Happy Fat Tuesday everyone! On a whim last night I realized I needed to make something in honor of this most decadent of holidays. Living my whole life in the Pacific Northwest, I've always had a bit of a love affair with New Orleans and if I'm honest the rest of Louisiana for that matter. I've yet to visit, but I have lived vicariously through my husband's annual Naval conference trip to New Orleans and have satisfied my curiosity for all things Creole and Cajun by cooking my way through Emeril Lagasse's fantastic cookbook, "Louisiana Real and Rustic".
Early on in my marriage I was obsessed with cooking Cajun. For weeks I poured over Emeril's cookbook, cranking out Shrimp Étouffée (crawfish was a bit difficult to find), Gumbo with file, Jambalaya, red beans and rice and pecan pralines. I made Cafe du Monde beignets and cafe au lait with chicory coffee. I drank my first dirty martini using the recipe in that cookbook and I never looked back. I searched high and low for Boudin Blanc, never found it and briefly contemplated making my own. I was a woman on a mission.
My interest in Louisiana likely began as a senior in college. My senior art history thesis, (Art and Architecture of Southern Plantation Homes) immersed me in a culture I new little if anything about and provided the natural leap for further exploration into the food culture of the region. Rich, layered traditions and that rustic wholesome quality that is unique to the American south drew me in further. My love affair has not ended, only deepened. One day I'll make it there and when I do I will appreciate every single second of it.
"Lagniappe", a Cajun word meaning "give a little extra" was originally used by merchants in the region who gave their customers that little bit of extra, (similar to the idea of a baker's dozen) as incentive to earn their loyalty. The word today, still in use, has powerful meaning beyond it's original purpose. It's come to embody all that is elemental about the warmth and hospitality of the state and it's people. So in honor of the holiday and everyone who loves and appreciates all it represents, here is my lagniappe to you.
French Quarter Beignets
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 1/2 C. warm (110 degrees F) water
1/2 C. sugar
1 tsp salt
1 C. evaporated milk
1/4 C. vegetable shortening, cubed
7 Cups all purpose flour
1 quart vegetable oil for frying
1 C. confectioners sugar in a brown paper bag
In the bowl of a mixer combine the water and yeast and dissolve. Add the sugar, eggs, salt and milk, then combine. Switching from paddle attachment to dough hook begin adding the flour one cup at a time. Add only 3 cups, then add the vegetable shortening. Once combined add the additional 4 cups of flour. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.
Heat oil to 375 degrees F. Roll dough thinly, 1/8 inch thick and cut into 2 1/2 inch squares. Working in small batches fry until golden, drain on paper towels then immediately place in the paper bag with the confectioners sugar. Shake to coat and serve immediately with cafe au lait.
A few notes on this recipe:
This recipe makes a lot. It also improves with time so don't be afraid to use it one or even two days after you've made it. Keep it covered and refrigerated and enjoy as you desire. This is also a great recipe to feed a crowd, for breakfast or even dessert. Really anytime is a good time to have a beignet, no?
Recipe Credit: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/beignets/