A beignet is that delicious pastry people order at the Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans, Louisiana, and eat with a steaming cup of cafe au lait. The beignet is, for all practical purposes, a doughnut. However, the beignet is usually not as dense as a doughnut. Both are fried and the beignet is sprinkled liberally with powdered sugar.
Beignet means "bump" in French, and the Cajuns, as they often do, adapted the word to their own use. In France, the beignet may be used for sweet or savory purposes, with fillings of meat, potatoes, mushrooms and other vegetables.
Depending on the cook, a beignet may be made with a choux pastry of flour, water, butter and a bit of sugar, or it may be a yeast dough. It all depends on the cook and the amount of time she can spend on the recipe. The yeast dough usually contains yeast, flour, shortening, sugar, eggs, a pinch of salt and milk.
A beignet is formed about three inches square and the dough is fried at about 360 degrees Fahrenheit (182 degrees Celsius) until golden brown on both sides. The pastries are then drained on paper towels and served piping hot, sprinkled with the powdered sugar.
The Acadians in New Orleans felt nothing accompanied the beignet better than a cup of cafe au lait. In New Orleans, this often means strong coffee flavored with chicory and served with an equal part of milk poured in. This tradition is still practiced in cafes and homes everywhere in Louisiana, and indeed, all along the Gulf Coast.
Another popular version of the beignet is the funnel cake. This Pennsylvania Dutch treat is also fried batter served with powdered sugar, and sometimes with a whole fruit compote.
Home cooks who have a deep fryer or a large pot suitable for deep frying can make a beignet recipe. They can either look the recipe up on the Internet, or if their supermarket carries any kind of Cajun food, may be able to buy a beignet mix in a box. These usually work well and take the guesswork out of making the batter. If using a regular saucepan with oil for frying, the cook will need a good candy/frying thermometer to keep an eye on the oil temperature.
Fry up those beignets, pour some strong coffee with milk and enjoy a real New Orleans treat!