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Dish of the Week: Beignets

Get a taste of the French Quarter without leaving your kitchen.EXPAND
Get a taste of the French Quarter without leaving your kitchen.
Photo by Phil Roeder (edited)

From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. Find other dishes of the week here.

This week, we’re sharing a New Orleans favorite to jump-start your Fat Tuesday: beignets.

Its name derived from the early Celtic word bigne, meaning “to raise,” and French for “fritter,” a beignet is a French pastry often made with deep-fried choux pastry, or pâte à choux. In lieu of a raising agent, choux pastry has a high moisture content, allowing steam to puff the pastry during cooking and resulting in a light, airy pastry that gets a beautiful, crisp exterior when fried. Other types of dough, including yeast dough, are also used to achieve similar results.

A New Orleans specialty, the puffed fritters get a thick powdered sugar blanket, making the perfect accompaniment for a café au lait, a dark roast coffee often mixed with chicory, which gives it a strong, bitter taste. According to food historian Cathy Kaufman in the article “Where does the New Orleans Mardi Gras Beignet Come From?” beignets are claimed to have been introduced to the Crescent City by the Ursuline Nuns of France in 1727, though this is likely folklore.

Today the most famous spot to get beignets is in the French Quarter, at the landmark Café du Monde. But you don’t need to go all the way to New Orleans to get a taste. You can make your own version right at home.

This recipe, from Paula Deen, makes a big batch, so feel free to cut in half or make it all and freeze some of the dough for later use. Pro tip: For crisp and light beignets, make sure your oil starts at and remains the right temperature throughout cooking (at least 350 degrees).

French Quarter Beignets

Ingredients yields about 3 dozen
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup evaporated milk
7 cups bread flour
1/4 cup shortening
Nonstick spray
Oil, for deep-frying (canola, safflower, grapeseed, vegetable or even cottonseed oil—which is what Café du Monde uses due to its high smoking point)
3 cups confectioners' sugar

Directions

Mix water, sugar and yeast in a large bowl and let sit for 10 minutes.

In another bowl, beat the eggs, salt and evaporated milk together. Mix egg mixture to the yeast mixture. In a separate bowl, measure out the bread flour. Add 3 cups of the flour to the yeast mixture and stir to combine. Add the shortening and continue to stir while adding the remaining flour. Remove dough from the bowl, place onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.

Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray. Put dough into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Let rise in a warm place for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oil in a deep-fryer to 350 degrees F.

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Add the confectioners' sugar to a paper or plastic bag and set aside.

Roll the dough out to about 1/4-inch thickness and cut into 1-inch squares. Deep-fry, flipping constantly, until they become a golden color.

After beignets are fried, drain them for a few seconds on paper towels, and then toss them into the bag of confectioners' sugar. Hold bag closed and shake to coat evenly.

Serve hot.

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