While in New Orleans, if you haven't had a beignet (pronounced ben-YAY), you aren't having the full experience of the city.
A few days ago I was there for the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference. I had a few minutes free, so I popped over to famed Café De Monde on Decatur Street, shared a plate of three with my companion, and washed it all down with a tall coffee and chicory café au lait. More on what chicory (a relative of lettuce) is doing in your coffee, another day.
A beignet is a very filling, square piece of dough, fried in oil and blanketed with powdered sugar. They use cottonseed oil at the Café Du Monde, and I'm going to recommend some alternatives since cottonseed oil may be highly contaminated with pesticide residues.
Now, I don't usually recommend mixes, but honestly, the easiest way to make these treats at home (and to support a local New Orleans business) is to buy the Café Du Monde's Beignet Mix ($2.45 for a 28oz box, you'll get about four dozen beignets out of it). You'll need to mix that up with some and then fry it.
The Café recommends cottonseed oil, but we'd rather you use Canola, Grapeseed or even clarified butter, all of which have a high smoking point and can handle deep frying. Once you get your mix in the mail, follow these simple directions.
If you want to try making them from scratch, first make sure you are equipped to do some serious deep frying with a fryer, or a heavy and deep cast-iron pan.
Here is a recipe from WhatsCookingAmerica.com. The ingredients are nothing special. The most exotic are yeast and evaporated milk. Don't forget gobs of powdered sugar for the final dusting.
And one last tip: don't wear black.
A few other links to Beignet recipes:
• Beignets - A French Doughnut from RealCanjunRecipes.com
• New Orleans Style Beignets from NolaCuisine.com
• Beignet Twists at Epicurious.com
• Beignets from Gourmet Magazine via FoodNetwork.com