This concept should have been a cinch. After all, I developed White Chocolate, Cardamom & Coconut Beignet and they’re wonderful—ethereally light, tender, moist, and beautifully flavored.
But I made a classic mistake at the onset. I tried to pattern the new beignest after the earlier success. And that, my friends, was a disaster. I threw batch after batch of beignets in the trash after just one taste.
Something different went wrong with each batch: too dry, too wet, not sweet enough, not pumpkin enough, not spicy enough, and finally, just okay but nothing special. I almost gave up. Where was I going wrong?
Then just in time, I remembered my trusty ally on the recipe development front: The Recipe Grid. I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s basically a way to compare key ingredients and their quantities across dozens of published formulas. It gives you a good sense of the latitude you have with the key ingredients—in this case flour, eggs, milk, butter, and chemical leavener.
So, establishing 1 cup of flour as the non-variable, I adjusted each formula to reflect the same quantity. Then I looked across the formulas. I learned that my earlier beignet recipe is an anomaly, calling for perhaps the maximum amount of ricotta possible: 2 cups ricotta to 1½ cups flour. When I added pumpkin puree to that, the batter was too wet and too heavy. Fully cooked, the beignets were altogether too moist and bland.
To lighten the batter, I swapped the ricotta for buttermilk and used it in a 1-to-1 ratio with flour. The batter was then too loose to hold a spherical shape in the hot oil, and I had to whisk in an additional ½ cup of flour before frying the beignet. The last minute whisking counteracted the positive effects of a night in the refrigerator (to relax the gluten). The beignet were acceptable, but more like average cake donuts than beignet. For whatever reason, the buttermilk did not contribute any special tanginess.
The breakthrough came when I spied a container of Pumpkin Butter that was languishing in the frig. I made it last week and then forgot it. It was sitting on top of a fresh carton of sour cream. Carl Jung calls this magical type of apparent coincidence, synchronicity.
My first bite of these beignet produced an OMG moment. They are impossibly light, melt-in- the-mouth tender, oh so moist, tantalizingly fragrant, and over-the-top delicious. The pumpkin flavor really comes through, and the spice level is perfect. There are angels in my kitchen.
Three Types of Beignet
If you scour your cookbooks and the web for beignet recipes, you will find three basic types: yeast-leavened, egg-leavened, and chemical-leavened, as follows:
- Yeast-leavened beignets are New Orleans and Dixieland beignets. They are ethereal fried bread.
- Egg-leavened beignets are their highfalutin French cousins. They are lighter-than-air, fried cream puffs (pate a choux).
- Chemical-leavened beignets (think baking powder and baking soda) are close kin to cake donuts. The key difference is that cake donuts are rolled and cut, while chemical-leavened beignets are fried, free form, in hot oil. I think of this type of beignet as Americana all the way—easy, simple goodness.
Beignet Tips & Tricks
- Beignet batter must be thick enough to hold its shape after hitting the hot oil.
- The batter must have enough chemical leavener to plump each beignet into a fairly uniform spherical shape as the interior gains heats.
- For the lightest, most tender beignet, refrigerate the batter for at least 2 hours before frying. Refrigerating overnight is even better.
- You must maintain the frying oil at 350°. (See Technique Note below.)
Spicy Pumpkin Butter Gingerbread Beignet
Pumpkin and gingerbread spices are a marriage made in heaven, as you will discover when you taste these amazingly light, not too sweet, melt-in-your-mouth morsels. Pumpkin Butter is the trick to getting maximum pumpkin flavor into the beignets.
You need to make the batter at least two hours ahead to let the flavors develop and gluten relax. Beignets are best served immediately after frying.
Technique Note The only thing difficult about the following recipe is maintaining an even 350° temperature on the oil for frying. If the oil dips below 350°, the beignet will be fat soaked and heavy. If the temperature rises above 375°, the beignet will cook too fast on the surface and need to be removed from the fat before the interior is cooked through. It always takes me a few tests to get the oil and my timing just right. A deep fry thermometer is essential for this recipe. If you happen to have a deep fat fryer with a temperature gauge, success is assured.
2 large eggs
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup Spicy Pumpkin Butter
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1½ cups King Arthur unbleached, all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
vegetable oil, for frying (I used 4 cups for a 7-inch diameter saucepan; the oil was 1¼-inches deep)
powdered sugar in a shaker
one of these sauces, optional
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and brown sugar, and then whisk in the Pumpkin Butter, butter, sour cream, vanilla, pumpkin pie spice, and salt until smooth.
- Put the flour and baking powder into a sifter or single mesh strainer and sift over the batter. Using a flexible silicon or rubber spatula, fold gently to thoroughly combine.
- Cover the batter tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or as long as 24 hours (longer is better). Bring the batter to room temperature before frying.
- If desired, prepare one of the caramel sauces and reserve. Rewarm just before serving.
- In the meanwhile, put a few layers of paper toweling on top of an edged baking sheet and set next to the stovetop. Locate a deep-fry thermometer that will grasp the edge of the pan, a small skimmer for removing overbrowned bits of batter, and a 2-tablespoon capacity, release-style ice cream scoop. (If you don’t have the ice cream scoop, 2 tablespoons will work.)
- In a 6- to 7-inch diameter, heavy saucepan, attach a deep-fry thermometer to the side of the pan and add vegetable oil to a depth of 1¼-inch to 1½-inch. Heat oil to 350°. This is the trickiest aspect of this recipe. You need to maintain a frying temperature between 350° and 375°, no lower and no higher.
- Carefully drop three to four 2-tablespoon size scoops of beignet batter into the hot oil at one time. Do not crowd the pan. Begin GENTLY swirling and flipping the beignets after 15-20 seconds in the hot oil, and keep flipping them periodically until they are nicely browned on all sides and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes. If in doubt, remove one beignet and cut in half to check the interior. If the interior is gooey, the beignets need more time in the hot oil. You can also test with a thin wooden skewer inserted into the center of the beignet. It should come out clean.
- With tongs or a skimmer, remove the beignet, one-by-one, from the hot oil, drain briefly over the oil, and then tumble onto the paper toweling. Continue until you have used all batter.
- As the beignets hit the paper toweling, dust with powdered sugar.
- Serve hot, either plain or with Caramel Sauce (see choices above).
Makes about eighteen, 1¾-inch diameter, beignets.
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Copyright 2012 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.