looking at them that these 'doughnuts' are entirely without holes... but that is simply not true. The hole, in this case, is on the inside. A pocket of air, warm with steam, giving them the illusion of clouds when bitten into. I've never been to Louisiana, but with a close approximation of Café du Monde in my own kitchen I don't think I'll need to make the trip any time soon.
Café du Monde recommends frying these doughnuts in cottonseed oil - looking around I've found a lot of people with concerns that cottonseed oil isn't safe. They reason that cotton crops aren't food, and therefore the pesticides used on them aren't regulated. Doing a little more research, I've found that cotton crops are regulated the same as food crops, and that food-grade cottonseed oil is processed to eliminate any natural toxins otherwise inherit to the cotton plant, making it perfectly suitable for culinary use. If you can't find cottonseed oil or prefer to avoid it, vegetable oil will work just fine.
Beignets are most often served coated heavily in powdered sugar, but if you prefer can be spruced up with a little glaze, fruit preserves, or chocolate sauce.
Big Easy Beignets
Adapted from Paula Deen
Makes 4-5 dozen
1 1/4 cups warm water (110f.)
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast (or one 1/4oz. envelope)
1 cup full-fat evaporated milk
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. fine grain sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup shortening
6 1/2 cups bread flour, or all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Vegetable or cottonseed oil for frying, plus more for greasing the bowl
Confectioners sugar - lots of it
Optional: 1 tsp. orange or lemon zest (not traditional, but nice to mix things up a little)
1. In a large bowl, combine the water, yeast, and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Let sit for 10 minutes, or until frothy.
2. Whisk together the evaporated milk, eggs, salt, vanilla, and the rest of the sugar. If using any citrus zest or other flavoring, add it now. Pour into the bowl with the yeast mixture.
3. Add three cups of flour and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Add the vegetable shortening and continue to stir while adding the remaining flour. Keep mixing until a shaggy dough forms.
4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until elastic and somewhat smooth. Place the dough in a very large, lightly greased bowl. Turn it to coat, and then cover loosely with plastic wrap or a clean towel. Let rise in a warm place for at least 3-4 hours. After rising, the dough is ready to use or can be stored in the fridge for up to a week - the longer the dough keeps, the more flavor it will develop!
5. To fry: add about 2-3 inches of oil to a large, deep pan or fryer. Clip on a thermometer and bring the oil to 370f.
6. Tear off a chunk of dough, place it on a lightly floured surface, and roll to about 1/4 inch thick.* Using a pizza cutter, slice the dough into 2inch squares. Carefully drop 3-4 squares into the oil, and fry on one side until evenly golden brown - this should only take about 30-40 seconds, or slightly longer if your dough has been refrigerated. If you have a wire skimmer, use it to hold the doughnuts just beneath the surface of the oil. Flip the doughnuts and fry on the second side for another 30-40 seconds, or until golden all the way around.
7. Transfer to a paper-towel lined tray and let drain for just a moment before coating thoroughly in powdered sugar. To do this you can either sift the sugar over the top of the doughnuts, or fill a paper bag with sugar, add the doughnuts, and give them a shake. If the oil has dropped in temperature, let it heat up again before frying more doughnuts. Repeat.
8. Serve warm with a coffee, or cafe au lait. And remember, if you aren't getting powdered sugar all over your face, you're doing it wrong. Enjoy!
*Beignets that are rolled too thin will have a large pocket of air with very little doughiness, and an almost crispy exterior. If rolled too thick, they will be dough all the way through with no pocket of air. Rolled correctly, they are light and doughy with a small bubble of air inside.