Celebrate Mardi Gras at home with this famous New Orleans pastry. The dough rests in the refrigerator overnight for shorter work the next morning.
One of the things I love most about food is how it can transport you to another place without having to travel there. Beignets, for example. They can be made at home, and although they won’t taste exactly like the famous ones at Café du Monde (the recipe is closely guarded), they are pretty incredible from your own fryer. Brew yourself some strong chicory coffee and cut it with hot milk for an accompaniment, and you’ll have a near authentic New Orleans beignet-eating experience.
This was my very first foray into beignet making, and although I am well-practiced with making yeast doughs, I was not prepared for the instructions from King Arthur Baking’s recipe. It simply said “Combine all the ingredients and mix them together.” Huh? This seemed a little undisciplined to me, compared to say, a doughnut formula. But I went forward anyway and things went so well, it’s a new favorite recipe.
This dough must be chilled, and the yeasty flavor develops best overnight, or you can refrigerate it up to two days which is the route I took. Once mixed, I plopped the dough in a big, greased, zip-top bag so it would have room to expand if it decided to. Another step that seemed unusual was rolling the dough straight from the refrigerator. There is no second rise. The chilled dough is rolled flat, cut, and fried from this cold state.
My first fried square of dough was cold and underdone in the center. I decided to let the dough squares stand at room temp for 10 minutes and this remedied the problem.
The beignets puffed and pillowed to golden brown perfection in 360°F oil. I recommend using an electric skillet to make these, if you have one. Most have an interior thermometer that keeps the oil at consistent temp the entire duration of frying. If you don’t have an electric skillet, you’ll need a cooking thermometer clipped to the side of a heavy-bottomed pan.
Ah, the beauty of fried dough! It’s difficult to convey how awesome a beignet is hot from the fryer, and doused with powdered sugar. They go down a little too easy!
This recipe makes about 30. They are best on the day they are made, and if you’re not going to eat all 30 in one day, you can freeze half of the dough squares after you cut them. Place them between wax paper sheets in zip-top freezer bags. They can thaw overnight in the refrigerator when you’re ready for another batch.
Even though the usual parties and parades have been cancelled this year, Mardi Gras is still being celebrated in different ways. Some NOLA residents have taken to a new kind of festooning, called “Yardi Gras” where they deck the exteriors of their homes and lawns with green, gold, and purple decorations. (Check it out here.) It’s clear that the spirit of Mardi Gras is indomitable.
I say we fry up these beignets in solidarity. Enjoy!
- Electric skillet or fry thermometer
- 1/2 cup water 105 °-115°F
- 1/2 cup milk 105 °-115°F
- 2 tablespoons butter melted
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 4 cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- peanut oil for frying (4 cups)
- powdered sugar for dusting (3-4 cups)
- Combine all of the beignet ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix together until just combined and switch to the dough hook. Knead until smooth, about 2 minutes; do not over-mix. You may also knead together by hand or bread machine. The finished dough should be soft and smooth.
- Transfer the dough to a greased bowl and turn over once; cover with a sheet of greased plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise, covered, for 1 hour, or until it's well-puffed but not necessarily doubled in size. Gently deflate the dough, and place it in a greased bowl or greased plastic bag. Choose a bowl or bag that will allow the dough to expand. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or for up to 2 days.
- Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll into a 14" x 10" rectangle; square off the corners using a bench scraper or sharp chef’s knife. Cut the dough into 2" squares. Let the squares rest 10 minutes.
- Pour the oil to a depth of 1” a 10" electric frying pan. You may also use a deep, heavy-bottomed 10" frying pan with a thermometer clipped to the side and set over a burner. Heat the oil to 360°F. Fry 5 or 6 squares of dough at a time, about 1-2 minutes per side until golden and puffed. At first, they'll sink to the bottom, then in a few seconds will bubble to the top.
- Line a plate with paper towels and transfer the beignets to the plate to drain and cool slightly. Sprinkle the beignets heavily with confectioners' sugar and serve immediately.