Donuts are good, but let’s face it, when it comes to food, New Orleans knows best, and beignets are the ultimate donut in my opinion. If you’ve been to New Orleans (perhaps for yesterday's Mardi Gras?), you probably, or hopefully, made the trip to Café Du Monde. The last time I was in New Orleans, I had to be sure that theirs were really the best, so naturally I also had to try Café Beignet too. If you’re looking to skip the long wait, head to Café Beignet.
Interestingly enough, the best beignets I’ve ever had are not in New Orleans. My favorite beignets can be found in San Francisco. I’m hesitant to even give up the secret at the risk I’ll have to wait in a longer line when I visit next, but you must head straight to Brenda’s French Soul Food when you’re in the area. It’s a small, unassuming spot, but they make incredible beignets! They have the traditional beignet but they also have stuffed beignets, as if beignets weren’t indulgent enough! You can get the beignet flight (below) and get your fill of traditional, chocolate, granny smith apple, and the most Cajun of them all… crawfish. The photos really don’t do them justice, trust me!
It never occurred to me, until Friday when I watched The Chopping Block's Chef Tara during our Mardi Gras Madness event at the Merchandise Mart, that making beignets was actually approachable for the home cook. So if a trip to New Orleans, or San Francisco, isn’t in your near future, you can make your own, perhaps even for Mardi Gras next year!
Yield: 12-16 beignets
Active time: 40 minutes
Start to finish: 2 hours, 10 minutes
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 1/4 cups lukewarm milk (110°)
1 egg, beaten
4 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
Oil for frying
Powdered sugar for dusting
1. Place the yeast, sugar, shortening and milk in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, and mix for 2 minutes. Add the egg and mix well.
2. Add 3 1/2 cups of the flour and the salt. Beat at low speed until all of the flour is incorporated. The dough will be soft, but if the mixture is too sticky, add more flour as needed.
3. Knead the dough on medium speed until smooth and elastic, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the bowl and knead several times by hand. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place. Allow to double in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and pat into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Using a rolling pin, stretch the dough into a large rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into 2-inch square pieces.
5. Heat the oil in a deep heavy pot until 365°. Tara used a Le Creuset French Oven for this! Carefully fry beignets until they are a deep golden brown, turning them over after a minute, or so, to brown both sides. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate or rack.
6. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate or rack.
7. Dust generously with powdered sugar before serving.
I’m really excited to make these at home and experiment with fillings like they do at Brenda’s. The possibilities are endless!
Enjoy New Orleans’ classics? Check out our Cajun Crawfish Boil class coming up in April. Our class calendars will be released this Friday, so grab your spot then!
Maybe you’re a donut fiend? Then you must take Donut Boot Camp on March 25th , April 9th, or June 11th at Lincoln Square, or May 13th and July 23rd at Merchandise Mart. Our retail store carries all of the necessary tools to master this dish at home – we’ve got bench scrapers, thermometers, racks, spiders, and cookware, that will help set you up to be a beignet pro in no time!