Mardi Gras 2011: New Orleans-style buttermilk beignets

Mardi Gras 2011 wouldn't be complete without enjoying warm beignets.

The Pastry Chef's Baking
New Orleans-style buttermilk beignets aren't as sweet as doughnuts but just as delicious served warm and sprinkled with confectioner's sugar.

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, and learned how to make chocolate in Belize.

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 enjoy 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 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 until a friend reminded me. 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 guess I'm just going to have to go to Cafe du Monde and try their beignets so I can gauge the bar.

Buttermilk beignets
From "Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, New Orleans Style" by David Guas and Raquel Pelzel

3/4 cup whole milk
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2-1/2 tablespoons sugar
3-1/2 cups bread flour plus extra for flouring work surface
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon saltPeanut oil for frying
Confectioners’ sugar for serving, as much as you think you’ll need – then double that!

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.

Pour enough peanut oil into a large pot to fill it to a depth of 3 inches and bring to a temperature of 375 degrees F. over medium heat (this will take about 20 minutes). Line a plate with paper towels and set aside.

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 1-/2- to 1/3-inch-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 1-1/2-inch squares (you should get about 48).

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.

Carol Ramos blogs at The Pastry Chef's Baking.

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