Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Beignets, Boys & Blogs

Soooo, today was the day I promised myself I'd post a long overdue blog post.  Despite the fact that the weather outside is, indeed, frightful, I'm determined to do it. But it seemed like the deck was stacked against me from the start.  I just had too many things going on.  For example, those of us living in the deep south laugh when we get 2 drops of ice on the ground, because we basically shut EVERYTHING down. (In all fairness, it's mainly because we don't have the proper infrastructure to handle ice on our roads, bridges etc. since it is rarely below 60 degrees in February!)   With the slight chance of ice here overnight,  all the schools closed down today.  All that to say, that since the schools were closed today, I am keeping my 2 grandsons.  Normally, this would be enough of an excuse to put off, yet again, working on my blog.   But, like I said, I'm DETERMINED!  Initially I was planning to write with an awesome opinion piece...but I was sidetracked and here I am posting a recipe instead.  After getting the text asking me to babysit, I immediately was distracted by the thought of what to cook for my grandsons, Eddie (age 8) and Noah (age 5), for breakfast.   Soon after, an old friend posted pictures of some beignets he'd fried up for supper.   My mouth immediately began to water & I pulled up the recipe from Southern Living that I'd been wanting to try.     For those of you unfamiliar with beignets, they are the deep fried little pillows of dough that are crispy on the outside & soft/mostly hollow on the inside.   Dusted with a generous amount of powdered sugar, they have long been my favorite breakfast food.  They are in the doughnut family.   I remember my mom making these for breakfast when I was growing up & I'd literally eat them until I felt sick!   These bits of fried, delicious dough are a part of the local cuisine here in Louisiana.  If you ever visit New Orleans, it's required that you go the french quarter & eat a big plate of them at Cafe' du Monde.   They are world famous for serving wonderful beignets & awesome cafe au lait/chicory coffee & hot chocolate.   They are especially great after a night of eating, drinking & making merriment in the quarter.  In the past, I would fry them up for my  sons in the morning occasionally, just like my mom.  Admittedly, they are very messy..but your kids will LOVE you for making them.  We always used a box mix from our local grocery store by Cafe du Monde.  You basically mix it with water & it makes a dough.   (You can check your local grocer, although I feel certain that unless you are south of the Mason-Dixon line, it probably won't be there.)    The box mix isn't half bad; but, like anything else, I figured making them from scratch would be much better.   I was NOT wrong!   Unless I'm in a real pinch, I'll never use the box mix again.    It does take some forethought to make the dough ahead of time.  This particular recipe recommends keeping the dough refrigerated from 4-24 hours in advance of making them.    Normally, I would try several recipes before I land on my "go to" one.  However, on this very rare occasion, I landed on "the one" first try!   Since I'm no stranger to the gold standard for beignets (the aforesaid Cafe du Monde), I can attest that they are probably the best, most delicious & authentic beignets I've ever had using this recipe.  But what do you expect from Southern Living?   They are usually spot on when it comes to recipes.  I found the original recipe here: http://www.southernliving.com/food/how-to/new-orleans-beignets-recipe.   You can either click on that link OR you can use my instructions below.  I've written in some personal cooking notes.  So, without further delay, here we go. 
This is the goal for the donuts to have a light, pillowy/hollow center & perfectly crispy on the outside.

Don't be stingy with the powdered sugar... dust PLENTY of it onto the warm beignets!

First, I gathered all of my ingredients. Nothing worse then getting half way through a new recipe only to learn you are out of something.   Here's what you'll need, listed in order:

-1 envelope of active dry yeast (1/4 oz)  (make sure to check the expiration date!)
-1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
-1 tsp. granulated sugar &
-1/2 cup granulated sugar
-1 cup evaporated milk
-2 large eggs (slightly beaten)
-1 tsp salt

-1 cup hot water (about 115 degrees) -NOTE: DO NOT overheat..it will kill the yeast!
-1/4 cup of shortening (yep, that's right.. lard, fat, or otherwise known by us southerners as simply "crisco".)
-6 1/2 to 7 cups of flour (what kind? I'm not sure..the recipe didn't specify so I used 1/2 self-rising & half all purpose; although I think all-purpose is default if you don't know.)

