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Beignets: The sweet taste of New Orleans

- Associated Press - Thursday, February 16, 2012

It may look like a doughnut. It may be filled or glazed like a doughnut. It may even be cooked like a doughnut. But don't call it a doughnut.

It's a beignet. And it's one of New Orleans' two iconic sweets (the other being the party-loving king cake). With Mardi Gras approaching, it's a perfect time to get to know beignets.

Truth is, beignets are a form of doughnut or fried dough. They originated in France, where the term is used to describe a wide variety of fried treats filled with fruit or jam. In New Orleans, they traditionally are served with a cup of coffee and chicory au lait.

To celebrate Mardi Gras, we're offering our take on the beignet, a praline beignet with cafe au lait icing. And of course, you also could add the traditional showering of powdered sugar.

PRALINE BEIGNETS WITH CAFE AU LAIT ICING

Start to finish: 2 hours (30 minutes active)

Servings: 24

For the beignets:

2 cups milk

1 tablespoon instant yeast

¼ cup packed dark brown sugar

3½ to 4 cups bread flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup chopped toasted pecans

Canola oil, for frying

For the icing:

3 tablespoons heavy cream

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon instant coffee

3 cups powdered sugar

In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the milk to just lukewarm. You should still be able to comfortably leave your finger in the milk without it feeling too hot.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the warmed milk, yeast, brown sugar, 3 1/2 cups of flour, baking soda and salt. Mix on low until the ingredients come together and form a smooth, elastic dough. If needed, add the remaining flour, a bit at a time, to form a soft, elastic dough.

Add the pecans and mix just until completely incorporated. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for one hour, or until the dough doubles in size.

When the dough is ready, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly dust with flour. Lightly dust the counter with flour and turn the dough out onto it.

Roll the dough out to a half-inch thick. Using a pizza wheel or dough cutter, cut the dough into 2-inch squares. Transfer the dough squares to the prepared baking sheet and cover with a clean towel. Let rest for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a large pot with about 2 inches of canola oil. Heat the oil over medium-high until it reaches 375 degrees. Set a cooling rack over another sheet pan next to the stove.

When the oil is hot and the dough has rested, work in batches to fry the beignets. Using a slotted spoon, gently lower three to four dough squares into the hot oil and fry, turning once, until golden brown, puffed and cooked through, about three to four minutes. Transfer to the cooling rack and continue working in batches until all the beignets are fried.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream, water and instant coffee until the coffee is dissolved. Add the sugar and stir well until the mixture is smooth. Add more water or powdered sugar to adjust the consistency to be able to drizzle as a thick icing. Drizzle the icing over the warm beignets and enjoy warm.

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