For anyone not in the know, beingets (pronounced bin-yays), a.k.a. French Market Doughnuts, are the signature item at Cafe du Monde, a New Orleans landmark that has been open since 1862. Beignets have also been a signature item in my family, so much so that this hand-written 3x5 card is one of my most cherished possessions:
French Market DoughnutsPour 1 cup boiling water over 1/4 cup shortening. Add 1/2 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 cup powdered milk. When lukewarm, add 1 pack yeast dissolved in 1/2 cup lukewarm water. Add 2 beaten eggs and 2 cups all purpose flour and beat well. Then add 2 1/2-3 cups more flour. Knead a few times and put in a greased bowl. Grease top and put in refrigerator for at least one hour.
Literate Baker notes: I've started substituting butter for the shortening. I remained a purist for a very long time, but butter makes everything better. Beignets are no exception.
To make the beignets, roll the dough on a floured surface to approximately 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 2-ish inch squares. Slightly irregular shapes are okay.
Place about an inch of vegetable oil in a pot over medium-high heat. I've never used a thermometer, but I'm guessing it's between 350 and 375 degrees. To test the oil, drop in a very small bit of dough. It should bubble immediately and float within five seconds. Carefully drop the beignets into the hot oil. Flip after 1-2 minutes; they'll be puffed in the middle and golden brown.
Remove the beignets and drop immediately into a paper bag containing 1-2 cups of powdered sugar. Close the bag and shake vigorously. This is a lot of fun and offers superior coverage to the (albeit generous) sprinkling of sugar espoused by Cafe du Monde and most beignet shops.
For the record, they don't reheat very well, so you should plan to eat them all. If you're feeling an odd sense of restraint (or only have a couple of guests), the recipe can be halved and/or the dough will keep in the fridge for a few days. Of course, they're mostly air, so eating ten should never be frowned upon.
When I was younger, the lore was that my great-great aunt invented this recipe during the Great Depression (or was it World War II?), when it was nearly impossible to get whole milk. I've decided there's more to it than that, though. The ratio of ingredients is more like a hybrid of heavy cream and evaporated milk; the resulting dough is very enriched, something you notice in both the taste and texture of the final product. These things will literally melt in your mouth. With a hot cafe au lait? Heaven.
I feel suddenly homesick. Perhaps I just miss my Mamaw. Funny how a food can do that to you. I think I enjoy the memories as much as the beignets--a double dose of...
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