Wednesday, December 7, 2011

William Sonoma's New Orleans-Style Beignets!

Today I found out the difference between doughnuts and beignets..  For the longest time, I thought beignets different and more exotic than doughnuts.. but after looking them up on the internet, I realised that they are essentially  the same, except that beignets are squarish and without the hole in the centre.  

The first lesson today.. How to pronounce beignets?  This is one those items on a food menu that I will go out at all costs and avoid ordering.. It's like going to an Italian restaurant and pointing out what you want on the menu to the waiter/waitress, instead of ordering it aloud.  

The word beignet is pronounced bey-YAY beyn-yay... Did that come as a shock to you?!  Yeps! It's not bey-ney, or bey-net but beyn-YAY!

Here's a little bit of history on the bey-yay which I 'pilfered' from 

Beignet comes from the early Celtic word bigne meaning "to raise." It is also French for "fritter." Beignets, a New Orleans specialty, are fried, raised pieces of yeast dough, usually about 2 inches in diameter or 2 inches square. After being fried, they are sprinkled with sugar or coated with various icings.

Beignets are like a sweet doughnut, but the beignet is square shaped and without a hole. Beignets are considered the forerunners of the raised doughnut. For many years, beignets were shaped into balls or squares and covered with mocha frosting. Later the beignet was cut in the shape of a doughnut, and the raised doughnut was born.

Ok, so you've read that beignet are supposed to be square-shaped.. and from the William-Sonoma recipe, they were supposed to be diamond in shape.. But I couldn't for the life of me cut the dough up nicely and cleanly!  Maybe my knife wasn't sharp enough, whatever it is, I couldn't do it.  And I didn't have a circular cookie cutter.. So I ended up using the cover of my Masterfoods cayenne pepper bottle, and it worked out really well.  I was worried that the fritters would end up really small, but they poofed up during frying.

Unlike doughnuts which you fry one side and flip to the other side to continue frying, the beignets are round, light and small, it was difficult to get them to flip and brown evenly. And my first few fritters was burnt! Then I found that the best way to keep them from being burnt is to keep  nudging, moving and spinning them around in the oil (sort of like pushing ping pong balls in water) so that they are fried on all sides.. I know it doesn't sound very professional, but it worked for me! 

New  Orleans-Style Beignets
makes about 40 beignets (I made half the recipe and had around 40 little balls)

1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
1 large egg, beaten
1 package (2-1/4 tsp) quick-rise yeast
3/4 cup cold water
3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour, or as needed
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
Canola oil for deep frying
Confectioners' sugar for serving

- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine 3/4 cup cold water, the cream, sugar, butter, egg, and yeast.  (I had problems with this part, the moment I mixed room temperature butter with cold water, the butter became cold and couldn't be mixed in properly.  There were bits and pieces of butter floating around in the batter.  So, I suggest mixing the butter and cream thoroughly first before adding the cold water.)
- Add 3 cups of flour and salt.  With the mixer on medium-low speed, add enough dough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough that does not stick to the bowl.  Remove the paddle attachment and fit the stand mixer with the dough hook attachment.  Knead the dough on medium-low speed, adding more flour if needed, until the dough is smooth but still soft, 6-7 minutes.  Shape into a ball.
- Lightly butter a large bowl.  Add the dough and turn to coat with the butter.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rise in a warm spot until it doubles in bulk, 1-1/2 to 2 hrs. 
- Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Punch down the dough and turn out onto a floured surface.  Dust the top of the dough with flour.  Roll out into a large rectangle about 1/4inch (6mm) thick.  Using a pizza wheel or a sharp knie, diagonally cut the dough into 2-inch (5cm) strips.  Cut in the other direction, also in diagonal 2-inch (5cm) strips to create diamond shapes. Transfer to the baking sheets and loosely cover with plastic wrap.  Let stand in a warm spot until the beignets rise slightly, about 15 minutes.
- Pour the oil to a dept of at least 3 inches (7.5cm) into a deep, heavy saucepan and heat to 180*C on a deep frying thermometer.
- Using a metal spatula, carefully lower a few of the beignets into the hot oil, being sure not to crowd the pan.  Deep-fry the beignets, turning often, until puffed and golden brown, around 3 minutes.  Using a wire skimmer, transfer to a rack to drain. Generously dust with confectioners' sugar, and serve at once.


