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9 am Sunday: bubbling oil and beignets

After a few weeks’ hiatus, it’s high time that I recommitted myself to what has clearly become the celestial purpose of Orangette: making Jimmy famous. He may be the gay husband of my former employer Rebecca, but he’s also much more, and that’s where I come in. My commitment to Jimmy is truly the highest of callings, a fanatical devotion to a church where a choir of deep-fryers sing sweetly from the altar. On the seventh day, some rest and some go to Sunday school, but I go to Jimmy’s. And then I write about it.

This week’s episode began with a rather enthusiastic e-mail from the man himself. He’d been on a mission, he explained, to replicate New Orleans’s classic Café du Monde beignets. He’d done an experimental batch on Tuesday and had another planned for Friday afternoon, and by Sunday, Jimmy promised (and I quote), there would be “powdered sugar flying everywhere!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” If there’s a more compelling cause for using sixteen exclamation points, I’ve yet to hear of it.

So I arrived chez Jimmy at 9 am to find Rebecca doing her nails on the couch—Jimmy generously allows her to keep a small chest, full of lotions and potions and polishes, on his coffee table—and Jimmy in the kitchen, slowly heating a small cauldron of oil. After the requisite Rebecca-style greeting of hugs, stroking of my off-white cashmere capelet (already on its way out, I know), and wondrously off-color remarks about my untended cuticles, I joined Jimmy next to the stove.

“I think we may have done it this time,” he said, carefully pulling back a dishtowel to reveal dozens of triangles of dough on the countertop. I poked one with my index finger. It felt light and springy to the touch, like a very small down pillow. This morning’s recipe was the first he’d found that called for proofing the yeast with warm water and sugar; previous methods had called, somewhat illogically, for the yeast to be added dry to the flour. The results had been delicious, he explained, but they’d lacked a certain airiness, a balloon-like quality that is the mark of a true French Market beignet. There was only one way to find out how this morning’s proofed variety would perform, however, and that was to start frying.

In matters of fat, Jimmy is clearly blessed. This morning he was a vision of apron-clad serenity, tongs in hand before the bubbling font. The burner of the stove, splattered with droplets of oil that glimmered under the light, glowed like a fallen halo. And most importantly, the dough began to puff divinely.

The first batch, as one might expect, was Rebecca’s,

which allowed me the opportunity to watch and learn proper beignet-eating technique. And as luck would have it, not only is Rebecca a remarkably talented Pilates instructor, but she’s also gifted in the art of beignet consumption. Proper beignets are dusted with a thick blanket of powdered sugar, and, as she explained, in order to avoid the dreaded “white beard of shame” one must lean forward at a hard forty-five-degree angle while eating, preferably with a bowl under the chin. Understandably confident in her beard-avoidance skills, Rebecca wasted no time in letting loose with her usual cry: “Jimmy, there’s not enough sugar! There’s a naked corner here! Jimmy! More sugar!”

I adore this woman—even though she, when my bowlful of beignets was ready, made me laugh in mid-bite and thus forced a white sprinkling of shame down my pant leg.

But then again, when you’re dealing with something as heavenly as Jimmy’s beignets,

the concept of shame is pretty unfathomable. Some say that cleanliness is next to godliness, but I’ll take a hol(e)y beignet and sugar-coated legs instead. Sixteen exclamation points indeed. I hear that Jimmy is next in line for the papacy.

Seattle-Is-the-New-New-Orleans Beignets
Adapted from Chuck Taggart’s The Gumbo Pages

As long as you’re not afraid of a lot of hot oil, these aren’t terribly difficult to make at home. As Chuck says, “The yeast dough must be prepared in advance and refrigerated overnight. . . .For home preparation, the dough works better in the large quantity given here, enough for about [4] dozen beignets. Don’t worry, though…the dough keeps well under refrigeration for about a week. Just cut off some dough when you want to make beignets—roll it out, cut it up, and fry for about 3 minutes per batch. . . .Or just invite enough people over to eat all [4] dozen.”

