Halfway through college, the falafel restaurant down the street from me started selling, somewhat improbably, New Orleans-style chicory coffee and beignets. The coffee was a dollar a cup, and beignets a dollar each—four bucks for a half-dozen, handed to you in a brown paper bag covered in powdered sugar. It was quite the five-dollar feast, and my introduction to the beauty of a beignet. They're like doughnuts, but airier and crisper, light enough that it was entirely reasonable to eat two or three or four of them, and entirely likely that I too would be coated in powdered sugar by the end of it.
Just about nothing is easier than eating beignets, but making them is fully within reach. And if you’re jonesing to be down in New Orleans right now for Mardi Gras, they’re just the thing. Make the dough the day before you plan to fry them up, go out Mardi-Gras-ing wherever you are, and know that they’re simple enough to make even if you’re powerfully hungover. (And you’ll probably be craving something fried anyway.)
Frying? you might be thinking. Hungover? I mean it! There’s so much less ado about frying than we often think there is. Just keep these things in mind: You’re not contending with a vat of oil, just about an inch. Heat the oil slowly. Fry in a deep-sided pot and use long-handled tools like tongs to maneuver the beignets. And when you’re done, let the oil cool before pouring it into a container (like an empty can or jar), then throw it away—don’t drain it down the sink. You’re done.
Note: For plain, not-chocolaty beignets, replace the ¼ cup cocoa powder with ¼ cup all-purpose flour and omit the espresso powder.
Chocolate Buttermilk Beignets
- Yields: Makes about 15 small beignets or 8 larger ones, enough for 4 to 6 people (depending on how snackish they are); easily doubled
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, yeast, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. (I do this by setting a fine-mesh sieve into the bowl.)
In another small bowl, or directly in a measuring cup, stir together the water, buttermilk, and melted butter. Pour this over the dry ingredients and mix together with your hands, kneading gently about 2 to 3 minutes until it comes together as a soft, moist ball of dough. Thoroughly coat the dough with a bit of vegetable oil, cover, and place in a warm spot (like the oven with the oven light on) for about an hour, until the dough seems to have expanded slightly and appears almost spongy. Gently punch the air out of it, shape it back into a ball, and refrigerate for at least 2 to 3 hours and up to overnight.
When you’re ready to fry, heat an inch of oil in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat until it reaches 360° F. (If you don’t have a thermometer, stick the handle of a wooden spoon or chopstick into the oil; if lots of small bubbles dance around it, the oil is ready.) Set a wire cooling rack inside a sheet tray and line the rack with a paper towel.
Meanwhile, use your hands to shape the dough into a 12-by-6-or-so-inch rectangle, about ¼ inch thick, on a lightly floured surface. Cut into 2-inch squares for small beignets or 3-inch squares for large beignets.
When the oil reaches temperature, drop a third of the beignets in and fry for about a minute, then use metal tongs or a slotted metal spoon to flip them over; cook for about a minute on the second side. Remove the finished ones to the towel-lined cooling rack and let the oil return to 360° F before frying the next batch.
Let the beignets cool just slightly, then dust them generously on both sides with powdered sugar (I use a small mesh tea strainer for this). Serve immediately.