When I was researching recipes for Mardi Gras there was one thing that was a constant on every menu and every list that I found – beignets. Quite simply, a beignet is a pastry made from deep-fried dough, much like a doughnut, and then dusted with a liberal coating of powdered sugar. Beignets are actually the official state doughnut of Louisiana, which would explain their deep affiliation with New Orleans and the tie they have with Mardi Gras celebrations. I have never been to New Orleans but my mom was there once, and she came home raving about beignets, so much so that she bought a beignets mix upon her return so she could make them at home. This was a long time ago, so I’m not sure what happened, but those suckers did not turn out. I was thrilled at the idea of giving them another go, from scratch this time, especially since I had such great success with doughnuts last summer.
The dough for beignets is a sweetened yeast dough, made with bread flour, which gives the pastries a sturdy exterior – they hold their shape extremely well. The dough is mixed together (it takes less than 15 minutes!) and then chilled in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or up to an entire day. When you’re ready to make your beignets you simply roll out the dough and cut it into 2-inch squares, then drop them into your frying vessel. They only take a couple of minutes on each side to turn a beautiful golden brown and to magically puff in the middle, creating rotund little pastries. Once out of the oil and drained, they get a generous dusting of powdered sugar and are ready to eat.
These are absolutely delicious – a little like a doughnut, but a tad bit different. They are fluffy, sweet, and of course… fried. Yum. I’m excited to have another regional specialty under my belt, I love exploring the food world!
Combine the yeast, ½ cup warm water, and 1 teaspoon granulated sugar in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer; let stand 5 minutes. Add milk, eggs, salt, and remaining granulated sugar.
Microwave remaining 1 cup water until hot (about 115°); stir in shortening until melted. Add to yeast mixture. Using the paddle attachment, beat at low speed, gradually adding 4 cups flour, until smooth. Switch to a dough hook and gradually add remaining 2½ to 3 cups flour, beating until a sticky dough forms. Transfer to a lightly greased bowl; turn to grease top. Cover and chill 4 to 24 hours.
When you're ready to fry the beignets, turn the dough out onto a floured surface; roll to ¼-inch thickness. Cut into 2½-inch squares.
Pour oil to depth of 2 to 3 inches into a Dutch oven; heat to 360°. Fry dough, in batches, 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Drain on a wire rack. Dust immediately with powdered sugar.