Get Your Beignets Ready for Mardi Gras

| February 24, 2014 | 1 Comment
  • 1 Comment
Finished beignets. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum

Finished beignets. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum

Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday–the last day of revelry and indulgence before the Catholic observance of Lent–falls on March 4 this year, but cities from New Orleans to Venice to Rio de Janeiro are already getting the party started, with all manner of celebrations going on.

Lent is typically observed with austerity and sobriety, with Catholics tasked with following a spare, meatless diet in the 40 days preceding Easter. Between Epiphany and Lent, however, comes carnevale, or carnival, a celebration of the flesh that often culminates in fanciful masked balls and fantastically costumed parades, with roots in pre-Christian folk customs. San Francisco’s own dance-happy Carnaval parade is typically held in late May, a more flesh-friendly time for dancing down Mission Street in little more than giant feathers and a strategically placed sequin or two.

Although Mardi Gras parties happen throughout Europe, Greece, the Caribbean, Mexico, and South and Central America, the holiday is most closely associated with the culture, food, and music of New Orleans. While the purple-gold-and-green-glazed king cake is a staple for the holiday, there’s no denying that the puffy yeast-raised doughnuts known as beignets–in all their freshly fried, powdered-sugar glory–are a delight of Big Easy proportions every day.

You can find them on brunch and/or dinner menus at many Southern-themed restaurants in San Francisco and Oakland, including Boxing Room in Hayes Valley, Brenda’s Soul Food in the Tenderloin (which makes both sweet and savory versions), the Elite Cafe in Pacific Heights, Just for You Cafe in Potrero’s Dogpatch neighborhood, Bistro Boudin at Fisherman’s Wharf, 1300 on Fillmore in the Western Addition, Pican in Uptown Oakland and Brown Sugar Kitchen in West Oakland. You’ll even find orange-blossom beignets on the dessert menu at the Basque restaurant Piperade, near Telegraph Hill.

But the best beignet is the freshest beignet, and for that, nothing beats making your own. The dough is a simple yeast dough that’s mixed up in minutes, then left to rise for an hour. Cut into squares and dropped into hot oil, the dough swells into golden brown puffs almost instantly, ready for dusting in powdered sugar. Serve with a steaming cup of cafe au lait, and laissez les bons temps roulez!

Beignets

Recipe adapted from World of Doughnuts: More than 50 Delectable Recipes from Around the Globe, by Stephanie Rosenbaum.

You can play around with the flavorings of these beignets as you wish. Instead of vanilla, try a tablespoon of orange flower water, found in Middle Eastern groceries, or 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg.

Makes about 14 beignets

Beignet ingredients. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum

Beignet ingredients. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp active dry yeast, dissolved in 1 tbsp warm water
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split, or 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

Preparation
1. In a small saucepan, heat milk and butter until milk is hot but not boiling and butter is melted. If using vanilla bean, scrape seeds into milk with the tip of a knife. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, and salt together. Pour in hot milk and stir into a clumpy dough. Add egg, yeast, and vanilla extract if using. Stir well, then knead gently a few times to make a rough dough. Cover with a towel and set aside in a warm place for 1 hour, until doubled in bulk.

Squares of dough ready to fry. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum

Squares of dough ready to fry. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum

3. Pat dough into a rectangle about 1/2-inch thick. Cut into roughly even squares, about 2″x 2″. Spread out a baking sheet, cover with towel and return to warm place to rise for another 15-20 minutes.

4. While beignets are rising, heat the oil. Fill a wide, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven with oil to a depth of about 4 inches. Heat over medium-high heat to 365ºF, checking frequently with an instant-read digital thermometer.

Beignets frying. Photo: Stephanie Roseumbaum

Beignets frying. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum

5. When oil is hot, reduce heat to medium and add beignets in batches, about 4 to 6 at a time depending on the size of your pan. The beignets will sink, then float to the top. Fry for about 60 to 90 seconds, until golden brown, then flip over to fry the other side. When both sides are golden, remove to a cooling rack. Fry remaining beignets.

Almost done and ready for powdered sugar. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum

Almost done and ready for powdered sugar. Photo: Stephanie Rosenbaum

6. Transfer beignets to a serving plate. Using a fine-mesh strainer, shake powdered sugar over beignets to coat. Serve immediately–beignets are best when still warm.

Related

Explore: , ,

Category: baking and bakeries, bay area, Bay Area Bites Food + Drink, holiday recipes, holidays and traditions, local food businesses, recipes

About the Author ()

Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen is a longtime local food writer, author, and cook. Her books include The Art of Vintage Cocktails (Egg & Dart Press), World of Doughnuts (Egg & Dart Press); Kids in the Kitchen: Fun Food (Williams Sonoma); Honey from Flower to Table (Chronicle Books) and The Astrology Cookbook: A Cosmic Guide to Feasts of Love (Manic D Press). She has studied organic farming at UCSC and holds a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. She does frequent cooking demonstrations at local farmers’ markets and has taught food writing at Media Alliance in San Francisco and the Continuing Education program at Stanford University. She has been the lead restaurant critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian as well as for San Francisco magazine. She has been an assistant chef at the Headlands Center for the Arts, an artists' residency program located in the Marin Headlands, and a production cook at the Marin Sun Farms Cafe in Pt Reyes Station. After some 20 years in San Francisco interspersed with stints in Oakland, Santa Cruz, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, she recently moved to Sonoma county but still writes in San Francisco several days a week.
  • Michelle Parker

    By the way, Devil’s Teeth on Noriega and 46th Ave in San Francisco has great, hot fresh beignets every Sunday for $1/each. Had to make sure the list was complete!