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With the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina fast approaching, I wanted to do this week’s food column on one of New Orleans most famous foods — beignets.

Beignets, pronounced Bey-YAY, comes from the word bigne, meaning to raise. A beignet is a donut without a hole, and is truly a New Orleans specialty. Not only is it a fun word to say, it is a very incredible treat you can get hooked on quite easily.

The French colonists in the 18th century brought the recipe and custom of making beignets to New Orleans, and they have become the ‘in’ thing to eat with coffee if you are out and about on the streets of the Crescent City.

When I went to New Orleans with the Red Cross last October, we did find one restaurant, The Cafe du Monde, that was open and serving the delectable treats. We all had a chance to sit and relax for a while as our waitress brought over four plates of beignets to enjoy with our coffee and conversation.

Beignets are light, and served with powdered sugar, which is where they get the hint of sweetness. They are actually easy to make, and I’m going to give you the recipe that a native of the French Quarter gave to me.

Some beignets can be filled with fruit filling, but this is not considered a true beignet.

I encountered some pre-packaged mixes that I admit I tried, but nothing compared to the recipe I was given. The pre-packaged mixes turned out dry and not as satisfying.

I was truly impressed with the ease of cooking them, and now I make them for special occasions using my Fry Daddy as we all sit around and chat, so they are served up hot. You can make them in a deep pan on the stove if you want to, or even in an electric fry pan. Just make sure you can get the oil up to a good 360 degrees so they come out light and golden brown and not soggy.

A beignet sounds pretty fancy, and if you have guests coming over for an informal get-together, they’re very impressive to do up. They’ll think you spent hours slaving when in reality, the refrigerator does most of the hard time. The dough itself doesn’t take long to put together, though you will have to do it several hours before you plan to serve them as your dough has to sit in a chilled environment. I’ve made my dough up to five hours ahead of time, so use that as a guide.

The topping is powdered sugar, but if you want to get creative, you can mix up regular sugar and cinnamon for a slight change. I’ve done both, but my personal preference is the powdered variety. It sticks better, and is more authentic.

So celebrate the re-building of New Orleans by making some beignets. Try them on a slower Sunday morning when you can pamper yourself a little. Make up the dough on Saturday evening, heat up your oil in the morning, and enjoy a bit of Cajun history right in your own kitchen.

I guarantee it won’t be the last time you want to put on a Mardi Gras hat and enjoy a bit of the deep southern cuisine !

NEW ORLEANS BEIGNET DOUGHNUTS

1 package active dry yeast, ( any brand you prefer)

1-1/2 c Warm Water (105 deg. f.)

1/2 c Sugar

1 Teaspoon Salt

2 Eggs

1 c Evaporated milk

7 c Sifted all-purpose flour

1/4 c Soft shortening

Oil for frying

In large bowl, sprinkle yeast over water; stir to dissolve. Add sugar, salt, eggs and milk. Blend with rotary beater. Add 4 cups of the flour; beat smooth. Add shortening; beat in remaining flour. Cover and chill several hours. Deep fry at 360 degrees 2 to 3 minutes or until lightly browned on each side. (If beignets don’t rise to the top immediately when you drop them into the oil, the oil isn’t hot enough.) Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle heavily with confectioners’ sugar. Serve hot.

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