Red, White and Beignet
Valentine's Day, the holiday that almost everyone loves to hate, is upon us. While not one of this diehard romantic's favorites due to its forced, contrived nature and requisite expense, I can still see the value in this lovers' holiday. However, it's not via cards, chocolate or heart candies. It is, of course, the process of cooking. While cooking French stews for a very special guest this weekend, I was sweetly reminded by the process of cooking, the meditative, nurturing act of cooking as one of the most sincere expressions of love. For those who love to nurture through food, it just feels right, and better than unwrapping any red bow. The recipe for beignets with a fresh raspberry coulis from The French Cook: Cream Puffs and Eclairs seem to fit the bill nicely for a loving Valentine treat. Hot out of the fryer, they are exquisite with just a dusting of powdered sugar and served on a plate of brilliant red, acid/sweet raspberry coulis.
Recipe adapted from The French Cook: Cream Puffs and Eclairs (Gibbs Smith, March 2013) this post should guide you through the cooking process fuss-free, but if you'd like to see me demonstrate how to make them, I'll be doing so this Sunday at Le Creuset in downtown Charleston, SC. See picture below for details. Book signing to follow. Come on by and bite into a beignet and maybe a book. Happy Valentine's Day.
Beignets with Raspberry Coulis
(Yields 12 Beignets)
4 cups (2 pints) fresh raspberries.
1/3 cup sugar.
Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon grenadine syrup.
2 tablespoons creme de cassis liqueur, optional.
1/4 cup water.
Pinch of sea salt or kosher salt.
Make the sauce first. In a medium saucepan, combine all of the ingredients by stirring with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and then reduce to a steady simmer, stirring until the berries begin to break up, about 5 minutes. Puree with a blender or food processor until smooth and frothy. The sauce can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Sweet Choux Pastry
1 cup water.
3/4 stick (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes.
1/2 cup bread flour.
1/2 cup all-purpose flour.
1 tablespoon sugar.
1/4 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt.
4 large eggs (about 1 cup) room temperature, beaten together.
(Note: Keep in mind that things move fast once the pastry is made. You'll want to keep it warm while you heat up the oil for frying, so only make it once you're able to fully commit to making it from beginning to end. Only minutes are involved before the delicious beignets are ready!)
In a medium, heavy-bottom saucepan, heat the water and butter together over medium-high heat, stirring once or twice to help the butter melt. Once melted, reduce the heat to medium.
Sift together the two flours and salt over a medium bowl. Add the sifted dry ingredients all at once to the water mixture, and set the bowl nearby. Stire the dough vigorously with a wooden spoon to bring it together. Continue stirring, less vigorously, until the pastry pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a uniform ball. Turn the pastry out into the reserved bowl and let sit for about 1 minute, or until the pastry is cool enough to touch comfortably with your fingertip for at least 10 seconds. Add half of the beaten eggs (about 1/2 cup) to the pastry. Stir vigorously until it looks uniform and glossy about 1 minute. Add half of the remaining egg mixture (about 1/4 cup) and continue to stir until the pastry is uniform and glossy, about 1 minute. Repeat with the remaining egg mixture. Reserve the pastry warm while the oil heats.
For Frying and Garnish:
6 cups vegetable, peanut or canola oil.
1/2 cup powdered sugar.
Pour the oil into a high-sided, 2-quart saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat until the oil starts to slither and swirl along the bottom of the pan and begins to make popping noises. This will take about 5 minutes.
The ideal temperature for deep-frying is about 300F. (I recommend using a thermometer). When the oil is hot, begin cooking the beignets in batches of 4 or 5 at a time. Dip an everyday table service soup spoon into cold water. Fill to heaping with choux. Carefully drop the first "test" beignet from the spoon into the hot oil. It should pop to the surface within 30 seconds. (If it doesn't, the oil isn't hot enough. Wait a few more minutes and try again.) Add 3 or 4 additional beignets to the oil in rapid succession. After 4 or 5 minutes, they will start to puff and expand noticeably. Turn each with a spoon from time to time, to brown and cook evenly. Cook 8 to 10 minutes, total, or until airy and golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining beignets. Reserved drained beignets in a warm oven until ready to serve.
Serve the beignets warm, 1 to 2 per plate over a 1/3-cup of the cool sauce. Sprinkle each with a tablespoon or so of powderered sugar. Serve immediately.
Images by Alexandra Defurio