The Basque Beignet

Sonhos, beignets, pet de nonne — whatever you want to call them, well-made they are ethereally light, and addictive to eat.

The batter is a pȃte à choux — a versatile egg and flour preparation that takes very little effort and can also be baked into an éclair, a cream puff or a savory gougère

My first experience making choux was from a ragged copy of Larousse Gatronomique in a tiny shotgun kitchen in Hoboken in the early 1980s. At the time, Larousse was like an invitation into another world, that I had only glimpsed as a child in New York on the pastry cart which trolleyed through the dining room of Sign of the Dove.

In the case of a Basque beignet — more a French cruller than the New Orleans variation — we skip all the fuss and simply deep fry the batter like a doughnut.

Roll it in cinnamon sugar or plain, dust it with powdered—the addition of orange flower water gives this version its old-fashioned Basque twist, where they are served with coffee at the end of a leisurely meal.


Ingredients

9 tbs unsalted butter 

1 cup water

1 tbs orange flower water (you can substitute vanilla or almond extract)

Pinch of kosher salt

1/2 tbs plus 1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 vanilla bean

1 cup flour (sifted)

5 large eggs

8 cups oil for frying (peanut oil preferably)

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting


Preparation

Choux

  1. Combine the butter, water, orange flower water, salt, 1/2 tablespoon sugar, and vanilla bean seeds in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat.
  2. Immediately add the flour, all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon until the ingredients are well incorporated. Return the pan to medium heat, stirring continuously until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.

NOTE: The next step can be done by hand in a large bowl with a wooden spoon, but if you have a stand mixer it makes it a bit easier.

  1. Transfer the ingredients to the work bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. While mixing on low speed, add 1 egg at a time, beating well after each addition. The dough should have a very soft, elastic consistency.

Frying

  1. In an electric fryer or deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan, warm the oil to 375 degrees
  2. Working in small batches, (4-5) quickly drop the dough by rounded tablespoonful into the oil so that they all cook for nearly the same amount of time. Don’t overcrowd, they expand. The oil should bubble gently around them as they cook. They often split as they puff, so keep them moving and turning in the oil so they cook evenly throughout.
  3. Beignets are done when they are about four times their original size and medium brown, about 4-6 minutes. 
  1. Remove with a slotted spoon or bamboo skimmer and drain them on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  2. Place the remaining 1 cup of sugar in a large mixing bowl. Once the beignets have cooled slightly, add them to the mixing bowl, three to four at a time, and toss them together with the sugar until thoroughly coated.

Adapted from Gerald Hirigoyen’s The Basque Kitchen: Tempting Food from the Pyrenees

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