The feeling that a platter of warm, powdered sugar-coated beignets brings is an almost indescribable sensation of unadulterated joy. The simple treat is a French-style fritter that’s become a New Orleans classic that’s typically enjoyed with (chicory) coffee. If you’ve ever watched Disney’s The Princess and the Frog (with your kiddos… of course), Princess Tiana was well known for making these delectable fried dough goodies. She was the queen at multitasking in the kitchen and served up her highly-demanded beignets with the addition of honey, along with the traditional dousing of traditional powdered sugar.
While not everyone can be as graceful as the princess in the kitchen, you can make an equally delightful batch of fluffy beignets with just a few ingredients that you likely already have in your pantry. The French method traditionally calls for a pâte à choux paste made of flour, water, butter and eggs combined through a somewhat intricate process to create a dough. However, this French pastry technique is a bit advanced for novice bakers, so it’s more common (and less time consuming) to make a yeasted dough instead. The yeast is used in many beignet recipes to achieve a delicate and fluffy texture. That said, before you begin making your dough, keep in mind that you will have some down time while you are waiting for the dough to proof. But hey, that just gives you time to work on prepping another NOLA classic, like gumbo or crawfish etouffee, for an all-around feast of Creole cuisine.
To get started on your beignet dough, you have to awaken the yeast with warm water and feed it with granulated sugar. This allows the yeast to begin releasing gases to ensure that you have airy and tender beignets. It’s important that the water is *warm*—not too hot or too cold. The yeast will die if the water is too hot, and if the water is too cool, it will not become active enough to begin forming gases. The average temperature of “warm” water is between 105° to 115°, so you’ll want to aim to have your water in that range. Once, the yeast, water, and sugar are combined, allow the bowl to sit in a warm spot in your kitchen for about 5 minutes. When you return, you should notice that a foamy top has formed; this is an indication that the yeast is alive and well! (If this reaction doesn’t occur within a few more minutes, you’re going to wanna dump the mixture and buy yourself a new package of active dry yeast.)
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Depending on the recipe, you will add your remaining wet ingredients such as eggs and milk to combine with the yeast mixture. Small aside: It’s a good rule of thumb when using eggs in baking or frying that they be at room temperature. So if you’re planning to make something like beignets in the near future, make a mental note to pull your eggs out the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you begin. Also, in this particular recipe that I’m referencing, the method calls for shortening to be melted in *hot* water. This is another good example of what an important role temperature plays in forming the dough. Shortening helps create a slightly flaky interior, and with it being melted, it becomes easy to fold into the dry ingredients without overworking them.
Once you have all of your wet ingredients mixed together and ready to go, simply add in the flour (most likely bread flour, but you can also use all-purpose) in small batches until fully incorporated and formed into a sticky dough. From here the dough needs to rest and proof for about 4 hours at the minimum, and up to 24 hours.
Get the Recipe: New Orleans Beignets
Now here is the fun part—when you check back on your dough, it will have risen to about twice its original size. Now, give the dough a good punch with your fist to deflate it and place it on a floured surface. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin to about ¼ inch thick. (If you don’t have a rolling pin, use a wine bottle; it’s a fine substitute.) Once rolled out, grab a paring knife to slice the dough into 2 ½ inch squares.
Next, you need a big pot of oil for frying. (P.S. Deep frying, along with a whole slew of others things, is exactly why you should consider investing in a Dutch oven if you don’t already have one.) Fill a Dutch oven or a heavy-bottomed pan with about 2 to 3 inches of a neutral-flavored oil like canola oil. Again, temperature is key here—heat your oil to around 350° to 360° to guarantee frying perfection. Anything hotter than that will burn your dough, and oil at a cooler temperature will leave you with a greasy, soggy mess. Once the oil is hot, proceed to frying the dough squares (in small batches) for about 2 to 3 minutes on each side. As soon as you remove them from the oil, coat the fried dough with a heavy dusting of powdered sugar and enjoy.
And if you want to ease into the art of beignet making with a super easy (not to mention, speedy) version, check out these Mini Biscuit Beignets, which utilize canned biscuit dough to expedite the process.