-Enough cooking oil for 2 to 3 inch depth in dutch oven (I use Canola) 

Now that you have it all gathered, here's what to do with all that stuff:

Stage One (Making the Yeast Mixture):

Combine the yeast package with 1/2 cup of warm water (105 to 115 degrees) & 1 tsp. granulated sugar in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixing stand.  NOTE:  Don't try to use the mixer to do it..it'll be a mess..just use a large wooden spoon.   Let stand for 5 minutes.   Another note:  I used hot tap water.  Being the food geek I am, I used my candy thermometer to make sure the water was hot enough to activate the yeast, but NOT hot enough to damage it.    After the 5 minutes has elapsed, ADD 1 cup of evaporated milk, 2 large eggs (slightly beaten), 1 tsp of salt & 1/2 cup of granulated sugar.  Again, I did not use the mixer, I just used the wooden spoon again. NOTE:  I did NOT have evaporated milk in my pantry & it was cold, wet & late & I was much too lazy to drive to the grocery, so I substituted heavy cream.  I googled substitutions for evaporated milk & got several suggestions but decided to just use the heavy cream.  Evaporated milk is simply milk that's been cooked down to remove some of the water content.  I have no idea how this affected my final product, but they were quite delicious!  

Stage Two (Forming the Beignet Dough):

Microwave 1 cup of water until hot (about 115 degrees F) MAKE SURE NOT TO get it too hot..it will kill the yeast.  I used hot tap water & zapped it for about 30 seconds.   Stir in 1/4 cup of shortening until melted.  NOTE:  My shortening never did melt entirely & I had read somewhere that if the water was overheated it would kill the yeast so I erred on the side of caution.  Again, I used my trusty thermometer again!   I think my water was around 115-120 degrees F.   I did break up the crisco a bit & just continued to stir until it was mostly melted.   After it's mostly melted, add this water/crisco mixture to the yeast mixture in the mixing bowl.  Beat at LOW SPEED, gradually adding 4 cups of flour, until smooth.  (NOTE: Remember to stop a few times & scrape the sides & bottom of bowl)Gradually add another 2 1/2 to 3 cups more flour, beating until a sticky dough forms.  (I used about another 2 3/4 cups of flour.  Remember this is one dough that you WANT to stay sticky.  Also, I always try to beat dough the least amount of time required so make sure you have your flour pre-measured & nearby so that you won't have to beat it too much.  I don't know if this would affect this recipe, but it's just a habit for me since several of my go-to recipes forbid too much beating of the dough!    Transfer this sticky dough to a pre-oiled bowl.  Turn the dough in bowl to oil the entire dough.  Cover the bowl & chill for 4 to 24 hours in fridge.  

Step 3:  Roll & Cut the Dough:

Turn dough out onto a well floured surface, roll to 1/4 inch thickness & cut into minimum 2 1/2 inch squares.  They don't have to be perfectly square.   Make sure to make them AT LEAST 2 1/2 inches.  Making them any smaller will not result in a big-fluffy beignet with a wonderful hollow pocket inside.    Also, don't be stingy on the flour...remember this a  STICKY dough... once you get them cut up, make sure to spread flour on any surface you put them on... For example, I like to pile mine on a plate to sit beside the hot oil...if you aren't careful, they will stick together.  

Step 4:  Fry Until Golden Brown:

Pour oil to depth of at least 2 to 3 inches in a dutch oven.  Heat to 360 degrees (USE A THERMOMETER!)   The easiest way to mess up beignets is trying to fry them in oil that's too cold or too hot!    Fry dough in batches of 3 or 4 for 2 to 3 minutes each side until golden brown. KEEP an eye on them..it doesn't take very long at all!  As soon as they start turning golden brown, flip them to the other side.  Once they are golden on both sides, remove immediately from oil.  It's EASY to overcook!  
 Drain on wire wrack & dust immediately with a GENEROUS portion of powdered sugar!  
I use a cooling wire wrack to drain mine with paper towels underneath..but my momma used to throw hers down into a paper bag filled with powdered sugar.  I think they were a bit oilier, but still delicious without as much of a mess.   But if you have the time for clean-up I'd drain on wire wrack for sure.

As you can plainly see, my grandsons, Eddie & Noah, thoroughly enjoyed their beignets today!  These Texas babies are now full-blown Louisiana boys...they asked for cafe au lait to go with them!  Over the course of today, they ate every last beignet!  Poor Poppa Day wanted some this morning, but alas, there is nothing but a few crumbs & some powdered sugar left on the plate.

Don't be intimidated by these delicious southern classic doughnuts!   Create a new family tradition by having a beignet morning!    Your kids and grands will LOVE You for it!

Take good care,