Make Way for Beignets

I know, it's been a tough week in weather land. If you're lucky, you've got a long holiday weekend just ahead, with some extra time to recover from the wintry mishegas.

An extra day also means more time to play in the kitchen. It's a chance to dive into projects that are either too complicated or time consuming for the average worknight supper. The afternoon is all yours to get floured up, fried on and just plain curious.

Beignets and coffee. (Kim O'Donnel)

This weekend in particular coincides with two distinctly different, culinary-centric cultural events - Chinese New Year (Sunday, Feb. 18) and Mardi Gras (Tuesday, Feb. 20).

Today, I present Weekend Project Option Number One - beignets (say BEN-YAY), that classic New Orleans fried-dough snack and quintessential breakfast treat.

Until last week, I had never made beignets, a dish I supposed I'd leave to the experts. That assumption, it seems to me now, is a bit misguided, particularly since the massive destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina just 18 months ago. I dare not claim to know what life has been like for a mystical city unlike any other in the world.

But as Fat Tuesday nears, New Orleans is once again not far from our minds. If you can't be there to celebrate the city's indomitable spirit, let a little of the city come to you. By learning to fry dough, New Orleans style, you join the ranks of its culinary preservationists. You connect to a culture that has been battered, to a place that has become increasingly ignored and to a tradition that keeps the bon temps a rouler-ing. Plus, you'll make everyone happy at your house come Sunday morning.

A few recipe notes:

Yes, it's worth getting the barley flour (see below in recipe), as it adds a nuttiness that really stands out.

Don't worry about using an entire half gallon of oil. Yes, I know, it seems extreme, but really what you're doing is creating a big hot pool in which the beignets can swim, swiftly and efficiently. The amount of oil actually absorbed is a small percentage.

Speaking of oil, it must be hot -- as in 370 degrees --- and in order to know just how hot it's getting, you need a thermometer. Don't even thinking of guessing the temperature; your beignets will thank you later.

Although best right off the heat, you can keep beignets warm in a 200-degree oven while you fry. Although less than ideal, day-old beignets still pack a punch; think of a day-old plain doughnut dunked in coffee.

Tomorrow: Ringing in the Year of the Pig with jiao-zi.

Picayune Beignets
Adapted from "Donuts: An American Passion" by John T. Edge

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup barley flour (Arrowhead Mills and Bob's Red Mill are two known brands)
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 gallon vegetable oil for frying
Powdered sugar for sprinkling

In a large mixing bowl, combine both flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk and egg, then add the melted butter and vanilla, mixing well. Add liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well.

Divide the resulting dough into two balls. On a floured surface, knead each ball 10 to 20 times and roll out with a rolling pin into a 9-inch-by-9-inch square about 1/8-inch thick. Next, cut the big square into 12 small squares.

Pour oil into a cast-iron Dutch oven or other deep, heavy-bottomed pot until it reaches a depth of 3 to 4 inches. Heat oil over medium-high heat to 370; this will take 15-20 minutes.

Fry 3 or 4 beignets at a time, turning once shortly after dropping them in the oil, for about 2 minutes total or until lightly browned on both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper. Allow oil to return to 370 degrees before adding a new batch of dough squares. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve hot. You can keep warm in a 200-degree oven until ready to serve.

Makes 24 beignets.

By Kim ODonnel |  February 15, 2007; 10:49 AM ET Breakfast , Discoveries
Previous: Valentine's Plan B | Next: Year of the Pig Dumplings


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These sound luscious -- beignets at Cafe du Monde after a long night out on Bourbon St is one of my favorite NOLA memories.

Do you mix the dough by hand, or could this be done with a mixer, using the dough hook?

Posted by: Kathryn | February 15, 2007 11:15 AM

Oh, beignets! My mom used to make them for us when we got home from school. Just exactly as soon as we dropped our backpacks, she had hot beignets ready for us, with a big plate of powdered sugar for dipping. I have never made them, but now I'm feeling inspired to try.

Thanks for a great post!

Posted by: Karen | February 15, 2007 11:32 AM

I made beignets using the cafe du monde mix last weekend. I got a better puff from the dough that I let rest over night than from the ones that I made and then fried. Also, although not as good as fresh from the frier, these can be made up to 12 hours ahead and popped in the oven to reheat.

Posted by: akmitc | February 15, 2007 11:45 AM

passable beignets have been available at Lousiana Express in Bethesda since about 1991.

