Food evokes such strong memories, that one taste, or even smell, can make me feel like I'm right there, in the moment of the past, and everything from that moment comes flooding back.
Biting into a beignet takes me back to Houston, Texas, 2007, where I first discovered beignets. Of course beignets are not native to Houston, but being so close to New Orleans, I guess it has its influences. New Orleans is a 5.5-hour drive from Texas, but in that part of the country with Texas being as large as it is, a 5.5-hour drive is considered "close".
I was sitting on a rickety metal chair outside a little cafe in a strip mall. Trucks were flying by on the nearby highway, and the Houston heat made me question why I had chosen to sit outside, despite being under a sun umbrella (yes, those exist!). But there I was, squinting because of the sun bouncing off the pavement and car windows, when the server came out with a basket of what looked like just powdered sugar.
Peeking out underneath though, were some glistening puffy golden squares. She set the basket down in front of me and, oh the sweet smell of the beignets was enough to overpower even the smell of exhaust from the motors running idly in the parking lot. "So this is it?" I thought. I took my first bite into the puffy soft fried dough, getting powdered sugar all over my lips and onto my nose. Love. Love at first taste! "More powdered sugar please. Oh and can I please have a cup of coffee too?"
I'll stop the memory there, because those are the two most important things I need you to take away from this post: 1.) You'll want more powdered sugar than you think you would possibly ever want, and 2.) Do not skimp on the coffee! Make a nice cup of coffee to go with the beignets. If you got those two lessons down, then this recipe is very straightforward.
Proof the yeast. Mix the dough in a stand mixer. Let it rest. Roll out the dough. Cut it into squares. Deep fry them until golden brown.
And remember the two most important lessons? Dust on a lot of powdered sugar and enjoy with a cup of coffee!
The best kinds of beignets are light and puffy, with large bubbles of air inside them. The dough is chewy on the inside, but they have a slight crisp from the fried outside. When making them a few helpful tips to keep in mind:
1. The oil must be hot for the dough to fry correctly. Try to keep the oil at 375°F / 190°C (use a thermometer). If the oil starts to cool down, the dough will absorb too much of the oil.
2. The dough will float to the top once you put it in the deep fryer, so you have to flip the beignets frequently. This will help the beignet brown evenly, and help the oil stay hot.
3. Use bread flour. Beignets are chewy on the inside, and you need the extra protein found in bread flour to help the gluten develop.
4. Yeast is really important in helping the dough become puffy and chewy. I used more yeast than most of the recipes I have seen. This made the beignet really light and puffy, which is a good thing!
5. This dough is really wet, which is good because during the frying process, the moisture will become steam and help create air bubbles inside the dough. Be sure to generously flour your hands, rolling pin and work surface!
This is what we will be making Christmas morning, so if you are still deciding on a Christmas morning breakfast, ta-da! The recipe is below, just for you. The dough takes an hour to rise, which is just enough time to get some presents opened. And everyone can gather around the deep fryer and eat as soon as each batch is done.
- ¾ cup whole milk
- ¾ cup hot water (almost boiling)
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 4 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast (2 packets)
- 3 ¾ cups bread flour - plus extra for work surfaces
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup plain greek yogurt
- oil - for frying (I used sunflower, but you can also try peanut oil, vegetable oil, or canola oil)
- powdered sugar for serving
- In a medium bowl, mix together the milk, hot water, and sugar. The temperature of the mixture should be warm to the touch, but not too hot. Whisk in the yeast. Leave the mixture to sit for about 10 minutes, until the top is covered in a layer of foam.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Pour in the yeast mixture and add in the yogurt. Mix together on low speed using the dough hook, until the dry ingredients are moistened, 3-4 minutes. You may need to stop the mixer and use a spatula to scrap down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
- Increase the mixer speed to medium, and continue mixing until the dough starts to stick together into a very loose ball, 2-3 minutes. You may need to stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl down as necessary.
- Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and let it rest for 1 hour.
- When the dough is almost ready to be rolled out, heat up the oil in a deep fryer to 375°F / 190°C. Line two large plates with paper towels and set aside.
- Flour your work surface and transfer the dough onto the work surface, forming it into a ball. Dust the top of the dough with some flour, and let it rest for 1 minute.
- Gently roll out the dough until it is about ½ inch (1-¼ cm) thick. You will feel the bubbles inside the dough stretching.
- Using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 1-½ inch (4 cm) squares.
- Gently drop the beignets one at a time into the oil, being careful not to overcrowd them. I was able to make 4 beignets at a time. Fry each beignet for about 2-3 minutes, turning them frequently with a tong or slotted spoon. Transfer the fried beignets to the prepared plates. Continue to fry the remaining beignets.
- Dust each beignet with plenty of powdered sugar, and serve while still warm.
- Don't forget the coffee!