1 package active dry yeast
1 ½ cups warm water (100-115 degrees Fahrenheit)
½ cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup evaporated milk
7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground nutmeg
¼ cup vegetable shortening (non-hydrogenated, if possible)
Vegetable oil, for frying (Jimmy chose Crisco brand oil)
Tons of powdered sugar, for dusting

Put the warm water into a large bowl (Jimmy did this and all subsequent mixing steps in the bowl of his KitchenAid stand mixer, fitted with the dough hook), and sprinkle in the yeast and a couple teaspoonfuls of the sugar. Stir until dissolved; then let rest for 10 minutes or so. Add the rest of the sugar, the salt, the eggs, and the evaporated milk. Gradually stir (or mix) in 4 cups of flour and the nutmeg, and beat with a wooden spoon (or dough hook) until smooth and thoroughly blended. Beat in the shortening, and then add the remaining flour, about 1/3 cup at a time, beating until it becomes too stiff to stir, and then working the rest in with your hands. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Roll the dough out onto a floured board to a thickness of 1/3 inch. Then, using a sharp knife, cut the dough into triangles measuring roughly 2 x 2 x 3 inches.

Pour the oil to a depth of roughly 4 inches in a large, deep saucepan or Dutch oven. Heat the oil to 360 degrees Fahrenheit, and fry the beignets 3 at a time until they are puffed and golden on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per batch. Turn them over in the oil with tongs once or twice to get them evenly brown, since they rise to the surface of the oil as soon as they begin to puff. From batch to batch, try to make sure to try to keep the oil as close to 360 degrees as possible; if necessary, allow a few minutes between batches for the oil to reheat to the proper temperature. Drain each batch for a minute or two on a platter lined with several layers of paper towels, and then dust heavily with powdered sugar. Serve three beignets per person—at least for the first round.


Blogger Dawna said...

Hello Molly - new reader here, I've been busily catching up on all of your wonderful posts!

The beignets look fabulous, but I really wanted to let you know that I think you have a real eye for food photography. The photos on your site are just so enticing - much better than most cookbooks, really. Cheers!

12:26 PM, April 17, 2005  
Anonymous Julie said...

I'm certainly becoming a convert to the cult of Jimmy -- I'm going to try the dutch babies one weekend soon. I also hope against hope that someday you'll post his toffee bar recipe that another reader mentioned in the comments section on one of the Jimmy posts...

But in the meantime, dear Molly, rest assured that you have a devoted following in your own right, not just for the "Jimmys", so to speak. BTW, I'm loving those sassy "Saucy" pieces of yours.

8:46 PM, April 17, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


this morning sounds gorgeous! being currently in the land of deep frying, i can imagine only too well the excited bites and flights of powdered sugar...i can't wait to come home to make messs in our kitchens together!!


11:07 PM, April 17, 2005  
Anonymous Rachel said...

Having tried some of your other recipes with great success, I can't wait to try this one! Just two questions: how much is 1 package of dried active yeast for those of us who don't live in the US? Do you have a teaspoon equivalent? And shortening - is that lard or some other fat? Could I substitute butter (vegetarian, you see)? Okay, that was 4 questions. Thanks!

12:47 AM, April 18, 2005  
Blogger Zarah Maria said...

Oh yum! Worthy of 16 exclamation-points, I'm sure! I'll stick to one until I've tried them myself though :-)

7:02 AM, April 18, 2005  
Blogger lauren said...

thanks! I loved the post and now I can even go Beignet hunting here in Tokyo. Didn't even know cafe du monde was here. I will also try these lovelies at home, but sometimes ingredients are hard to decifer when you can't read the package.

this was a fun story, thanks!
Lauren In Japan
In A Fancy Glass

9:09 AM, April 18, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Dawna, thanks so much for your comment--and for your generous compliments. I've always loved photography but am entirely untrained, so I'm glad to hear that something is working!

Julie, I'd completely forgotten about that toffee bar recipe...I'll see what I can do! And so glad to hear that you're enjoying the entertainment over at Saucy.

Kate, ma favorite birthday girl, je t'adore. Depeche-toi, ma petite, and get back here and squeal en francais au telephone with me! Whenever I walk by 2nd and Pike, I half-expect someone to come out and ask me where my hot little "Spanish-looking" friend is, the one with the fishnet kneehighs, "powerful" legs, and Pinarellos. Sniffle, sniffle...

Rachel, here are the details:
One package of active dry yeast equals 2.25 teaspoons. And the shortening is vegetable shortening, so it is most definitely vegetarian. I suppose that you could substitute an equal amount of butter if you'd prefer, but it may affect the lightness of the final product. I'm not a big shortening fan myself--those nasty hydrogenated fats!--but I have been known to keep a little tub of non-hydrogenated shortening around the house for certain recipes. Here in the States, it's easy to find brands such as Spectrum in the average health- or natural-foods store. I hope that helps! Keep me posted...

And Zarah Maria, the beignets were definitely 16-exclamation-pointers. Hope you get to try them one of these days!

