It must have been about 20 years ago by now. I was sitting at a tiny cafe table at the famous Café du Monde in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It was very early in the morning when the town was still quiet and only a few people were winding their way through the charming streets. I was enjoying my first experience with chicory coffee (au lait) and a doughnut-like treat–warm, fried dough squares smothered in lots of powdered sugar. Needless to say, I made a mess of myself from the confectioner’s sugar, but those beignets were unforgettable, as was the coffee.
It’s Fat Tuesday–the day before the start of Lent–when we are to use up our stock piles of fat and sugar until Easter. Rather than traditional doughnuts, I thought it would be the perfect day to try to recreate my New Orleans beignets experience. Beignets are not too sweet and are light–perfect for today as I wanted to balance out my sweet tooth indulgences with chocolates. Beignets are also easy to make! I want to say they are quick to make, but you’ll need about 2 hours to cover the time the yeast-based dough needs to rise.
First, I mixed together vanilla and buttermilk (or milk). Then, in a separate mixing bowl, I added the dry ingredients: some flour, salt, sugar, and yeast.
I mixed the dry ingredients together in my Kitchen Aid with the paddle attachment to evenly distribute the yeast, salt, and sugar. With the mixer running at low-speed, I slowly added in the buttermilk mixture.
In just a couple of minutes or less, the buttermilk was nicely mixed into the flour mixture.
The next step was to switch to the dough hook and mix until a somewhat sticky, but smooth and glossy dough formed. It was a quick 3 minutes. I transferred the dough with a spatula into an oiled bowl and covered the bowl with plastic wrap. I let it rise for about an hour in a warm spot. My warm spot was inside my oven. I heated my oven for a couple of minutes beforehand so that it would be slightly warmer than room temperature. But then I turned the heat off before putting in the dough to rise!
The dough rose for about an hour until nice and bubbly.
I floured a large wooden board and turned out the dough onto it.
I rolled out the dough very briefly to form a rectangle that was about 14″x 10″. The surface didn’t look too pretty, but it was too late to change it. The dough was a little sticky! I used a pizza cutter (but you can use a knife) to cut the dough into about 30 squares. These will be on the small side.
I then transferred the beignets onto 2 baking sheets lined with silicone mats. I lightly dusted the tops where I saw the tops were on the sticky side.
I covered the beignets with a kitchen towel and put them back in the oven which was still slightly warmer than room temperature. I let them rise for another hour. They basically looked puffy, which meant they were ready to be deep-fried.
I began heating a pot with some vegetable oil. The oil was about 2 1/2 inches deep. Meanwhile, I got my favorite powered sugar dispenser ready so that I could easily dust the beignets with sugar when I took them out of the oil.
I tested the temperature of the oil to be 375°F, but you don’t have to. When the oil sizzles after you put some drops of water into it, it should be ready to go. Or test out one of your sadder-looking beignets to see how long it fries. It should fry up quickly–at most 50 seconds on one side. Then the other side will go quicker. I dropped a few in at a time, but didn’t crowd the pot.
When they were ready, I removed the beignets with a big slotted spoon onto a pan lined with paper towels to soak up the extra oil.
They sat on the paper towels for only a few seconds before being transferred to a big dish where I dusted them heavily with powdered sugar.
They should be eaten warm. They were light, airy, and very addictive! I won’t say how many I ate in one sitting. . . .