Food, Something Sweet, Sweet
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buttermilk beignets

It’s my birthday this week, and it falls on a Sunday. First, this is incredibly exciting – I love my birthday. I love other people’s birthdays. I love them all. A day to celebrate the people you love with food and presents? And then a day to get food, presents, and love? What’s not to excitedly bounce up and down in anticipation of about that? But argument could be made that Sundays are also my favourite days. So it’s a double whammy. They speak of pjs and papers. Hot coffee and pottering about the house in socked feet. Brunch and, more specifically, beignets.

Making beignets has been a revelation, born out of my recent obsession with the food of the American South. You make a dough the night before and the next morning, after a little oil heating and dough rolling, you’re in for crispy, fluffy, sugary perfection with your Sunday morning.

 

J and I have been known to make a platter of these, liberally snowed with icing sugar and plonked down on the coffee table. Maybe next to some fruit, for respectability’s sake. What happens next is anyone’s guess. That’s the riot part. It’s not like you can see how many the other person eats behind those broadsheets, after all. Or how far the sugary snow travels on your person. (These are literally finger-licking, sugary-face-smudging good). The resulting sugar and coffee high? Well, that’s another story.

You’ll want a thermometer for this; if the oil temperature’s too high, the beignets will stay raw in the middle while they get golden on the outside; too low, and they’ll absorb more of the oil than you’d like, rendering them claggy, rather than crisp. And if you’ve got a cast iron pot, use it. It might not be the first pot you’d reach for, but trust me, it’s great for deep frying – it keeps the temp up.

 

Beignets are the perfect weekend food, too. Exert a little diligence the night before, while you’ve still got energy and you’re making over-ambitious plans for your weekend, everything from tackling the ironing pile to cleaning the oven. You know, the things that pile up in the corners of your mind during the week. And then ignore them all. Because you work hard – you deserve a Sunday off. Because these are really that good. Because… well, do you really need a reason to make yourself hot, sugary, delightful doughnuts? If you do, you can think of it as your birthday present to me. Treat yourself. When you wake up on Sunday morning, your beignets will ready and raring to go. Just put on a pot of coffee, fling open the curtains to let the light in, blast some of your favourite tunes and get rolling – beignets await.

buttermilk beignets
From Southern Living’s Around the Southern Table

1/2 pack active dry yeast (3.5g/1.25 tsp approx.)
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup granulated sugar (divided)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp salt*
1 egg
1 1/2 tbsp butter*
3 1/4 cup bread flour
vegetable oil (for deep frying, and a little bit to grease the proving bowl)
icing sugar (for dusting)

*Note on the butter and salt. Preferably, use unsalted butter, in which case add the 1/2 tsp salt. However, if you’re using salted butter, omit the additional salt.

** This will feed four hungry people, with leftovers, depending on size. Or two greedy people over two generous mornings of hot, sugary beignets. Make the dough on a Friday night, and you’re basically set for the best weekend ever.

Measure out the sugar and place in a small bowl. Take 1 tsp of it and put it in a large bowl (big enough to mix the dough together in) with the yeast and warm water. Mix and leave it alone for 5-10 minutes.

While the yeast mixture is resting, melt the butter, letting it cool slightly.

Add the milk, buttermilk, remaining sugar, salt (if you’re using – see the above note) and egg to the yeast mixture. Pour in the melted, slightly-cooled butter and stir to combine; a little whisk wouldn’t go amiss here to bring it all together.

Gradually add the flour, stirring briskly as you go. Add flour, stir. Add more, stir. If you have a machine, you’re set – add the flour all at once and let the machine bring the mixture together into a smooth ball of dough. If not and you’re doing this by hand (like me), once all the flour has been added and the mixture is starting to come together as a dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for 3-5 minutes. You’re looking for a smooth, slightly sticky dough.

Put the ball of dough into a clean, lightly oiled bowl (that’s bigger than the dough ball is now because it doubles in size), cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge overnight (minimum of six hours).

The next morning (or whenever your dough is ready), lightly flour your work surface and turn out the dough.

Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a thickness of a 1/4 inch. Then cut into squares (a sharp knife or a pizza cutter are the best tools for this) that are roughly 2.5 inches, or thereabouts, the measurements aren’t set in stone. FYI: I found it’s easier to lightly score the dough first (keeps the dough from hitching too much on my knife when I make the proper cuts). And having little oddly-shaped ones, cut from the corners, are also absolutely fine too! They’ll taste great whatever the shape.

Pour vegetable oil into a small cast iron pan (cast iron is great for deep frying as it helps keep the temperature consistent). You need at least 2 inches to fry the beignets. Heat to 190C.

Slide the squares of dough into the pre-heated oil and fry for 2-3 minutes, turning them over from time to time. Fry them in batches of two or three so you don’t crowd the pan. They’ll puff up like magic – you can tell when they’re done because they’ll be golden brown.

A word on temperature: a few degrees fluctuation in temperature is okay, but keep an eye on it – too high and the outside will cook before the middles, leaving the inside raw.

Scoop out of the hot oil and drain on a wire rack. Then dust generously with icing sugar et voila! Brunch is served…

Eat with hot coffee, good friends, and the Sunday papers.

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