Sunday, June 30, 2013

Beignets! (pronounced "ben-YAYZ")

What's for breakfast on a Sunday morning?

Beignets.  From left to right: vanilla sugar,
cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar shaken in
a paper bag and sprinkled powdered sugar.
Most of us don't live in New Orleans so we can't just get up and run to Cafe Du Monde and grab some of their wonderful beignets. There are probably people reading this that don't even know what a beignet is (it's kind of like a French doughnut).  For those of us that HAVE been to New Orleans, if you're anything like me, the word "beignet" conjures up images of sitting in a bustling cafe with these magical little pieces of pastry covered with powdered sugar and a cup of cafe au lait (well, if you're me, it's a cup of tea).

I just found out that my brother and sister-in-law are heading to New Orleans soon and that's what brought these memories back.  I LOVED the beignets served at Cafe Du Monde.  Since I wasn't the one heading there anytime soon, I decided to make my own - and since I was making my own anyway, I added a couple of minor twists to the recipes I was able to find online.  It evidently worked since all three of us in the house loved them (and my sixteen year old had never heard of a beignet either).

So - here goes...and enjoy!!

  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg, room temperature and beaten
  • 2 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 4 cup bread flour or all purpose flour
  • 3 tsp instant active dry yeast
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract (or another extract that you like, orange, lemon, etc. This is optional and was NOT in the recipe I found online but in my opinion it added to the flavor considerably)
  • vegetable oil for cooking: use enough oil to completely cover beignets when frying
  • powdered sugar for dusting

  1. Pour the lukewarm water into a small bowl. Stir one teaspoon of the sugar into the water until it dissolves.  Pour the yeast into the water and stir well.  Let sit for about 5 minutes.
  2. Combine the butter, sugar, salt and extract (if using) in a large bowl. Pour the boiling water over the butter mixture and then stir in the evaporated milk. Wait for the mixture to cool down until it is lukewarm. Then, add the yeast and water mixture and beaten egg.
  3. Slowly mix in the flour until the dough forms a ball. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for three or four hours.
  4. Take the cold dough out of the refrigerator and roll it out to 1/8 - 1/4 inch thick. Cut the rolled out dough into strips 2 to 3-inches wide, then cut again in the opposite direction and at an angle, making diamond shapes.  Alternatively, you can cut them into squares, then cut the squares at an angle to form a triangle (this is what I did - and I used a pizza cutter which made it very simple).
  5. Heat your oil for frying in a heavy pan over medium-high heat to 360 degree F (180 degrees C).
  6. Slide a few pieces of the cut dough slowly into the oil to avoid splattering and deep fry until they puff up and are golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes (they will need to be turned half way through - if the oil is too hot they will cook too fast and turn a deep brown outside before they are done on the inside - I know this from experience!). 
  7. Carefully remove onto a rack with paper towels underneath and allow to cool until you can handle them. 
  8. Either sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar, or place in a clean paper bag with confectioners' sugar and shake gently until covered generously.  I tried both ways - it depends on your taste.  Obviously the paper bag route is very simple but will result in a lot more sugar and therefore a much sweeter beignet.
I also tried something different that I didn't see in the beignets I tried in New Orleans. In addition to powdered sugar, I tried sprinkling them with cinnamon sugar and vanilla sugar* (not all at once - three different variations).  The vanilla sugar edged the others for favorite in our house but not by much.  Everyone seemed to like all of the variations.

*I had never tried (or even heard of) vanilla sugar until five or six years ago.  If you've never tried it, it's well worth the investment to either make your own or pick some up (Penzey's Spices carries it and there are many other places you can find it on the internet).  

If you want to make it yourself, you simply need to get some vanilla beans and cover them with sugar and let sit.  That's it.  In a couple of weeks you'll have vanilla sugar.  If you wait longer, the flavor will get stronger.  You can also take the beans and grind them up in a food processor until they are very fine and add them to the sugar.  I've seen it both ways and like it both ways.  In any case, whether you buy it or make your own, you owe it to yourself to try it.  I don't drink coffee but I know people that swear by using it in place of sugar in regular coffee.  I use it in place of regular sugar in many recipes but the best and simplest use I've tried is sprinkling it on a humble piece of buttered toast.

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