Cook the Book: Beignets

[Photographs: Caroline Russock]

When it comes to eating, my policy can be roughly translated to carpe diem—I never want to miss out on a potentially delicious experience. Sadly, this was not the case when I visited New Orleans a number of years ago. I was a strict vegetarian then, and that meant that I missed out on almost all of the city's culinary offerings. I can't recall what I ate on that trip, but I can assure you it did not include gumbo, po'boys, or even red beans and rice for fear that there might be meat lurking somewhere in the mix.

The one and only eating experience that does resonate is beignets and chicory coffee at Café du Monde. The beignets were light, sweet, and incredibly messy from the heavy dusting of powdered sugar they were finished with. They were entirely memorable.

It had been a while since I thought about those ethereal beignets, and then I came upon John Besh's recipe in My New Orleans.

I decided to try Besh's version and see how they measured up to the beignets I had at Café du Monde. The dough was a simple affair, not too different from a yeasted dough used to make doughnuts. My attempt ended up a little less lacy and airy than the ones that I had eaten in New Orleans, but the flavors were all there and the beignets were crisp and almost caramelized on the outside and light within—just as messy and satisfying.

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Cook the Book: Beignets

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About This Recipe

Yield:30
This recipe appears in: Happy National Doughnut Day

Ingredients

  • 1 cup lukewarm milk, about 110°F
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 to 6 cups canola oil
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

Procedures

  1. 1

    Pour the lukewarm milk into a large bowl. Mix 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar, the yeast, and a heaping tablespoon of the flour into the milk, mixing with a whisk, until both the sugar and the yeast have dissolved.

  2. 2

    Once bubbles have developed on the surface of the milk and it begins to foam, whisk in the butter, salt, and vanilla. Add the remaining flour and sugar, folding them into the wet ingredients with a large rubber spatula. Knead the dough by hand in the bowl for about 5 minutes, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for 6 to 8 hours.

  3. 3

    Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a floured surface to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Cut into 2-inch squares, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and allow the beignets to rise for about an hour.

  4. 4

    Heat the oil in a large deep skillet over high heat until it reaches 350°F. Use a candy thermometer to check temperature. Fry the beignets in small batches in the hot oil, turning them every 30 seconds or so with tongs, until golden brown all over. Use tongs to remove beignets from the oil and drain on paper towels. Put the powdered sugar into a fine-mesh strainer and dust the warm beignets generously with the sugar.

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