  1. I live 15 minutes from the French Quarter. I'm sorry, but I have to correct some misconceptions here.

    To begin with, New Orleans' famous Cafe Du Monde beignets are really not like donuts at all aside from them both being fried bread. Beignets have a very different texture from donuts. Chewier, heartier. The taste is not as yeasty as donuts and there are big air pockets in them almost like in pita bread. So while the crumb is denser and the crust chewier than in donuts, they are light. They're also covered in mounds of powdered sugar so they're an absolute mess to eat, not a little light sprinkle.

    What you have there, while I'm sure they're tasty, are too small to puff up like a real beignet. I'm not sure the shape has anything to do with whether or not they puff up, but the puffy air pocket middle and the chewy-crunchy, not-puffy corners are essential to a proper beignet.

    To be able to cut them, your knife has to be floured and you have to push straight down, not slice like you would normally use a knife. You have to keep dipping the knife in flour to keep it from sticking, and may even have to clean it off. A pastry scraper or a cleaver might work better than a knife. Cafe Du Monde has these big roller cutters that do a whole batch in the blink of an eye, which is a neat thing for kids to see.

    And lastly, I don't know where you got the pronunciation, but it's pronounced beyn-yay, ben-yay, or bin-yay. Only the "g" is silent.

    Good luck with making some real beignets.

  2. Hi Telesma..thanks for all the clarifications! Appreciate it.. Yes, will give it another go! :)

  3. These look outrageously delicious. And thank you so much for the detailed recipe! I would love to make these!

  4. Hi Tora, thanks! They were good but I think based on what Telesma commented, I got the size all wrong so mine turned out more like mini doughnuts instead of beignets! *uber sadness*
    But the recipe above is from William Sonoma's book, so if you follow it to the dot, you should get it right! :)
    And be generous with the confectioners' sugar too! :)

  5. fantástica receta y unas fotografías preciosas!!! me encanta tu blog ;)

    Salu2, Paula

  6. FTR, I think CDM beignets have a touch of nutmeg in them. Not so much that you can really tell, but I think it's in there. Also, this recipe has more sugar than other beignet recipes I've seen. There are usually only a couple of tablespoons of sugar for 3-4 cups of flour. And without the powdered sugar, I don't think the ones from CDM would taste sweet at all.

    You can probably get a used copy of 'The Little New Orleans Cookbook' for cheap, there's a beignet recipe in there that you might want to try. And maybe get some CDM beignet mix from or somewhere else and try that for comparison purposes. :)

  7. ¡Gracias, Paula!
    Usted hornear tales creaciones encantador!

  8. Hi Telesma, thanks for taking the time to type out all the information! :)

    I'm afraid that it might be tough for me to get the New Orleans cookbook since I reside in Singapore.. I probably have to search the net for another recipe!

  9. Here's a basic recipe that I use. I fry it in a deep pot with a few inches of oil just to keep the spatter to a minimum. You can serve it with powdered sugar or honey.

    3 cup flour
    1/3 cup sugar
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp nutmeg (I use 1/2 tsp cinnamon or 1/4 tsp clove, because i don't like nutmeg)
    1 cup buttermilk
    1/3 cup water
    1 egg, beaten
    1/2 tsp vanilla extract

    Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, salt and nutmeg. Whisk everything together. Combine buttermilk, water, egg and vanilla. Stir into flour mixture. Knead lightly on floured surface. You're supposed to pat it out, but I prefer to roll it about 1/4 in thick-ish. Don't do it all at once, because it's really sticky. So, do maybe 1/4th at a time. So, roll it out. I cut it with a pizza cutter into 2x2 in squares and fry a few at a time, turning when the underside gets golden. If you've done it right, it'll puff up. Drain on paper towels and eat hot.

    1. Hi there, thanks for the recipe! I notice that this doesn't require yeast and proving..seems easier! will give it a go soon.. thanks!

    2. You're welcome. Yeast breads and I do not get along,but I can make this. It's easy and yummy and makes a lot so invite some friends.

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