Monday, February 20, 2012

Baskets of Beignets

Born On the Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival
My oldest brother was, and probably still is, a big CCR fan.  As a matter of fact, most of my earliest appreciation of rock came through him.  Whatever he was listening to, I was listening to as well - and liking what I was hearing!  When I was nine, he was listening to a CCR song that sang about the bayous of Louisiana.  I had seen pictures of bayous and I'd lay in my bed, listening to John Fogerty's gravelly and earnest voice sing about running through the swampy lands of Louisiana.  I really, really, really wanted to see Spanish Moss surreally dripping from trees.  I wanted to see alligators.  I wanted to chase a hoodoo.  I wanted to know what exactly a hoodoo was!  Many, many years later, I would get to go to New Orleans and see the bayous, and the Spanish Moss, and the fascinating charms of "The Crescent City."  What I hadn't known about until my visit were beignets.  Now, why hadn't anyone told me about the beignets?!

My first trip to New Orleans was back in the early 90's.  I accompanied my husband on a business trip.  I was usually left to myself during the days, which was fine by me as it afforded me the chance to explore the city on my own and shop at my leisure - an utter luxury for a mother of five children!  I'd heard mixed reviews about this city perched on the mouth of the Mississippi.  I was about to discover that they were all correct!  My verdict?  Read on . . . 

One sunny day I had wandered down to an area called Jackson Square.  The sidewalks were lined with artists and their easels and performing musicians. Little boutique shops filled the ground floors of the buildings around the square and I started to explore their wares.  I came upon one that sold needlework supplies.  I was a big cross-stitch fan at the time and was curious to see what they offered.  Well, come to find out, they were more of a needlepoint store - a craft I had never learned, and didn't think I ever wanted to learn.  As I searched their stock to see if I could find at least a few counted cross-stitch patterns, the ladies of the shop started chatting with me to see if they could help.  I shyly told them of my cross-stitch love and they showed me what they had.  But then the one lady asked if I did needlepoint.  I said that I hadn't and tried to let her know of my indifference toward the craft.  She looked at her partner and they exchanged a look of what I can only now describe as combined surprise and challenge!  A convert was to be made!  

"Why, how do you know you don't want to learn if you've never tried it" they asked.  Before I knew it they had me perched on a stool, pulled out a canvas with a simple pattern of a bright golden yellow crescent moon against a deep blue background.  They found me needles and yarn and proceeded to demonstrate the simple stitch of needlepoint.  I spent a good hour, maybe more, in that little shop, in the company of those charming ladies, listening to their banter and reveling in that kinship that only sisterhood can provide.  I was a total stranger.  But, for that wee bit of time, I was not only a customer, I was a friend.  They asked about my explorations of their city thus far and filled me in on what I still needed to see and do.  They were utterly flabbergasted that I hadn't been on down to Cafe du Monde for beignets yet.  I promised I would go straightaway after leaving their place. 
 I left with a good head start on my new project under way, and followed their directions to this cafe with the beignets that were supposed to change my world!

They did!  Little pillows of fried dough.  Puffs of powdered sugar.  Call them a donut if you must, but you run the risk of making them sound ordinary when you do.  It's one of those experience moments, really.  It's akin to enjoying buffalo wings - at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York or a Philly Cheesesteak - in Philly!  Best when served hot alongside a rich beverage, these sweet and tender squares are a must do!  And a must make!

Beignets, friendly people, beautiful countryside, delicious food, and surprises around every corner.  That's New Orleans to me.  Laissez les bon temps router!  "Let the good times roll!"

slightly adapted from my
1 envelope (2 1/4 t.) active dry yeast
1 1/2 c. warm water, divided
1/2 c. granulated sugar, divided
1 c. evaporated milk
2 large eggs
1 t. salt
1/4 c. butter
6 1/2 - 7 cups flour
Vegetable oil
Powdered sugar

In the bowl of a stand-mixer, combine the yeast with 1/2 c. of the warm water and 1 t. of the granulated sugar and let stand for 5 minutes.

Add milk, eggs, salt, and the remaining sugar and stir.

Heat the remaining water until hot and add the butter.  Stir until the butter is melted, making sure it's no hotter than 115 degrees.  Add to the yeast mixture.  Beat at a low speed and gradually add 4 cups of the flour until smooth.  Gradually add the remaining flour, beating until  a sticky dough forms.  Transfer to a greased bowl and turn to grease the top.  Cover and chill for 4 - 24 hours.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface until 1/4-inch thickness.  Cut into squares no bigger than 2 1/2 inches.  I used a rolling cutter with a fluted edge to give them a pretty detail.

Because there are no holes to help cook the centers, as in donuts, you need to keep them on the small size so they can cook all the way through on the inside without burning the outsides.

Heat your oil to 350 - 360 degrees with a depth of 2 - 3 inches.  Fry in small batches, 2 - 3 minutes per side.  Place on a rack set inside of a sheet tray to allow them to drain after frying.  Dust with powdered sugar.  Serve with yummy dipping sauces if you desire.  Enjoy!

No comments:

Post a Comment