Posted by: Bethesdan | February 15, 2007 12:24 PM

Their culture may have been battered, but I think that as long as it's battered and deep-fried, they'll be OK in New Orleans, the best tasting city in the world...mmm

Posted by: TwinnklyTerrapin | February 15, 2007 12:59 PM

ah, beignets! that warms my gulf-coast-kid heart. tres delicieux!

Posted by: bamagirlinVA | February 15, 2007 1:03 PM

you don't need a thermometer! drop in a tiny bit of dough and if it pops up to the top, the oil is hot enough.

Posted by: mm | February 15, 2007 1:34 PM

Forget the 1/2 gallon of oil. I've made beignets for 2 by using a small saucepan and cooking one at a time. You just need 3" of oil since they will pop to the surface almost immediately.

Posted by: ScubachickVA | February 15, 2007 1:42 PM

We made cake doughnuts yesterday, cut with valentines themed cookie cutters. They were such a treat. I'll keep this recipe for the next time the mood strikes.

I used your pot pie recipe from last week to make pot pie on Tuesday. It was a big hit with the toddler and DH. Thanks for your thoughts on warming the body and soul with food during this artic spell.

Posted by: late to the party | February 15, 2007 1:55 PM

Johnny's Half Shell on Capitol Hill has really good beignets, though I am pretty sure that you can only get them at breafast.

Posted by: N.O. Rising | February 15, 2007 2:08 PM

New Orleans Cafe in Adams Morgan....GREAT beignets at any time!

Posted by: K-Dub | February 15, 2007 3:35 PM

What do you do with all that used oil when you're finished with these? Can you use it again for something else? I never fry anything using that much oil or grease so I don't know if you recycle cooking oil.

However, my grandmother used to have a 'drippin's jar' where she would strain used grease (bacon, lard, shortning) to use again for frying, not for baking.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | February 15, 2007 3:50 PM

Well...this is a weird thing to say about used oil...but if it's all of one type, you can use it to make your own homemade soap. Of course, you'd have to order your lye and other oils online, probably. I've been making my own soap for years -- now I can never go back to commercial "soap" (it's really detergent).

Posted by: Rita | February 15, 2007 4:00 PM

Can one make these without the egg?

Posted by: Tina | February 15, 2007 4:38 PM

I had the best beignets in Morocco. In the resort town of Agadir, a beignet seller would come up to you on the beach offering you one. And also a nice addition to their amazing cafe latte

Posted by: mamra | February 15, 2007 4:56 PM

WARNING WARNING WARNING This things are quickly addictive! A short stop at Cafe du Monde will create many problems in your tourist plans, cutting short intended itineraries for return for more.

Posted by: Tupac Goldstein | February 15, 2007 5:36 PM

Used oil. Pour it in a metal jar, let it set up, then put it in the trash. Don't put it down the drain or it may clog the drain. Don't put it in a glass jar. The glass jar may bust from the hot oil.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 15, 2007 7:28 PM

Cool the oil (that wasn't used for fish), strain it into a jar, refrigerate and re-use next time you deep fry. It seems to keep a very long time if chilled.

Posted by: Nabarda | February 16, 2007 11:23 AM

And by the way, beignets HAVE to be eaten with cafe au lait, not black coffee as shown in the illustration.

Posted by: Nabarda | February 16, 2007 11:25 AM

Ah, beignets. Thank god that Cafe du Monde survived Katrina. I'd try that recipe if I wasn't chicken about deep frying.

Posted by: NOLA ExPat | February 17, 2007 8:26 AM

Just came back from a wintery weekend in cleveland where I ate some beignets at a kiosk located at Crocker Park in a suburb called Avon Lake, Ohio. Kind of like Pentagon Row but multiply the size by 10.
Very good quality. 3 large Beignets for under $5.00.

Posted by: mamra | February 20, 2007 12:23 PM

Love the recipe and will try--in fact, I'll invite the neighbors in on a lazy Sunday for these and coffee lattes. In my neighborhood, San Carlos California--on the peninsula south of SF, a restaurant named Creola makes beignets for dessert with whipped cream and fresh fruit. Yummy.

Posted by: MaryT | February 23, 2007 11:17 AM

Simple beignet shortcut: use frozen bread dough from the grocery store. They may not be the same, but they're still tasty and they puff up a bit more (more balloon-y). It was a real treat when my mom made us beignets from scratch, but she could pull out the frozen dough the night before and have low-hassle beignets the next morning. Hands down my favorite breakfast as a child. *mouth waters just thinking about it*

Posted by: SPC | February 23, 2007 4:26 PM

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