Saturday, March 9, 2013

Classic French Quarter Beignets


I lived in New Orleans for 6 months way back in the 90's, sharing an apartment with a friend who lived there full time in the French Quarter.  I developed a love for the city of New Orleans but none so much as my love of chicory coffee and beignets.  Now I've been drinking chicory coffee for some time now but never gave much thought to the little square doughnuts of Jackson Square until my wife and I went into a small deli/diner one morning in search of breakfast.  It was there I rekindled my passion for beignets and inflamed a new one in my wife.  The diner had 2 drawbacks though, they were using boxed Cafe du Monde Beignet Mix and they were expensive, charging $5.99 for an order of 3.  Well, I can do anything I put my mind to and that goes for making my own beignets as well.  For a real beignet experience you need cottonseed oil for frying as it has the most neutral flavor and you need powdered sugar for dusting.  Unfortunately these 2 items are the most compromised ingredients these days as all cottonseed oil is GMO and powdered sugar has a disgustingly off taste from the ever increasing amount of cornstarch (from GMO corn) that they add to prevent caking.  Fortunately I was able to get around both issues.  First the oil needs to be changed to peanut oil and not just any peanut oil but Planters peanut oil.  Their oil has an almost cottonseed oil quality about it in that the flavor is not peanutty or worse an insipid taste of rancid peanuts.  Next, and I don't know if this is distributed everywhere but I can get it here in Florida, for the powdered sugar use Florida Crystals Organic.  Still has cornstarch (organic corn), but it's so small a touch that it doesn't impact the flavor at all.  Speaking of flavor, this powdered sugar is less sweet than what you're used to but has an incredible depth of flavor to it not to be found anywhere else (that I've seen).  So without further fanfare, on to the recipe.  This recipe is cut in half from normal recipes but still yields around 10 servings of 3 beignets each.



Classic French Quarter Beignets

Sponge:
1tsp yeast
1tsp sugar
3/4C Warm Water

Mix and let stand 10 minutes to proof.

In a bowl add:

1/2C Whole Milk
1/4C Sugar
1/2tsp Salt
1Egg

Beat well then add yeast mixture and 2C all purpose flour.  Mix well then add 2T lard and beat until incorporated.  Add in 1 1/2C all purpose flour and mix until stiff then work with hands until smooth.  The dough is tacky compared to bread dough.   Place in oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap and proof in refrigerator overnight (up to 24 hours max).  When ready to cook place 1/2" of peanut oil in heavy frying pan and preheat on medium high heat.  Preheat oven to 200° and line a cookie sheet with some newspapers and a wire rack, place in oven.  Roll out your dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1/4" thick.  Cut off a small piece of dough and test in oil, it should come to the surface within 3 seconds but not immediately.  Cut dough into squares about 2 1/2" on a side and fry in hot oil in batches of 3.  Use a spoon to baste oil over the top of the beignets so they puff up.  Flip after about a minute (when bottom is brown) and cook other side continuing to baste with oil.  Remove to prepared cookie sheet and rack in oven to keep warm.  When ready to serve cover well with powdered sugar.
Not as bad as you might think...

Ingredients list:
1tsp yeast
1tsp sugar
3/4C Warm Water
1/4C sugar
1/2C Whole Milk
1/2tsp salt
1 egg
3 1/2 C All purpose flour
2T Lard
powdered sugar

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