Warm, sugary French donuts might not be the first thing that comes to mind during Independence Day weekend, but one bite of these might change your mind. After all, the French gave us the Statue of Liberty, our greatest national icon, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of our Independence Day.
Not that my family's tradition has anything to do with French tribute. I love the city of New Orleans. I love the jazz. I love the people. I love the architecture. But most of all, I love the food.
When it comes to beignets, visitors to the Crescent City can find them at many local cafes, stand in the long line for the world famous NOLA originals at Cafe Du Monde, or even venture just outside the city to the renowned Port O' Call for some sweet and tasty comfort food.
In France, beignets are a more generic term that usually implies a kind of fried dough with fruit filling. However, in New Orleans they are an institution. It just so happened that the first time I attempted to make them at home was one particular 4th of July, after returning from a trip to the Crescent City.
I'd brought a box of batter mix from Cafe Du Monde and followed the simple recipe on the box. They were a sensational hit with my son Sullivan, and he suggested we make it a ritual. Hence, a family tradition was born.
While there's not much to making these light and airy donuts, they are a temperamental bunch. The key is to make sure the dough is thick enough and that the oil is 370 degrees, which most electric ranges will get to at the seven setting. Use a pizza cutter to cut the dough into two-inch squares, but refrain from re-rolling scraps, as they'll cook tough.
Once you throw in the dough, it will immediately begin to "pop" and once it's popped outward like an air bubble on a pizza (in about 10 seconds) it's done. Pull it out with tongs and put it on some paper towel. Then immediately douse it
|Cafe au laits and beignets at Cafe Du Mond|
liberally with powdered sugar.
Give the oil a minute to get back up to temperature, as the dough brings it down while cooking (which is also why you cook only two at a time). If the dough doesn't pop, it's either too thin, or the oil isn't hot enough. Cottonseed oil works much better than vegetable oil.
The sweet beignets go best with a strong coffee. New Orleans cafes use chicory-laced coffee mixed with steamed milk in what is called a cafe au' lait. Its deep rich flavor is the perfect compliment to the sweet donuts, so I would advise against sugar in your coffee.
Once only available at the French Quarter stand, Cafe DuMonde beignet mix is now available at Albertson's for $4.99, who also sometimes has their chicory coffee grounds. Winn Dixie and Sweetbay carry New Orleans' Community Coffee (my favorite) and Winn Dixie even has their own line of chicory coffee that's also quite good, at a much lower cost.
If you'd like to try beignets from scratch, try this New Orleans recipe, or leave it up to the experts and try the excellent New Orleans fare at NOLA Cafe in Tampa. With perfect beignets, killer gumbo, and real deal coffee, it's definitely worth the trip. You might soon find you've inherited a new 4th of July tradition!
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