9:25 AM, April 18, 2005  
Blogger TanTian said...

I'm not going to read your blog on Mondays anymore! Your amazing breakfasts are fading the glory of my Sunday everything bagels with tofu cream cheese.

12:06 PM, April 18, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Lauren, that's absolutely wild! I had no idea that Cafe du Monde had teamed up with some Japanese partners...good detective work on your part! You're in for a treat, I must say...

And TanTian, your everything bagel sounds pretty damn fine to me. I'll come to your place next Sunday, okay?

12:37 PM, April 18, 2005  
Blogger tara said...

Once again, Jimmy inspires us all with his Sunday Morning Mastery. These beignets look temptingly decadent and light, all at the same time! One I get my grubby little paws on my deep-frying thermometer, I will surely add this recipe to my repertoire!

By the way, your recent post rekindled my love of roasted asparagus! Last week I turned down chicken ballotine with a mushroom sherry reduction ... and favoured a feast of asparagus, happily munching the tender-crisp, salty-sweet spears from a glass.

11:16 AM, April 19, 2005  
Blogger Sammy said...

I just broke a tooth trying to bite the my computer screen.

Thanks a lot.

1:34 PM, April 19, 2005  
Anonymous Rebecca said...

Little Bird, how precious of you to write with such passion about our recent Sunday sugar worship. But we can't dwell on the past to terribly long, now can we? I think not. There's cane being hacked as we live and breath so we must focus on the future and what's next. Speaking of which, Jimmy's finalized the menu for next Sunday and although there will be hardly any sugar present, (damn it) the fat, the sacred fat, will be more extreme than ever. And did I mention salt? The fat and the salt . . . I suggest not eating from Friday on. See you soon, sweet girl.

8:12 PM, April 19, 2005  
Anonymous Rebecca said...

And at the risk of being too too, just too much, I've used one too few "o" and shamed myself on your blog. That would be "too" not "to." Please forgive me, but I've not had sugar for some 4 hours and I feel the light slipping away and with it my ability to use the correct number of "o"'s.

8:16 PM, April 19, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Tara, you've got it exactly right. The beignets were miraculously both decadent and light! Jimmy is truly a master. But now that you've got the recipe, mastery will soon be yours as well! Oh, and very glad to hear about the asparagus...I have a few spears waiting in my fridge right now, actually. Yum.

Sammy, sorry to hear that. I suppose you've learned your lesson, though?

And Rebecca, dear, you are always too too, just too much! I can hardly wait until next Sunday--although without any sugar, whatever will I write about? Oh, and WHEN is my manicure? I know how you feel about my cuticles.

8:35 PM, April 19, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, shame on me! It must be my Mexican-Jewish background, but we make these, sometimes yeast-risen, sometimes baking-powder-risen, and while they'r hot, bite a corner off and pour honey into them. Honey, powdered sugar - it's still a sugar rush.

Your Unc from Maine.

6:34 AM, April 23, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

My dear Unc., those (sopaipillas, yes?) sound delicious. Though honey might well be blasphemy to Rebecca and Jimmy, I could be talked into it...

8:58 AM, April 23, 2005  
Anonymous Frolic said...

Looks like you did these right, but I'm just mystified by all this talk of "shame." Lighten up! This is a New Orleans dish. The entire city would grind to a halt if we worried much about "shame."

And don't listen to your friend about the proper way to eat beignets. In my experience, beignets are best eaten early in the morning when an out-of-town visitor has dragged you to Bourbon Street. You can't walk through Bourbon Street without ruining a pair a shoes and permanently staining the cuffs of your pants. A little powdered sugar is the least of your cleaning concerns.

7:25 AM, May 09, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Frolic, thank you for helping me learn to stop worrying and love my powdered-sugared pants. You're right: shame is highly overrated! Come to think of it, I'm surprised that the word is even in Rebecca's vocabulary...

6:38 PM, May 10, 2005  
Anonymous Lauren said...

These look and sound fantastic! Just a question, do you let the dough come to room temp after its overnight proof/allow it a second proof before frying?
Can't wait to make them :)

4:02 PM, April 04, 2009  
Blogger Molly said...

Lauren, I'm not sure what to tell you! I got this recipe from Jimmy and haven't made them myself, so I'm not sure if you should let the dough come to room temperature / do a second proof before frying. If I were you, I might look up other beignet recipes and see what they say. Sorry I can't be more helpful...

7:25 PM, April 04, 2009  

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