Do you have a foodie bucket list? Every foodie I know has some sort of foodie bucket list - you know, both the food you want to eat before you die and where you want to eat it. Some people want to eat at French Laundry, some want to take an Italian cooking course in Tuscany, etc. I've done a fair number of things on my foodie bucket list - eaten a fresh baguette while strolling down the Champs Elysee in Paris, had gelato in Florence, lobster in Maine, fresh pineapple in Hawaii, noodles in Beijing, and pavlova in New Zealand, gone to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival, done a chocolate week in Belize, etc.
I still have a fair number of items on my foodie bucket list still to do, eat and visit. Just below attending the National or World Pastry Championship, next on the list at the moment is to have beignets at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. Beignets are deep-fried dough but don't think they're doughnuts. They're French. They have to be more uppity than that. The dough is usually not as sweet as doughnuts and their sweetness comes from the confectioners' sugar normally sprinkled on top. I've done deep-fried bread concoctions before, my favorite being zeppoles (fried Italian dough balls made with ricotta cheese), but have never made beignets. In honor of tomorrow being Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, I thought I'd give it a go. The advantage of having 200-something recipe books is I likely have a recipe for everything. It also helps that this particular recipe book has a sub-title of "Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, New Orleans Style".
It was a last-minute decision to make the beignets as I didn't even realize it was Mardi Gras tomorrow until I got an email from a friend about it. Fortunately I had most of the ingredients on hand so when I came home, I could throw it together. Unfortunately, what I didn't have on hand was bread flour so I had to substitute all-purpose flour in this recipe. I hate doing substitutions that may be key to the recipe but I thought I'd take a chance with it, especially since I had just come from the grocery store and didn't want to go back, not with the price of gas these days. The problem with substitutions is it's hard to judge the original recipe itself or if it was the sub that threw it off. The dough for this turned out to be pretty soft, almost more like batter than dough. I ended up adding an extra 1/2 cup of flour to the mixture just to make it more the consistency of dough. I don't know if it's because of the all-purpose flour or if even with bread flour, it would've still been soft.
In any case, this rose nicely but trying to roll it out, even with added flour for kneading, was almost impossible. The dough was just too sticky and soft to manage well. I ended up hacking some random chunks of dough to throw in the fryer but didn't try to shape or knead it any further. It fried pretty well and turned a nice golden brown fairly quickly. I turned them a few times to ensure even browning, drained them on paper towels, and sprinkled with powdered sugar before trying them. I have to say, you almost can't go wrong with fried anything, especially warm fried dough. I should've cooked it a little longer as the middles were a bit doughy but overall, these weren't bad. The beignets themselves weren't that sweet. Instead, the sweetness came from the powdered sugar sprinkled on top. Having never made beignets before and the rare times I've tried them before they weren't warm, I'm not sure how this recipe stacks up. I'm just going to have to go to Cafe du Monde and try their beignets so I can gauge the bar.
¾ cup whole milk
1 ½ cups buttermilk
4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 ½ tablespoons sugar
3 ½ cups bread flour plus extra for flouring work surface
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
Peanut oil for frying
Confectioners’ sugar for serving, as much as you think you’ll need – then double that!
1. Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until small bubbles form at the surface. Remove from the heat, add the buttermilk and then pour into a stand mixer bowl. Whisk in the yeast and the sugar and set aside for 5 minutes. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, and mix on low speed, using a dough hook, until the dry ingredients are moistened, 3 to 4 minutes. Increase the mixer speed to medium and continue mixing until the dough forms a loose ball and is still quite wet and tacky, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set the dough aside in a draft-free spot for 1 hour.
2. Pour enough peanut oil into a large pot to fill it to a depth of 3 inches and bring to a temperature of 375⁰F over medium heat (this will take about 20 minutes). Line a plate with paper towels and set aside.
3. Lightly flour your work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour, gently press to flatten, fold it in half, and gently tuck the ends under to create a rough-shaped round. Dust again and roll the dough out into a ½” to 1/3”-thick circle. Let the dough rest for 1 minute before using a chef’s knife, a bench knife, or a pizza wheel to cut the dough into 1 ½” squares (you should get about 48).
4. Gently stretch a beignet lengthwise and carefully drop it into the oil. Add a few beignets (don’t overcrowd them) and fry until puffed up and golden brown, turning them often with a slotted spoon for 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to the prepared plate to drain while you cook the rest. Serve while still warm, buried under a mound of confectioners’ sugar, with hot coffee on the side.