Marisa Renwald: Savory beignets taste less indulgent, perfect for Lent
Marisa Renwald February 20, 2012 4:04PM
Updated: March 23, 2012 8:06AM
In the regions of the United States where doughnuts and paczki are kings, we don’t get a chance to see too much of the iconic food that sweeps through the bayou and resurrects a sense of Parisian pride just about this time every year.
The beignet is Louisiana’s state doughnut and the delight of New Orleans at Mardi Gras. A little fried puff of dough that is usually sprinkled with powdered sugar, the buttery pastry is the emblematic Fat Tuesday fixation for those who dine in the Crescent City.
Up here — not so much. Fat Tuesday is reserved for the reign of the paczki, and the days that follow — Ash Wednesday and the rest of Lent — are spent in temperance. Sweets and fat are out of the question.
But that doesn’t mean the arrival of Lent is the end for the beignet. It is the custom to deep-fry beignets for a golden puffy crunch, but they can also be baked.
Instead of drenching them in chocolate sauce, baked beignets are ideal springboards for a medley of savory herbs, sharp cheeses or fresh fruit spreads. Suddenly, the guilt of gorging on a French pastry seems to dissipate. Just keep it meat-free.
Baked beignets still start with a yeast dough, enriched with buttermilk. As they bake up into light and billowing poofs, these beignets taste like and resemble something in between a Belgian waffle and a southern biscuit.
The recipe, which saves plenty of time and mess, is easily adaptable to a savory or sweet version. Using a fruit filling? Add a quarter cup of sugar to the batter. Looking for something more savory for a fish fry dinner? Eliminate the sugar (save for a teaspoon to feed the yeast) and instead incorporate fresh herbs or cheese.
Although the classic French beignets are considered a must-have for any Mardi Gras celebration in the Big Easy, baking a slightly different version up here will certainly make the next 40 days a tasty juncture.
1/4 cup warm water (about 105 degrees F)
1 packet quick-rising active dry yeast plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 cups all purpose flour
11/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar (if making sweet beignets)
5 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small chunks
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup buttermilk
Optional for savory beignets: medley of herbs, sauteed in butter; grated cheese
Combine the yeast, warm water and teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl and let stand for about five minutes, or until foamy.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar (if using) in a large bowl. If you’re making savory beignets, add your savory ingredients now. With a pastry blender or knives, cut in the butter and work mixture together until it forms soft crumbs. Using a fork, incorporate buttermilk and beaten egg. Make a well in the center of the dough, as if you’re making pasta, and add yeast and stir until combined. Dough should be soft and well-combined.
On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until it is smooth and feels like a pizza dough. Spray bowl with nonstick cooking oil and return the dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
Punch down dough and roll it out into a large rectangle or square on a floured surface. Cut square into long strips and then cut those strips into squares. Place squares on a lined baking sheet, spray with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake beignets for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden. Dust with powdered sugar for sweet beignets or sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper for savory beignets. Eat warm.
Source: Marisa Renwald, adapted from Oven-baked Beignets, GoodHousekeeping.com