Happy National Doughnut Day! Any day is better when it starts with a doughnut, especially a sugar-dusted, freshly fried New Orleans-style beignet. These puffy, yeast-raised doughnuts are typically cut into squares before frying, then thickly powdered with confectioners' sugar. Live far away from the Crescent City? Making your own beignets at home is easier than you think.
Dutch Ovens Make Great Fryers
Electric deep fryers are convenient, but you don't have to have one to deep-fry at home. What's most important is using a wide, heavy pan, like a cast-iron (or enameled cast iron) Dutch oven, that will heat up evenly and hold a steady temperature. Use a pot or pan that's about four to five inches deep and at least eight inches wide.
Related: Deep-Frying 101
Use a Thermometer
Doughnuts fry best between 365-375 degrees F. If your oil is too hot, the doughnuts can brown too fast, leaving the inside raw; too cold, and the doughnuts will soak up too much oil as they cook, ending up greasy and heavy. Take the guesswork out of frying by using a deep-frying or candy thermometer that registers up to at least 400 degrees F.
Water and Oil Don't Mix
Keep any liquids away from hot oil, since even a single drop of water can cause a pot of hot oil to sizzle and sputter. Use a slotted spoon, not your hands, to move raw dough into the fryer, so you won't get splashed or splattered.
Neutral Oil Works Best
Any basic, neutrally flavored vegetable oil, such as canola, sunflower, or safflower oil, will work well for deep-frying. Avoid olive oil, which can break down (and start smoking) at high temperatures.
Related: 12 Foods You Never Thought to Deep-Fry
Don't Walk Away from the Stove
Depending on the power of your stove and the weight of your pot, it can take at least ten to fifteen minutes to bring your oil up to the right temperature for frying. Stay nearby while your oil is heating, and check the temperature frequently using a deep-frying or candy thermometer. If you have to leave the kitchen, always turn off the burner! Never leave oil heating unattended.
Use a Sifter or Strainer for Lump-Free Powdered Sugar
Shake powdered sugar onto your finished beignets through a medium-mesh strainer or sifter. This will give you a fine, even, lump-free coating of sugar.
Serve Them Fresh
Doughnuts are always best fresh from the fryer. For the most delicious beignets, serve them within an hour of frying.
From World of Doughnuts by Stephanie Rosenbaum (Egg & Dart Press, June 2013)
Makes 12 beignets
As any resident can tell you, a good day in the Crescent City starts with hot beignets and strong coffee, even if you do have to brush a whole lot of powdered sugar off your shirtfront afterwards. And while a plain, freshly made beignet is perfection in itself, many pastry chefs are now gilding the lily, dressing up beignets and calling them dessert.
1 package active dry yeast
2 tablespoons warm water
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons butter
1 egg, beaten
Vegetable oil for frying
Powdered sugar for serving
1. In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast over warm water. Set aside for 5 minutes, then stir briefly to dissolve the yeast.
2. Sift flour, sugar, and salt into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment.
3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat milk and butter until butter melts and milk is just beginning to steam. Pour hot milk mixture into flour and beat briskly. If using stand mixer, beat on medium-low speed until just mixed. Add beaten egg and yeast mixture and beat vigorously until smooth.
4. . In a cast-iron Dutch oven or other heavy, deep pot over medium-high heat, heat two to three inches of oil to 365°F. Line a baking sheet with a grid rack or two layers of paper towels.
5. While oil is heating, lightly flour a counter or work surface. Sprinkle flour over a baking sheet. Pat dough out into a 1/2-inch thick rectangle. Using a sharp knife, cut rectangle into 12 squares, each approximately 2 inches square. Arrange squares on floured baking sheet.
6. Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, drop beignets into oil, frying in batches to avoid crowding the pan. Fry for 1 minute, then flip to brown other side. Using a slotted spoon, skimmer, or tongs, remove beignets from oil. Let drain on rack or paper towels. Repeat with remaining beignets.
7. Sift powdered sugar over beignets and serve warm.
More doughnut recipes on Shine:
Chocolate-Caramel Doughnut Holes
Classic, Airy Glazed Donuts
Stephanie Rosenbaum is best known for her sassy, sticky-fingered food writing, which has been featured in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Edible East Bay, Edible Brooklyn, Time Out New York, New York, Manhattan Living, Vegetarian Times, Chow, and more. She writes a weekly food column for Bay Area Bites on KQED. Her work has been nominated twice for a James Beard Foundation Journalism Award. Her next book, The Art of Vintage Cocktails, will be published in fall 2013.