Troll around the web and you’ll find all sorts of overwrought beignet recipes, loaded down with eggs, butter, sugar, even evaporated milk. They’re all rather misguided to my way of seeing things. Though New Orleans beignets resemble doughnuts in many resects, they shouldn’t actually be doughnuts. Rather, they should be light and airy little frivolities that you can enjoy without feeling too full or guilty afterward…’cause you’ve got a big dinner coming up at Antoine’s, remember?
Slow-rising yeast doughs offer the most flavor, but do you honestly think a busy café has time or space to retard dough in the refrigerator? With all those hungry customers out there? Are you kiddin’ me? This dough is fast to mix, fast to rise and fast to fry. The buttermilk makes up for the quick rise by adding the flavor of fermentation.
4 ounces (1/2 cup) whole milk, room temperature
4 ounces (1/2 cup) buttermilk, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) granulated sugar
9 ounces (2 cups minus two tablespoons) all-purpose flour (a low-protein southern flour like White Lily is idea here, pastry or cake flour also works)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar for garnishing
Peanut oil for frying
Combine the liquid ingredients in a measure and stir. Put the yeast, granulated sugar, flour and salt in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle and stir. Add in the dry ingredients and stir until all the ingredients are moistened. Switch to the dough hook and knead 3-4 minutes until the dough is relatively smooth. It will be rather wet and sticky. Transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl and let it rise until almost doubled, 45 minutes to an hour. The dough can be deflated and refrigerated at this point for up to 3 days.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and pat it down into a rough rectangle. Roll it out to a thickness of about 3/8″, then with a pizza cutter slice it into squares about 2″ side to side. Lay the beignets on a sheet pan covered with a clean dish towel or proofing cloth and let rise another 45 minutes or so until puffy. Meanwhile, pour 2-3 inches of peanut oil into a heavy pot and slowly heat it to 375. Do I have to repeat that you should have a fire extinguisher close by? You should whenever you deep fry.
Fry the beignets about 45 seconds per side, closely watching your oil temperature to make sure it gets neither too hot or cool. Drain on paper towels. Serve warm with powdered sugar sprinkled all over. This recipe makes about 30 small beignets but can be doubled or tripled if you really REALY like beignets.