Beignets

May 7: Founding of the City of New Orleans, Louisiana (1718)

At Islander’s first professional convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, some years ago, event organizers planned a welcome reception with a sampling of the city’s most popular foods. From jambalaya, gumbo, étouffée and po’boys to king’s cakes, bread pudding, pralines and beignets, the host committee showed the best of their southern hospitality.

Since Islander loves donuts (she even gave up Krispy Kremes for Lent once!!!)—malasadas, andagi, pączki, sopaipillas, cronuts, etc.—she immediately loved the beignets. Many cultures have deep fried dough (donuts) sweetened with a topping or filling. Beignets are typically covered in a blizzard of powdered sugar, although she has tried mini versions with a honey dipping sauce.

Beignet boxed mixes are sold at some grocery stores now but these fabulous French-style fritters can be made at home anytime. We make them for Mardi Gras but they can be prepared to commemorate the founding of NOLA! Bon appétit!

Recipe

(Adapted from What’s Cooking America)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water, lukewarm
  • ¼ cup sugar, white granulated
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, room temperature, beaten
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups flour (all-purpose or bread)
  • 3 teaspoons yeast, instant active
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • powdered sugar for the topping

Directions

In a mixer bowl, dissolve the sugar into the lukewarm water. Add the salt, beaten egg and evaporated milk.

Stir in the butter. Add flour and yeast. Use the dough hook attachment to mix until smooth.

On a lightly-oiled, clean surface, turn out the dough and shape into a ball. Place in a large, lightly-oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and chill the dough in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours. On a floured, clean surface, turn out the dough and roll out to ½-inch thickness.

Cut the flattened dough into 3-inch squares. Deep fry in vegetable oil at 350 degrees, browning both sides until it rises to the surface and puffs up (about 3 minutes). Transfer the beignets to drain on paper towels. While still warm, sprinkle powdered sugar on top. Serve immediately. Yield: Approximately 1 ½ – 2 dozen beignets.

Notes

  • The dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to one week. Before rolling out, punch down again before cutting into squares for frying. The dough can also be frozen. Roll and cut into squares then freeze between parchment or wax paper and place flat in plastic zipper bags.
  • Search our blog for other donut and Mardi Gras recipes.

 

Big Easy King’s Cake

February: Mardi Gras Season

In our neighborhood grocery stores, king’s cakes—rosca de reyes and NOLA*-style knock-offs—have been on sale since Epiphany. Too bad they taste stale, look messy and are overpriced so we do not buy them for our celebrations.

We still like to serve something festive to our friends during Mardi Gras season. So we take the quick and “Big Easy” route by making a mock king’s cake using only a few ingredients: canned cinnamon roll dough (with the enclosed icing) and tri-colored sugars (gold represents “power”, green represents “faith” and purple represents “justice”). Everyone has fun wondering who will find the plastic baby in his or her slice of cinnamon roll cake!

Laissez les bons temps rouler! “Let the good times roll” and indulge in a simple, sugary “Big Easy” king’s cake on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) before observing the solemnity and fasts on Ash Wednesday and Lent Fridays.

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2-3 cans of cinnamon roll dough (we used Pillsbury brand flaky layers with buttercream icing)
  • sugar sprinkles (yellow/gold, green and purple)

Directions

Line a baking pan with foil and mist with cooking spray. Open the cans of cinnamon roll dough and separate the pieces. Flatten slightly. Arrange the pieces in a ring. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 10-12 minutes, according to the package instructions. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Transfer the cake to a round platter. Insert a plastic baby among the slices. Stir the icing that came in the cans. Spread it evenly over the cake.

Generously sprinkle with the colored sugars, alternating among yellow/gold, green and purple. Decorate with plastic beads (optional). Serve immediately.

