Now that I’ve been a food blogger for almost two months, I felt it was time to venture forth and participate in a blogging event. After reading about the first Weekend Cookbook Challenge hosted by Sara of i like to cook and Alicat of Something So Clever, I knew that this was the perfect way to ease into the world of blogging events. And the subject was comfort food … my very favourite!
Cookbooks were consulted, websites were viewed and groceries were purchased. I knew exactly what I was going to make: Coq au Vin. But then something happened.
I ate a bad doughnut. Not just a bad doughnut, a very bad doughnut!
Let me explain. I was on my way home from buying the groceries to make my Coq au Vin, when I decided to stop at the local doughnut establishment for a coffee and doughnut. The doughnut was so awful, I threw it out. It tasted about thirty days old and there were little black things in it that were apparently supposed to be raisins, but they certainly did not resemble anything that I would ever describe as being even remotely related to a raisin!
I was so disappointed.
What happened to the lovely doughnuts of my youth? You know the ones I’m talking about. The doughnuts that were light as a feather and never tasted of rancid oil. Doughnuts that were stuffed with REAL fillings like homemade jam and lemon curd. Doughnuts that were rolled gently in cinnamon sugar and didn’t all look the same.
What happened to the people that made these doughnuts? Those happy, smiling people who were patient and took their time in order to make the treats that they’d been making for years, that their ancestors had been making, often in lands very distant from the streets of Toronto.
Wherever these people are, they’re not in my Toronto anymore. Instead, my Toronto is being force fed stale, ugly doughnuts that all taste as though they were incubated in some laboratory somewhere where the food police make sure that every single doughnut is the same size, shape and colour. Blech!
Well I was having none of it! Once home, I marched over to The Overburdened Bookshelf and took down a book that I bought several years ago, but had never used (until now): The Donut Book by Sally Levitt Steinberg.
Incredibly well-researched, Ms. Steinberg’s book recounts the history of the doughnut in America. And along with the history, her book offers a look at the folklore surrounding the venerable doughnut, as well as many recipes.
As I flipped through the book, I saw recipes for Cinnamon Sugar Donuts, Banana Donuts and Pennsylvania Dutch Donuts. Each one of these made me think of those incredible treats I enjoyed when I was younger. As comforting as Coq au Vin is, I decided I would make doughnuts for the Weekend Cookbook Challenge, if only to remind myself that there is still such a thing as a great doughnut!
After looking through The Donut Book several times, I decided to try my hand at a recipe for beignets. I based my recipe on one from the book called Hoppin’ John Martin Taylor’s Beignets. Now I have no idea who Hoppin’ John Martin Taylor is, but his recipe for beignets looked pretty good to me. But as I often do, I tweaked the recipe a bit to suit my own tastes.
While the ingredients for the recipe were straightforward, yeast, water, sugar, butter, heavy cream, egg and flour, I decided to spice things up a bit by adding pure vanilla powder and the merest hint of nutmeg. The recipe was easy to follow, except for one step. When adding the flour to the cream and yeast mixture, the recipe indicated that I should add two cups of flour, stir well, add a third cup of flour, stir well and then slowly add the final cup of flour, only adding as much flour as needed to form a cohesive dough.
I found that I could have easily stopped adding flour after the second cup. At that point I already had a cohesive dough, but concerned that I didn’t have enough flour in the dough, I went ahead and added the third. This resulted in way too much flour. I was forced to add some water to help bind the dough. While it turned out well in the end, I think my dough was probably a bit harder than it should have been. Undeterred, I continued with heating the oil and frying the beignets. In the end I was rewarded with a lovely heap of icing sugar-dusted treats …
Overall, I’m glad that I decided to make beignets for Weekend Cookbook Challenge #2. I got to try something that I’d never made before, and believe me, the results were more than comforting! It even erased the memory of that awful doughnut.
And just to prove that the Food Gods do exist, I decided to visit one of my favourite blogs, Hungry in Hogtown maintained by the very talented Rob, and wouldn’t you know he and his wife had made Coq au Vin for the Weekend Cookbook Challenge. I invite you to visit Rob’s blog and enjoy the food!
Life is good!
Adapted from the recipe for "Hoppin’ John Martin Taylor’s Beignets" in The Donut Book by Sally Levitt Steinberg.
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees F if you’re using a thermometer)
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup heavy cream (whipping cream)
- 1 large egg
- 2 to 3 cups of all-purpose flour (the original recipe called for 4 cups but I highly doubt you’d need that much)
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla powder (or pure vanilla extract)
- 1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg (or try cinnamon!)
- peanut oil for frying (you will need a candy/oil thermometer to regulate the temperature of the oil)
- Line a cookie tray with paper towels and place a wire rack on top of the towels. Set aside.
- In a bowl, stir together the yeast and warm water. Let proof for about 10 minutes. The mixture should look creamy and slightly foamy after the 10 minutes have passed.
- In a small pan, combine the cream, butter and sugar. Heat gently until the butter is melted. Let the mixture cool a bit, and then stir in the egg and mix well (don’t add the egg immediately after the butter is melted as the heat of the mixture might cook the egg). If you’re using vanilla extract instead of vanilla powder, add the extract to the egg and cream mixture.
- Stir the yeast mixture into the egg and cream mixture. Mix well.
- In a large bowl, stir together the 2 cups of flour, the vanilla powder (if you’re using it) and the nutmeg or cinnamon. Add the yeast/cream mixture and stir with a wooden spoon (this will require some elbow grease). As the mixture comes together, if you see you have a cohesive dough, then only add as much flour as you need to ensure that the dough is not sticky. While I added 3 cups of flour, I would have been fine with 2-1/2 cups.
- Once the dough has come together into a ball and is not sticky, turn it onto a work surface.
- Pour peanut oil into a large stockpot until it comes about 3 inches up the side of the pot.
- Heat the oil over medium heat until it reaches 365 degrees F.
- While the oil is heating, flour a rolling pin and roll your dough out into a square of roughly 16 inches (the dough should be about a 1/4-inch thick).
- Divide the dough into 16 squares.
- Once the oil is ready, drop 3 or 4 of the squares into the dough at one time. The squares will sink to the bottom but rise to the top very quickly. Once they rise to the top, flip them and let them fry for 2 or 3 more minutes. Be careful not to burn the beignets.
- Remove the beignets and place on the wire rack. Continue frying until all the squares are done.
- Once the beignets are all cooked, dust heavily with icing sugar.
- Enjoy as they are best served warm!