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.
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.
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.
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