New Orleans cuisine, influenced by African, Cajun, Creole, Spanish and Italian culture, is well known for its extraordinary depth of flavor and variety. Whenever I visit, the only one thing I am sure I will come back with is extra pounds. One of the first things I like to do in the morning or after a late night of live music on Frenchmen St. is head to Café Du Monde for a cup of chicory coffee and plate of powdered beignets. I sit and watch the people walk the streets while my face is slightly coated in powered sugar, and feel a sense of deep, deep satisfaction. If you’ve never had a beignet, the best way to describe it would probably be a mix between a donut and savory piece of fried bread. In French, beignet means “fritter.” They are usually covered with powdered sugar, but can be coated with granulated sugar or mixed with cinnamon as well.
For centuries, Spanish cooks have served deep-fried yeasted fritters known as “bunuelos.” Early French colonists, who were influenced by Islamic culinary traditions in Spain, brought the beignet to New Orleans in the 18th century. In some countries, they are savory dishes filled with meat or fruit, and served with dipping sauces. Despite the simplicity of the beignet, it’s really the sentiment of sweet warmth that it brings, especially while enjoying it in the Crescent City. Here is a recipe to help you achieve that same sentiment, right in your own home:
- 1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1 cup evaporated milk
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 4 cups of all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup of vegetable shortening
- Confectioners’ sugar
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 1 pinch of nutmeg
-In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Let sit for 10 minutes. In another bowl, mix the milk, nutmeg, egg and salt. Beat until smooth, then add to the yeast mixture.
-Add half of the flour to mixture with shortening, mixing slowly, then, stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough (dough will be sticky). Do not knead. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 4 hours.
-Turn dough onto a floured surface; roll into 1-inch thick squares.
-In an electric skillet or deep-fat fryer, heat oil to 375°. Fry squares, a few at a time, until golden brown on both sides, about 2-3 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with dipping sauces and coffee.
Servings: 12 large beignets