If you tell your friends that you are heading to New Orleans, chances are that you will be told repeatedly to go to Cafe du Monde for the chicory coffee and beignets (ben-yays). It is an institution in the French Quarter, founded as a coffee stand in 1862. No trip to New Orleans is complete without a stop here. I will tell you from experience to wear light colored clothes, preferably white, when you eat these beignets. They have about a pound of powdered sugar on top of them and you will soon be covered head to toe – no matter how careful you are – because someone will laugh and the sugar will go flying!
The French are given credit for introducing many things to this country, but did you know that includes coffee? It was cultivated on the French-run island of Martinique in the early 1700’s. The French brought it with them as they began to settle new colonies along the Mississippi River in the mid 1700’s. The Acadians brought the practice of adding chicory when they arrived from Canada. Chicory is the root of the endive plant. It is roasted and ground, then added to the coffee to soften the bitterness of the dark roasted process. There are those who believe it adds a chocolate-like flavor. It was originally added to stretch dwindling supplies of coffee. Traditionally served Au Lait style, the coffee is further softened by mixing it 50/50 with hot milk.
The Acadians also brought beignets with them. Crispy sweet batter fritters, sometimes filled with fruit, today at Cafe du Monde they are cut into large squares, fried until golden brown, and then covered with powdered sugar. Often considered the forerunners of today’s donuts, they don’t have a hole in the middle. In 1986 beignets became Louisiana’s State Doughnut. If beignets are on the menu, The Artist is guaranteed to order them.
While Cafe du Monde doesn’t serve their beignets with dipping sauces, most other places do. The Artist’s favorite will always be chocolate and we can’t possibly have Chocolate Monday without a chocolate dessert! You will love today’s chocolate dipping sauces. Rich and creamy, you will want to lick your fingers after dipping your beignets. Remember the rule though – no double dipping! I’ve given you two to choose from. The first has brandy in it which is delightful, but for those who want to avoid the alcohol, the second is a fantastic recipe from Sherry Yard. For those who are really paying attention, you will recognize it as the glaze for the eclairs I posted a few weeks ago. It is just as good as a dipping sauce for today’s beignets.
We were served beignets once at a restaurant that still linger in my mind. At Barn Diva in Healdsburg, in the Sonoma County wine country, on Sundays they serve the most amazing beignets. And when they are in season, they serve them with a blood orange dipping sauce. OMG, delicious doesn’t even begin to describe this sauce. I have done my best to replicate it, but I wish the chef would share his secret. The next time you get to Healdsburg, make sure you go to Barn Diva – you will love it!
As with anything you fry in hot oil, make sure the oil is fully heated and use a thermometer to measure it. If it isn’t hot enough it will be absorbed by the food, turning it oily. A candy/deep fry thermometer will save you every time! It is safer to use than an instant read and keeps your hands further away from the bubbling oil. And the perfect tool to use for manipulating fried foods is called a spider. Borrowed from the Asian cultures, it is a standard item used with wok cooking. A woven brass “basket,” it cools down almost instantly so it is harder to burn yourself and it won’t continue cooking the food. If yours has a bamboo handle, it is best if you wash it by hand. The detergents in dishwashers tend to damage wooden utensils.
When you want to serve these, keep in mind that you can’t really make them ahead. Technically, you can cook them ahead and re-crisp them later, but they are never as good as when they are fresh out of the fryer. After dinner, send everyone in the other room for coffee and conversation while you make the beignets. If you have a helper that makes it easier. You can have them shuttle the finished beignets out to your guests while you make more. But beware if you’re not careful, you’ll be making these all night long and never get one for yourself, LOL! Enjoy them with a simple sprinkling of powdered sugar or go whole hog and give your guests an array of dipping sauces to choose from. You may just get a standing ovation for these!!
- 1 stick plus 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 cup water
- Pinch of salt
- 1-1/2 cups plus 1-1/2 tsp granulated sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 5 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1-1/2 quarts fresh canola or vegetable oil, for frying
- Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
- In a saucepan, combine the butter, water, salt and 1-1/2 tsp of the granulated sugar; bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Return the saucepan to high heat and cook the dough, stirring until very smooth, 1 minute.
- Transfer the dough to a bowl. Using a hand held electric mixer, beat in the vanilla, and then beat in the eggs, one at a time.
- In a saucepan, heat the oil to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.
- Scoop 10 scant tbsp of the dough into the oil and fry, turning, until golden and puffed, 6 minutes. Transfer the beignets to the baking sheet and poke a small hole in the side of each to release steam. Repeat with the remaining dough.
- Pour the 1-1/2 cups of granulated sugar into a bowl. Toss the hot beignets in the sugar; transfer to a platter. Dust liberally with confectioners' sugar and serve.
- Yield: 50 beignets, about 10 servings
- 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 tbsp brandy
- 1 tbsp honey
- 10 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 8 oz bittersweet chocolate
- 4 tbsp apricot jelly
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 tbsp light corn syrup
- Using a serrated knife (which is safer because it won’t slip off the chocolate as easily), finely chop the chocolate into 1/4-inch pieces and place it in a medium heatproof bowl.
- Warm the apricot jelly in a small saucepan over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring until it is melted. Whisk in the cream, milk, and corn syrup. Increase the heat to medium and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Pour the hot cream mixture over the chopped chocolate. Tap the bowl on the counter to settle the chocolate into the cream, and then let it sit for 1 minute. Using a rubber spatula, slowly stir in a circular motion, starting from the center of the bowl and working out to the sides. Be careful not to add too much air to the ganache. Stir until all the chocolate is melted, about 2 minutes.
- The sauce can be chilled for later use, and then reheated slowly over simmering water. If the reheated sauce seems too thick, add 1 tbsp water.
- Yield: 2 cups
- 3 cups fresh squeezed blood orange juice
- 1/3 cup superfine sugar (or regular sugar pulsed in a food processor)
- 1/4 cup honey (fairly neutral flavor so it won’t overpower the orange)
- Combine the blood orange juice with the sugar in aheavy bottom 4-quart saucepan. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil over high heat and continue to cook until the sauce has reduced by half to 1-1/2 cups, about 15 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the honey. Pour the sauce into a resealable container and let it cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to use.
- Yield: about 1-3/4 cups