Breakfast at Mardi Gras 

Picayune Beignets

I have a recurring dream that puts me in New Orleans. In fact, I have the dream often enough that I honestly can't remember exactly when I was there last. All I know is that my last trip predates 9/11. It's been a long time, I know, but the dreams, they started after Katrina and her gang came in and smacked the city upside its head.

Although I didn't join a few concerned friends in post-hurricane cleanup, I went to sleep trying to make sense of the televised images and patch them with the images from my mind's eye. My call to action was joining the Southern Foodways Alliance, an Oxford, Miss.-based organization dedicated to preserving the culinary traditions of the South.

For this Yankee, the culinary traditions of the South were a foreign concept, and I knew I desperately needed to be schooled. Eighteen months since the hurricane, I have yet to lay eyes on New Orleans, but a trip later this spring is in the offing.

In the meantime, I'll pay tribute to a culture that refuses to die, thank goodness, and I'll fry some dough for breakfast, Café du Monde-style. Sounds like a breakfast of champions for Mardi Gras (Feb. 20), n'est-ce pas, chere?

Picayune Beignets

Adapted from Donuts: An American Passion by John T. Edge

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup barley flour (Arrowhead Mills and Bob's Red Mill are two known brands)

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, completely melted and cooled slightly

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 gallon vegetable oil for frying

Powdered sugar for sprinkling

In a large mixing bowl, combine both flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk and egg, then add the melted butter and vanilla, mixing well. Add liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well.

Divide the resulting dough into two balls. On a floured surface, knead each ball 10 to 20 times and roll out with a rolling pin into a 9-inch-by-9-inch square about 1/8-inch thick. Next, cut the big square into 12 small squares.

Pour oil into a cast-iron Dutch oven or other deep, heavy-bottomed pot until it reaches a depth of 3 to 4 inches. Heat oil over medium-high heat to 370 degrees; this will take 15-20 minutes.

Fry three or four beignets at a time, turning once shortly after dropping them into the oil, for about two minutes total or until lightly browned on both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper. Allow oil to return to 370 degrees before adding a new batch of dough squares. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve hot. You can keep warm in a 200-degree oven until ready to serve.

Makes 24 beignets.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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