If you’ve never been to New Orleans, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Crescent City’s tastiest export is the daiquiri. But there’s another, a slightly lesser-known delicacy that wins fans far and wide: the beignet. While this fluffy Cajun take on the classic fritter might not have any rum in it, it’s got most other bases covered. And, crucially, it’s easy to make in a typical home kitchen. If you want to learn how to make the perfect beignet, arm yourself with these four tips.
Let Your Dough Sit for a While
If you’re a baking novice, the importance of this tip can’t be overstated. Dough’s active ingredient, yeast, is a living organism that needs time to work its magic. So to make a perfect beignet, you need to be patient. Seasoned beignet-makers usually let their dough rest at room temperature for a minimum of two hours. That provides much-needed time for the mixture to rise as the yeast releases millions of tiny gas burps. There’s no way to rush this process.
Use Lukewarm Water
Yeast might be the key to fluffy, soft beignets, but it can’t do its job without the perfect surroundings. In addition to sugar, which yeast “eats” when the dough is at rest, this mass of microbes requires a healthy dose of water at just the right temperature. Most recipes call this “lukewarm,” but that’s a little imprecise. Ideally, you want your water to be no cooler than 70 degrees and no warmer than 100 degrees. Basically, it needs to feel warm, but not too warm, on your fingers. If your water is too hot, it could accelerate the yeast’s metabolic processes or kill it altogether. If it’s too cold, it could shock the yeast into dormancy.
Get Your Oil Piping Hot
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the oil for frying beignets needs to be considerably hotter than the water you use to make the dough. But how hot? If you’re using cottonseed oil, which many seasoned chefs recommend, it should be no cooler than 370 degrees. (You can use a special frying thermometer to measure this in an open pot.) Much cooler than this and your beignets could be on the soggy side; though you don’t want your oil to be too hot, part of the allure of cottonseed oil is its high smoke point.
Cut ’Em Thin
While it might seem effortless for seasoned cooks, achieving beignets’ signature fluffy-crunchy duality isn’t a foregone conclusion. In fact, it’s pretty difficult. You need to slice your dough thin enough to ensure that it cooks almost all the way through, but not so thin that it turns the finished product into a rigid, overcooked shard. After years of trial and error, the culinary community has arrived at a near-consensus for the ideal beignet thickness: roughly ¼ inch.
There you have it: a beignet recipe for the rest of us. The next time you’re pining for a taste of the French Quarter, you don’t have to reach for that flyer miles credit card. Just roll up your sleeves, heat up some oil, and get your tastebuds ready for an authentic New Orleans experience.