Notes

  • *NOLA = New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Some people bake the plastic baby in the cake but we think it might melt and be hazardous. So we place the plastic baby in the cooled cake before frosting and decorating it and let our guests know the tradition before slicing it. The plastic baby represents Baby Jesus hiding from King Herod. Whoever finds it in their slice of cake becomes the king or queen of the day, is blessed with good luck in the coming year and must host the next Mardi Gras party or provide the king’s cake next time.
  • Rosca de reyes is the Latino version of a king’s cake. It is a round, sweet bread decorated with colorful candied fruits. Galette de rois is the French version of a king’s cake. It is also round but varies within the country’s regions and can be filled with almond cream (frangipane) or apples. Try our easy recipe for the latter here.
  • For more recipes to observe the Epiphany-Mardi Gras season, see our list under Theme Menus.

 

Mardi Gras Bread Pudding

with Vanilla-Whiskey Sauce

Mardi Gras Bread Pudding

February: Mardi Gras Season

Laissez les bons temps rouler! We “let the good times roll” when Islander’s conference sessions ended for the day in New Orleans, Louisiana (pre-Katrina). In the late afternoons and evenings that week, we wandered around Bourbon and Canal streets and strolled around the French Quarter. We liked listening to live jazz bands while dining on crawfish etoufee, jambalaya and gumbo at one of the many restaurants in town. Highlander drank chicory coffee at Café du Monde. He even tasted fried alligator nuggets in N’awlins! And Islander, with her notorious sweet tooth, enjoyed both the beignets and bread pudding in the Big Easy!

Cajun and New Orleans-inspired foods are prominently featured at Fat Tuesday celebrations outside of Louisiana. For Mardi Gras get-togethers here in South Texas, we usually bake bread pudding and serve the slices with a vanilla-whiskey sauce (and during Lent, we cook capirotada, a Mexican bread pudding).

Before Ash Wednesday, indulge in this Bourbon-infused bread pudding for a merry Mardi Gras. Bon appétit! 

Recipe

(Adapted from San Antonio Taste magazine, Spring 2011)

For the Mardi Gras bread pudding

  • 6 slices cinnamon-raisin bread (we used Cinnabon brand)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 cups milk
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (we used a packet of Bourbon vanilla)

Directions

Slice the cinnamon bread into large chunks. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the condensed milk.  Add the bread to the bowl and allow to soak for half an hour.

Mardi Gras Bread Pudding

Pour in the milk, melted butter and vanilla and toss well.  Place into a greased 8x8x2-inch square baking pan.

Mardi Gras Bread Pudding

Place the pan in a larger pan. Make a water bath by filling the larger pan with water about ½-inch up from the smaller pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes or until set. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a wire rack. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours to solidify. Slice cold. The bread pudding may be reheated in the microwave and served with vanilla-whiskey sauce.

Mardi Gras Bread Pudding

For the vanilla-whiskey sauce

(Adapted from About.com – Southern Food)

  • 1 ½ cup sugar
  • 1 ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2-3 pods cardamom (or ½ teaspoon ground cardamom)
  • 1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ¼ cup whiskey (Bourbon) or brandy
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla (we used Madagascar Bourbon vanilla extract)

Directions

In a saucepan, mix the sugar with the cream. Add the cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. Place the butter in the mixture and bring to a gentle boil, stirring well, until the butter is melted.

Mardi Gras Bread Pudding

In a small bowl or measuring cup, make a slurry by mixing the whiskey with the cornstarch until smooth. Add the vanilla. Pour the slurry into the gently boiling butter mixture. Stir until the sauce is slightly thickened. Remove from the stovetop and cool slightly before generously pouring the sauce on top of a slice of bread pudding. When reheating, the sauce will become more liquified.

Mardi Gras Bread Pudding

Notes

  • Feel free to add ½ cup of raisins to the bread pudding batter before baking.
  • The vanilla-whiskey sauce has a slightly thin, syrupy quality and does not have an overpowering alcoholic taste, which complements the custard-like texture of the bread pudding well.
  • King’s cakes are also popular on Mardi Gras. We made a galette des rois for Epiphany with the same concept of a hidden trinket (representing Baby Jesus) in the king’s cake.
  • Thanks to Lisa L. for the sample packets of Bourbon vanilla from Europe.