For those of you not lucky enough to have traveled to New Orleans, these are what people down there generally think of when you say "doughnuts."** They're made with a yeast dough like any non-cake doughnut, then rolled out, cut into squares, and deep-fried until they puff up and turn golden-brown. Then (and this is important), they're dusted with an obscene amount of powdered sugar and served with a cup of chicory coffee (if you're The Cajun) or milk (if you're me, because I don't like coffee, and tea would be weird). If you're a coffee drinker, you may dump the excess sugar into your cup after you've finished your beignets. Do not do this if you're drinking milk***. Bonus points are given if you're wearing a dark color and manage not to look like you've been caught in a blizzard by the time you're finished. A good beignet is never greasy, crisp on the outside, and soft (but never undercooked) on the inside; it's no wonder we eat them every morning they're available****.
The place where many people (me included) eat their first beignets is the legendary Café du Monde in Jackson Square in the French Quarter†. Yes, it's crowded and packed with tourists, and, yes, there are weird people panhandling nearby, but that's part of its charm, and if they're making the doughnuts fresh right then and there, this place has no equal.
|Crowded and weird and sticky. Love it.|
If you've been there already, or don't want to deal with the crowds and the traffic, there are a few other places that we approve of. Café Beignet is on Royal, just behind the cathedral, and it's much quieter, with equally good food and coffee.
|See? Much quieter. And they have resident cats.|
If you're outside the French Quarter, Morning Call also makes some very good beignets, and you're not likely to see many other tourists there.
My favorite beignets in the entire world, however, do not come from the French Quarter. As a matter of fact, they don't even come from Louisiana††. There is a tiny shop, also called Café Beignets, in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and they won my undying affection years ago. From what I understand from my coffee-drinking family, the coffee isn't quite as good, but the beignets are made when you order them, so they're always perfectly puffed up and excruciatingly hot, and you have to poke holes in them with a coffee stirrer to let the steam out, lest you burn yourself.
So, please, if you're a fan of baked things, fried things, breakfast things, or things covered in powdered sugar, seek these out. They're one of the most sublime breakfast (or lunch or snack or dinner or high tea or...) items out there, and a crucial part of the New Orleans (or coastal Alabama) experience. However, upon reflection, perhaps having them every morning wasn't the greatest idea. Guess it's time to dig out my Pilates tapes.
* Pronounced either ben-yay or bin-yay. If there's an "S" on the end, don't bother pronouncing it. And there will always be an "S" on the end, because eating just one of these babies would be a crime. They come in threes for a reason.
** As a matter of fact, that's what my mother-in-law calls them. Because when these are readily available, you just don't bother with any other kind of doughnut.
*** Just trust me on this one. Please.
**** This is one of the reasons why my two chief souvenirs from last week's Thanksgiving trip to Louisiana were a head cold (not the beignets' fault) and an extra five pounds (quite possibly attributable).
† They do have other locations, but I wouldn't bother with any but the original.
†† That faint yowling noise you're hearing is The Cajun's family, all screaming, "HERESY!!!"