When Mardi Gras is in full swing and Fat Tuesday approaching, I long for all things Creole, Cajun and well, downright gluttonous. Beignets are one of the easiest of the Creole treats to craft - simple, yeast-leavened fried dough. This particular beignet recipe can be prepared ahead of time and is scrumptious with a piping hot cup of café au lait!
Classic New Orleans beignets
If you've visited the city of New Orleans, for Mardi Gras or otherwise, then I dare say you've enjoyed beignets and café au lait (coffee brewed with chicory and splashed with milk). But if you haven't met the Crescent City in person, allow me to attempt to describe the quintessential NOLA experience.
Beignets and café au lait
On any given morning in the city's French Quarter, you'll find the patio of Café du Monde packed to the brim with tourists and locals alike. Sipping bitter, earthy coffee loaded with milk, and biting into fluffy, fresh-from-the-fryer doughnuts covered in powdered sugar.
The ground of the patio is literally white, from all the sugar that puffs off the doughnuts and falls from the bags. Servers bustle about, delivering orders with minimal fanfare. After all, the menu is only beignets, chicory-spiked coffee and a few other drinks thrown in to please the masses.
Café au lait (coffee with milk) New Orleans-style
If you order coffee at Café du Monde, there is one option. Coffee with chicory. Chicory? It's a woodsy, herbal root, and part of the signature blend at Café du Monde. If you look, you might find coffee with chicory at your local grocery store or at retailer Cost Plus World Market. You can order online directly from the café, and of course, Amazon.
How to make beignets at home
Beignets are truly just standard issue doughnuts. Basic yeast dough ingredients, cut into signature squares, and fried to a beautiful light golden color.
There's no real trick to the trade besides ensuring your yeast is ready for action by proofing it in warm water, and then dumping - yes, dumping powdered sugar on the doughnuts as they emerge from frying. This is the way it's gone down at the popular riverside café for almost two centuries. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Tips for any beignet recipe
- All ingredients at room temperature. Bringing your milk and eggs to room temperature will ensure you dough comes together nice and supple.
- Check your yeast. As with any yeast recipe, you want to keep an eye on your yeast as it sits with the warm water. No foam, no go. Toss it out and start over with a fresh packet.
- Knead the last flour by hand. No need to overwork this dough. If you use a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment to start, but mix in the last couple cups of flour with a wooden spoon. Otherwise, mix the dough with two of your best kitchen tools: your hands and a wooden spoon.
- Aim for a shaggy mass. To achieve beignets that are light and fluffy, go think more biscuit dough than bread.
Frying beignets correctly
In many photos of beignets from popular recipe sites, the doughnuts are way too dark in color. Traditional New Orleans beignets are fried to a light golden color. Any darker and you risk a tough, dry doughnut. Properly fried beignets are light in color, hollow, soft, chewy and borderline doughy.
If you don't want to fry up a whole batch at once, you can keep the dough wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator one more night. Otherwise, simply halve the recipe. I like to use a 200°F oven to keep fried beignets warm (don't dust these until right before serving).
Or just eat them as soon as they come out of the fryer. On Fat Tuesday, or any other day that demands doughnuts.
Yours in all food NOLA,Print
- 1 envelope of active dry yeast (¼ ounce)
- 1⁄2 cup warm water
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 1 cup buttermilk or milk
- 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
- 1 tsp of salt
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- 4-8 cups of all-purpose flour
- Avocado, peanut oil or vegetable oil for frying
- Confectioner's sugar
- Combine yeast, one-half cup of hot tap water (105° to 115°) and teaspoon of granulated sugar in the a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer. Let stand for five minutes (if it doesn't foam, the yeast is bad).
- Microwave the other cup of water with butter until just warm (about 30 seconds). Stir to melt butter.
- Add both liquid mixtures, and all remaining ingredients, except flour to mixing bowl and beat to combine.
- Slowly beat in flour until a shaggy mass forms. Depending on your location and the weather, it can be anywhere from four to eight cups of flour. The dough should just hold together.
- Roll dough into a ball (or smaller separate rounds) and store in the refrigerator covered in plastic wrap or a plastic baggie, overnight, for up to 24 hours. If frying same-day doughnuts, let the dough proof, covered in an oiled bowl in a warm spot, until doubled in size.
- Heat three to four inches of canola oil to 360°F over medium heat in a dutch oven or large stock pot (use a candy or meat thermometer).
- On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to a quarter-inch thickness. Cut into 2 ½-inch squares.
- Fry beignets until light golden brown on both sides, flipping once. The doughnuts fry up fast in about a minute, but if they brown too quickly, turn the heat down.
- Drain on paper towels and shake fried doughnuts in a bag full of powdered sugar.
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