Beignets and Mardis Gras

As a family, we certainly get into the mood on Pancake Day and eat pancakes for England. Next year as Honey gets older I think I will have to invest in a second pancake pan to keep up. Number one daughter Lilly is a dab hand at pancake batter and can now measure out the ingredients pretty much by eye so at least some of the work is shared. But as a treat this weekend I made us all Beignets, which are like a sweet doughnut, but the beignet is traditionally square-shaped and without a hole. Beignets are considered the forerunners of the raised doughnut and are a favourite during Mardis Gras.

 

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Mardis Gras / New Orleans  @ AmemericanSky

 

Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras and the world famous Carnivals in Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans are festivals which developed from the Christian tradition of eating special rich foods before the fasting season of Lent. The word carnival itself derives from the words “carne levar” (to take away meat) which is often omitted from the diet during Lent. Alongside the partying, street parades, partying and partying ( can you tell I’m a fan ) is the food. In New Orleans take your pick of Gumbo, Etouffee, Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie, Fried Calamari, Andouille Sausage, Beignets and King Cake.

No Mardi Gras celebration is complete without a King Cake, also known as Twelfth Night Cake. This cake is actually a sweetened yeast bread, similar to brioche, baked in a ring shape. The cake is frosted with gold, green, and purple icing. As the batter is mixed the maker of the King Cake hides a token in the cake. These tokens can be a dried red bean or a figurine of a baby, representing Christ as a child. When the cake is cut and shared, the finder of the hidden treasure is said to enjoy good luck for the coming year. This is a tradition almost identical to a silver sixpence dropped into a Christmas plum pudding.

In New Orleans beignets are often enjoyed with café au lait, café au lait is strong dark roast coffee and chicory, served with equal part hot milk. The place to try a beignet is the landmark Cafe du Monde coffee stand, established in the New Orleans French Market in 1862 and still operating today, twenty-four seven. Beignets are THE menu, nothing else is served and you can expect a wait in line if you arrive during peak hours and even longer if you want a table. So here is my recipe for the second staple of a New Orleans Mardi Gras, traditional Cajun Crocialles or Beignets, crisp deep fried dough dipped in sugar. The recipe requires a two to three hour resting period so while you wait, go grab yourself a drink and as they say in New Orleans ‘ Laissez les bon temps rouler ‘ or Let the good times roll!

Beignets                                                                                                            makes around 24

500 gr Strong Bread Flour

350 ml cups lukewarm low-fat Milk

50 gr Vanilla Caster Sugar

1 large free-range Egg at room temperature, well beaten

2 tablespoons Butter, melted

1 Tablespoon dried Milk Powder

3 level teaspoons instant Active Dry Yeast

½ teaspoon Salt

Vegetable oil for deep frying, enough to cover the beignets cooked in batches
Extra vanilla sugar for dusting

Making the dough – Using a stand alone counter top mixer with a dough hook, place milk, sugar, salt, egg, butter, milk powder, flour, and yeast in the bowl. Beat until smooth for around five minutes. Place the dough in a lightly-greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, then leave in warm place to prove for an hour. If you do not intend to make the beignets straight away, refrigerate the dough until well chilled and store in the fridge for up to twenty-four hours. ( Alternatively, transfer the freshly made dough into a lightly-greased clean glass bowl and put into the fridge immediately and leave overnight to slow prove ). You can also use a food processor pulsing the ingredients until smooth or by following the manufacturer’s instructions prepare in a bread machine using the dough only setting.

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Making the Beignets – Preheat a deep fryer or large pot of vegetable oil to 360 F / 180 C. A small cube of white bread will quickly turn golden brown in the oil at this heat. Remove the prepared dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a lightly-floured board to 1 1/2 cm thickness. Using a sharp knife, cut dough into approximately 5 cm squares.

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Carefully slide the dough pieces slowly into the hot oil, to avoid splattering. Fry two to three beignets for a couple of minutes or until they are puffed and golden brown on both sides. Use a spider or tongues to turn them in the oil to get them evenly brown. The beignets will rise to the surface of the oil as soon as they begin to puff. Remove from oil and drain on absorbent kitchen toweling.

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While the beignets are still warm, sprinkle heavily with the vanilla sugar. Although not entirely traditional a little ground cinnamon stirred into the sugar is nice, as is a rich dark chocolate sauce for dipping into.

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The dough can be frozen, cut in shapes, on oiled baking trays defrosted slowly in a refrigerator before frying.

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