Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cafe au Lait and Beignets

snowy, snowy Brooklyn

If you are anything like me, you are feeling lucky today. The snow is coming down and lots of things in NYC have been cancelled. I love an impromptu day of nothing. I like to catch up on reading and feel no pressure to hurry up or get to this place or that. Usually on a day like this, I like to do a bit of organizing and often a bit of cooking as I putter around the apartment peering out at the snow coming down.

It's a great day to treat yourself to a comforting cafe au lait with beignets. They take awhile to make, but are pretty straightforward. Start them now and you will have beignets and coffee for your afternoon snack. You probably have all of the ingredients on hand and Fat Tuesday is next week...take advantage of the extra time today and enjoy being snowed in. If you are a Saints fan, you could make these in honor of the Superbowl win. In general, New Orleans-y food seems fitting right about now. You won't have the whole experience of sitting at Cafe du Monde on a sweltering day with marching band sounds playing in the background, but you can turn the heat up and throw on some music, if you are so inclined. You won't regret that first steamy bite of a classic Cafe du Monde-style beignet!

Here is a scratch recipe for beignets. According to the author at, it beats the Cafe du Monde mix by a lot. I believe him. Let's try it, shall we?

New Orleans Style Beignet Recipe
**These take awhile, so start them well ahead of time.**
Makes about 2 dozen

1 Envelope Active Dry Yeast
3/4 Cup Water (110 degrees F)
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
1 Beaten Egg
1/2 Cup Evaporated Milk
3 1/2 – 3 3/4 Cups A.P. Flour
1/8 Cup Shortening
Vegetable Oil for Frying
Powdered Sugar in a shaker or sifter

Combine the Yeast, Water, and Sugar in the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook (You could also make this in a food processor, or the old fashioned way, by hand). Let this sit until frothy, about 5 minutes, then add the Salt, Egg, and Evaporated Milk.

Mix on low speed, then add half of the flour until it starts to come together, then add the shortening. When the shortening is incorporated start adding the remaining flour, a little at a time until most of it is incorporated. At this time I always turn the dough onto a floured bench to finish by hand, just like when I make bread; it’s a touch thing. Knead the dough adding just enough flour as necessary to make a non-sticky, smooth dough.

Place the dough into a large oiled bowl, loosely cover and let rise. After the dough has doubled in bulk, punch it down and turn it onto a floured surface and roll out into a rectangle that is about 1/2″ thick. With a very sharp knife working at a diagonal to the rectangle, cut into 2″ wide strips. Now cut into diamond shapes by making diagonal cuts in the opposite direction. Place the Beignets on a floured baking sheet to let rise about 40 minutes in a warm place (I place them in a barely warm oven).

When the Beignets have risen, heat 2-3 inches of vegetable oil in a large saucepan to 350-360 degrees. Place 2-3 Beignets into the hot oil at a time, being careful not to smash or deflate them. When they are golden brown, flip them over until golden brown on the other side (They go pretty quickly so start checking them right after they go into the oil). Remove to paper towel lined plates to drain. Serve hot topped with plenty of powdered sugar (because the dough doesn’t contain much sugar, you will want a lot!). Best served with Cafe au Lait. Enjoy!

Cafe au lait: In French, it means coffee with milk. In New Orleans, it means strong chicory-infused coffee mixed 50/50 with scalded milk and served in a wide bowl-type mug.

The easiest way to do this is brew Cafe du Monde coffee, which is readily available in supermarkets, not just in New Orleans anymore. If you don't have any at home and they don't have any at the corner deli, just brew a nice, strong pot of coffee. Pour some milk (*or soy milk or almond milk) into a small pot and scald it, which means almost bring to a boil or bring just under a boil. If you are a perfectionist, this means 170 degrees F, but I never check. Then pour the milk and the chicory coffee together in a wide mug.

*If you use milk alternatives, be sure to pour it through a fine sieve on it's way into the mug, because soy milk/rice milk/almond milk-type things tend to curdle when heated--it's perfectly fine, just strain it.

Bon Appetit, Mon Cher!