Around the time of Mardi Gras, the streets in New Orleans are packed shoulder to shoulder with tourists and locals.
People line the railings of balconies hanging over Bourbon Street hollering down at the mass of partyers moving in unison through the lines of bars and restaurants. Sazeracs and Hurricanes spill over glass rims while Zydeco music blasts from open air bars. French-Creole-Cajun dishes are being turned out by the hundreds all over town and permeate the air with cayenne, andouille, crawfish and, of course, beignets.
When prepared correctly, a beignet is a light and airy doughnut-like pastry that has been deep fried and topped with powdered sugar.
John Maxwell, owner of the local Ragin’ Cajun food truck, recalls with much enthusiasm enjoying beignets where he used to live in New Orleans.
Beignets came over from France and have been in the French Market part of New Orleans ever since, Maxwell says. They (beignets) were quick to make and inexpensive. Beignets were the perfect food for the dock workers in the morning or the people who were out late at night.
Maxwell says he occasionally puts beignets on the menu for his food truck and Fort Wayne is beginning to trust him and his New Orleans, Creole-inspired cuisine. When asked about the best beignet he ever had, Maxwell says without any hesitation, Café Du Monde.
Café Du Monde is one of the oldest and original restaurants to serve beignets in the French Market of New Orleans. The powdered sugar coats your lips, and they are puffy and airy on the inside, Maxwell says.
Maxwell says that to make a good beignet at home, the frying oil needs to be the correct temperature and it is best to cook in an iron pot or skillet because of the distribution of heat.
Today, beignets can be found in bakeries all over the country, including at Zinnia’s Bakehouse at 1320 E. State Blvd. Krystal Vega, co-owner of Zinnia’s, says they have fresh beignets available at the shop every Saturday.
Make sure to punch out air bubbles before frying, Vega says when giving tips for making beignets at home. She says the dough should be light and airy, but too many air bubbles can be a problem.
In addition, beignet dough should never be frozen, Vega says.
Fortunately for home bakers, all the ingredients for a beignet can be found at most grocery stores or local markets. Unfortunately, Vega chuckled when asked for her recipe, I can’t go that far, she says.
Vega would not disclose all of her secrets, but did say she adds honey to the beignets at Zinnia’s.
Café Du Monde offers beignet mix online; it is delicious according to Maxwell.
Or, you could brave the culinary war ground that is your kitchen and start from scratch.