Looking for some Cajun inspiration this weekend, struck up a conversation with guy across the table who just happens to be a very talented Chef. “Go classic, go simple… Crab Cakes, Jambalaya and Beignets de Carnival” he says. “What’s a Beignet?” His eyes widened, his mouth dropped open “You don’t know Beignets?” “Apparently not.”
What followed (after the rolled eyes and the ‘tut-tuting’) was not just a lesson in French Cuisine but a sentimental journey down the garden path of childhood and family cooking in the kitchen with his Grandmother, Georgette.
Food Gypsy Technical Advisor Chef Benoit Gelinotte learned to cook where most of us learned to cook, in the kitchens of his mother and his grandmother. The thing is… his maternal grandmother, Georgette, was the talented Chef Georgette.
The other thing is… he’s French.
Brought up in a culture of food, loving the process and seeing the day-to-day results in the kitchen with a strong-willed woman at the helm; when it came to a decision as to which career path to take, he followed in her footsteps and has now been in the kitchen for more than 25 years.
During his culinary education and into adulthood, Ben was expected in his Grandmother’s kitchen on all holidays, religious events, festivals and family gatherings. Cooking (among other things) Beignets for hours on end. Mountains of them.
No wonder he was her favourite.
“A ‘proper’ Beignet de Carnival is a yeasted dough similar to a brioche, fortified with egg and butter, then rolled, cut, twisted and fried, light and golden brown and dusted with sugar” he explains.
“So… it’s like a doughnut.”
“MAIS NON” says Ben “it’s like a FRENCH doughnut.”
Oooo la. The French do have a way with food.
The Influence of Food Culture
It’s that culture of cuisine that fuels Cajun cuisine, because after all, before they were ‘Cajun’ they were ‘Acadian’; French loyalist sent packing by the British from what are now the Canadian Maritime provinces, who then took root in the swamps of Louisiana and throughout the south.
In an all too brief trip to New Orleans some years ago, I developed a deep fondness for its people and their food. Rich in cultural lore, flavour and spice, plus that signature fingerprint of the French which echoes in every bite.
Butter. Cream. Pork fat. Decadence.
The Beignet in particular is a tradition during carnival season, its distinct shape is twisted to represent the carnival mask. But it is the light crispness, combined with its rich buttery dough that rises and puffs as it’s cooked in hot fat… that makes the Beignet addictive.
Ben’s secret Beignet ingredient? Orange Blossom Water. A light, fragrant essence that make this a very traditional recipe. You can find Orange Blossom Water at most large grocery stores or specially food shops. Chef Georgette would insist. (So does Chef Benoit.)
Hope you enjoy our little Cajun tribute to Mardi Gras, click here for a classic, Spicy, Saucy Jambalaya a la Gypsy for some Louisiana heat… no matter where in the world you may be.
(Going to have to owe you one on the crab cakes, only so many hours in a day.)
Literally translating to ‘Fat Tuesday’, Mardi Gras is the feast before Lent, 40 days of fasting and self-denial. After feasting on Beignets, now I know why it’s called ‘Fat Tuesday’, it should be followed by ‘Go-to-the-gym Wednesday’.
My jeans appear to have shrunk. I consider them faulty.
He made Beignets. First time in 20 years he’s made Beignets. I’m a lucky girl.
Beignets de Carnival, a sweets staple in French and Cajun cuisine, are a delicious, fancy yeasted doughnut. Similar to brioche, they’re fortified with egg and butter, then rolled, cut, twisted and fried, light and golden brown and dusted with sugar. OMG. They will make your knees weak.
In large bowl mix flour, sugar, salt, orange blossom water, vanilla & lemon zest.
In a small pot, heat milk to a light simmer.
In small bowl add yeast & warm milk, mixing thoroughly to dissolve yeast.
Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl.
Make a well in the center of the flour, add both egg and yeast moisture to dry ingredients. Mix the dough well by hand, then knead to achieve a stiff dough that springs back when touched. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.
In a small bowl, ensure butter is soft, with no lumps.
Place dough on cool, clean surface and form into flat disk, add soft butter to centre, then fold around butter. Alternately kneading and folding to incorporate all fat, work dough until smooth (but sticky), airy and light.
On lightly floured surface, roll dough to about 1/4 inch thick, and cut into (rough) diamond shaped strips, cut two slits (diagonally) in centre of each, twist one end through farthest slit and let stand (on lightly floured surface) until ready to fry.
Fry over medium heat (oil temp: oil to 325⁰F/165⁰C) until golden. Remove from pan, drain on paper towel, and cool. Sprinkle icing sugar.
Beignets can be enjoyed hot or cold and can be served with fruit compote, or dipped in warm Nutella at 3AM, or with coffee for ummm… breakfast. Just random thoughts based on what I like to call “research”.
Keywords: Beignets Recipe, Beignets de Carnival, French Doughnuts
Gypsy Math: I know, I know it’s weighed, metric. The dude is FRENCH. Hey, I was just happy it was in English.
Conversions should be reasonably accurate, the most important measurements are flour, yeast, butter, and egg, which were checked twice, both on a conversion scale and in my kitchen. Except the eggs, there are no metric eggs, fun to mess a newbie with though.
“What?! These eggs are Imperial, the recipe is in Metric. Dam. Go to the store and get a dozen metric eggs…”
Fearlessly cooking in her home kitchen just outside Ottawa, Canada; Cori Horton is a food photographer, food marketing consultant, recipe developer and sustainability advocate. A Cordon Bleu trained chef, Cori spent five years as the owner of Nova Scotia's Dragonfly Inn and now shares all things delicious - right here.