Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: New Orleans French Quarter Beignets ('Doughnuts')


My husband's coworkers are very lucky today, because they are going to get to try some excellent beignets.  As it turns out, I have forty doughnuts, which is certainly more than my husband and I can eat while they are still fresh.  When I prepared this recipe, I forgot that I was cooking for personal reasons, and not to keep a small bakery in business.  Thus, I have quite a few extras.

New Orleans is known for its distinctive cuisine.  This great American city has seen its share of tragedy and heartbreak in the aftermath of Hurricaine Katrina, but has nonetheless maintained its reputation for its ethnic and multicultural cuisine - from Cajan to Creole to to shrimp gumbo to beignets to to King Cakes to chicory coffee.  Everyone I have known who has professed to love New Orleans (which is pretty much everyone I know who has ever lived there) has had numerous memories of the food.  With all this history on mind, I decided to make New Orleans' signature doughnut, the beignet, tonight.  So here's a recipe for you to enjoy, a month and a half in advance of Mardi Gras - New Orleans' biggest party.

Beignets, or New Orleans doughnuts, derive from the French word for "fritter."  According to my reading, beignets have been associated with Mardi Gras, since at least the 16th Century, and are distinctive of New Orleans' famous French Quarter.  It is thought that they may have been introduced to certain provincial / Mediterranean areas of France during the middle ages, while those parts of France were under the rule of the Islamic Moors (from Spain).  Regardless of these origins, the French brought beignets with them in the 18th Century when they settled Louisiana, and the rest is history. 

Beignets are square-shaped fried pieces of yeast dough, usually about two inches in diameter, which are then coated in powdered sugar.  (The doughnuts also instantly reminded me of the funnel cakes I ate as a kid).  If you enjoy coffee, I've been advised that a true New Orleans local would have their beignets with Chicory Coffee, at places such as Cafe Du Monde

Here is the recipe that I used to prepare the beignets, courtesy of the Food Network.  It is important to note that I cut the recipe in half and still made forty beignets.  The recipe I listed here is the half recipe that I prepared.

3/4 cups warm water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 envelopes dry active yeast  (I used a bit more than the recipe called for, and it worked out fine - just wanted to avoid problems with the dough rising)
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup evaporated milk
3 1/2 cups bread flour  (I used King Arthur Bread Flour, which is the best bread flour on the market)
1/8 cup shortening (I used Crisco)
Canola Oil, for deep frying
Several cups of confectioner's sugar

First, put the water, yeast and sugar in a bowl.  Allow to sit in a warm place for 15 minutes until the yeast becomes frothy and is fully activated.  In a separate bowl, beat the egg, evaporated milk and salt.  Mix the egg mixture with the yeast.  Then mix this entire mixture with the flour and shortneing in the basin of your artisan mixer, until it forms a dough.  Then allow the dough to rise, covered, in a well-oiled bowl for about two hours.  The dough will rise, but it will not double in size, like if you were making Challah or Brioche.

Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness and form into 1/4 inch squares.  I actually made some of mine a little bigger than this - not a big deal, as they still taste delicious.  However, keep in mind that they do increase in size during the deep frying process. 

Deep fry, flipping often, until they become a golden color.  You can either deep fry using a deep fryer, in which case I recommend carefully following the operating and safety instructions.  However, you can safely execute this recipe without a deep fryer, by using several inches of oil in a stick pot.  I followed these stepwise deep frying instructions to prepare the beignets with my husband; it was quite safe and easy, too.

Once the doughuts are done frying, put on paper towels for a minute or two to absorb some of the excess oil.  Then, while they are still hot, pick them up with your tongs and toss them in a bag filled with a couple of cups of confectioner's sugar.  Time for some delicious indulgence.



  1. looks delish!! i am passing by later to snatch one up so dont give them all to brad's co-workers!

  2. I was sitting at Café Monde a few years back, with luscious, fried, sugary beignets and milky chicory coffee. I wish that this site had smell-o-vision…

  3. Oh...I'm saving this one!

  4. You were right, Alex thought these looked wonderful. I think we will have to try to make these after I get some chicory coffee:-)

  5. I love beignets with a little sweet dipping sauce on the side! Great supporting photos - thx for sharing! =)

  6. Oh yummy and yummy! Plate me up a few of those please and I'll grab my coffee... You know, there remind me of my mother and how she used to fry dough for breakfast. Not cute little beignets but more like mini puffy pizzas. It was a Saturday morning ritual for many years. Thanks for sharing these, I'm going to try them.

  7. Yum - one of my favorite places in New Orleans is Cafe du Monde!


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