Foods | Cooking
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The word beignet (pronounced bey-YAY) comes from the early Celtic word bigne meaning "to raise."
It is also French for "fritter." Beignets, a New Orleans specialty, are fried, raised pieces of yeast dough, usually
about 2 inches in diameter or 2 inches square. After being fried, they are sprinkled with sugar or coated with various icings.
Beignets are like a sweet doughnut, but the beignet is square shaped and without a hole. Beignets are
considered the forerunners of the raised doughnut. When you hear people in New Orleans
say, "Goin' fo' coffee an' doughnuts," they mean coffee
and beignets. Beignet is one of the most universally recognized names for fried dough desserts which are basically fritter
batter. For many years, beignets were shaped into balls or squares and
covered with mocha frosting. Later the beignet was cut in the shape of a
doughnut, and the raised doughnut was born.
Beignets have been associated with Mardi Gras in France
since at least the 16th century, and many recipes for beignets
appear in French works around the same time. According to Food Historian Cathy Kaufman in her
article, Where does the New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Beignet Come From?
in the February 2009 Prandial Post:
There is more circumstantial evidence
supporting an Andalusian introduction of beignets into Mediterranean
France. The Spanish name for yeasted fritters is “buñuelos,”
and while I have not traced the etymology of the Spanish term, I
would be surprised if it did not share a common root with the
Provençal bugne. Moreover, pets de nonne, deep-fried balls
of airy choux paste, were known as “Spanish beignets” in the
late Middle Ages, again associating deep-fried dough with Spain.
Keeping in mind that Andalusia was under Islamic rule from the
eighth until the end of the fifteenth century, many Islamic foods
had ample opportunity to be integrated into what has evolved into
Another reason to believe that
beignets may have migrated from the Islamic to the Christian worlds
is that the deep-frying used to prepare beignets is a relatively
expensive technique, requiring a profligate use of fat and
preferring metal pans to clay to withstand the high temperatures
that the hot fat reaches. Deep-frying thus would have been more
typically practiced at the elite end of the spectrum, so that
recipes for fritters likely were distributed at the courtly level,
only later to be diffused downwards.
The French colonists of the 18th century
brought the recipe and custom of making beignets to New Orleans. Some
historians believe that the Ursuline Nuns of France, who came to Louisiana in 1727, brought this simple pastry to New
Orleans, but this is not based on any facts. According to the 1902 Picayune Creole Cook
Book, published by "The Picayune," a leading New Orleans newspaper:
The ancient French
colonist brought the custom of serving sweet entrements and eatres, such
as Beignets, Compotes, Souffles, Gelees, etc., from the old mother
country to Louisiana. The Creoles applied these to the various
delightful and refreshing fruits, which abound in Louisiana . . . The
custom of serving these sweet entrements spread from New Orleans to
other portions of the United States, till now no fastidious chef would
think of keeping a fashionable hotel or restaurant with including some
of these in the daily bill of fare.
Beignets were most often enjoyed with café au lait. In New Orleans, café au lait is
strong dark roast coffee and chicory, served with equal part hot milk. In
the early history of Louisiana, chicory was added to coffee to stretch
dwindling supplies. It was found that, in addition to stretching supplies,
the chicory also created a smoother, richer brew. The addition of hot milk
to strong coffee and chicory created one of the oldest and greatest coffee
traditions in the world.
Cafe du Monde coffee stand was established in the New Orleans French
Market in 1862 and still operates
today. The cafe is considered a New Orleans landmark that’s open 24 hours a
day, 7 days a week. In fact, it is traditional to there for dark coasted
coffee with chicory and beignets when visiting the city. At Café du Monde,
there is only one food item you can order - beignets. The store is called a
coffee stand, but it’s very large, with dozens of tables outside under the
trademark green-and-white striped canopy, and more inside. On every table
are plates of rapidly disappearing beignets. Café du Monde serves beignets
in orders of three, and since that’s the only food item on the menu, you
don't have to say what it is you’re ordering. You simply say, “I’ll have
an order and a café au lait.”
Expect a wait in line if you arrive during peak hours (even longer if
you want a table).
In 1986, beignets became the Louisiana State Doughnut.
Yields: 18 beignets
Prep time: 25 min
Cook time: 25 min
1 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, room temperature and beaten
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup evaporated milk
4 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons instant active dry yeast
Vegetable oil for deep frying*
Powdered (confectioner's) sugar for dusting
* Use just enough vegetable oil to completely
cover beignets while frying - approximately 2 inches deep in the pan.
Stand-Up Mixer: Using a mixer with a dough hook, place water,
sugar, salt, egg, butter, evaporated milk, flour, and yeast in the bowl.
Beat until smooth. Remove dough from bowl and turn out onto a lightly-oiled surface. Form dough into an oval, place in a lightly-greased bowl,
cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until well chilled (3 to 4 hours) or overnight.
Bread Machine: Using a bread machine, add the ingredient (listed above) in the order given to the
bread machine. Select Dough Setting and press Start. When dough cycle has finished, remove dough from pan and turn out
onto a lightly-oiled surface. Form dough into an oval, place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until well chilled (3
to 4 hours) or overnight.
Using a food processor, place water, sugar, salt, egg, butter, evaporated milk, flour, and yeast
in the bowl of the processor. Pulse just until smooth. Remove dough from bowl and turn out onto a lightly-oiled surface. Form dough into an oval, place in a lightly
greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until well chilled (3 to 4 hours) or overnight.
Making the Beignets:
Remove the prepared dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a lightly-floured board to 1/2-inch thickness. Using a sharp
knife, cut dough into approximately 3-inch squares, triangles, or circles (your choice); set aside.
In a deep fryer or large pot, heat vegetable oil to 360 degrees F.
is the type of cooking and meat thermometer that I prefer and use in my cooking. I get many readers
asking what cooking/meat thermometer that I prefer and use in my cooking, baking,
and deep frying. I, personally, use the
Thermapen Thermometer shown in the photo on the
right. To learn more about this excellent
thermometer and to also purchase one (if you desire), just click on the underlined:
Slide the dough pieces slowly into the hot oil
(this is to avoid splattering) and fry the beignets (2 or 3 at a time) approximately 2 to 3 minutes or
until they are puffed and golden brown on both sides; turning them in the oil with tongs once or twice to get them evenly brown. The beignets will rise to
the surface of the oil as soon as they begin to puff. NOTE: If the beignets
don't rise to the top immediately when dropped into the oil, the oil is not hot enough. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.
While the beignets are still warm, sprinkle heavily with powdered sugar. An easy way to coat the hot
beignets in powdered sugar is to place the powdered sugar an a clean bag. Add the beignets to the bag, hold bag close and shake to coat evenly.
Serve while still warm.
Grab yourself a steaming cup of Cafe au Lait or your favorite hot coffee and enjoy!
The dough can be kept for up to 1 week
in the refrigerator - it actually improves with age; just punch down when it
rises. Dough can also be frozen; cut and roll, or shape doughnuts before freezing.)
Makes approximately 18 to 24 beignets.