Fat Tuesday traditions tempt with sugar-coated pastries
Mardi Gras, Carnevale, Fat Tuesday – it’s all about the big, wicked party before the 40 long days of goodness, sobriety and sacrifice for the practicing faithful.
Parade through the streets! Down sugary cocktails! Offer incentives for the Mister throwing beads!
Even … fry up some dough.
Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, is a centuries-old tradition of using up all that fat, sugar, butter and other tasty ingredients with the thought to eliminate future temptation. Think of it as the weekend before you start a diet. You try to indulge as much as you can before you cut yourself off from all your favorites.
Fried dough takes many forms within the ethnic traditions of Fat Tuesday — this year taking place on Feb. 28. You will find some of them in local bakeries, coffee shops and restaurants.
The Polish versions is paczki, a raised puffy doughnut that’s filled to bursting with fruit, jelly or cream filling. They are general made from a richer dough than a regular filled doughnut. The Dainty Pastry Shoppe in Latrobe will sell eight flavors of paczki on Shrove Tuesday, then every Friday during Lent.
For Italians, the fried dough is called cenci, which translates to “rags.” These are made from scraps of dough and are akin to funnel cake.
The German variety is fasnacht — “fast night” — a yeast-raised doughnut that’s traditionally cut into squares, fried and tossed in powdered sugar. It’s most popular in Pennsylvania Dutch country. My grandmother — who grew up in a German-American family — made hers with raisins in the mix. After frying, she tossed them in granulated sugar. I still remember munching those sweet brown doughnuts that had to be eaten while warm and fresh. By the next day, they were hard as rocks!
Those doughnuts are not too different from the New Orleans beignet — French for “fritter” — a raised square doughnut covered with lots of powdered sugar. Basic beignets are a little difficult to find locally. But the White Rabbit Café & Patisserie in Greensburg fries up beignets occasionally. You will find them Feb. 27 and 28 in observance of Shrove Tuesday at Oakmont Bakery.
At Nola on the Square, miniature beignets are a regular part of the dessert menu. The pillows of dough are served with ice cream or sorbet. Beignets with Orange Curd have a place on the brunch menu at The Vandal in Lawrenceville. In the Strip District, Eleven’s brunch menu presents beignets with apple puree, maple drizzle and almonds.
Chefs have been experimenting with beignets in more savory ways, too, taking the fritter definition more to heart.
Kaya in the Strip District serves a popular spicy corn and lentil beignet, served with a cool green curry sauce. As part of the North Side Mardi Gras promotion, Penn Brewery is cooking up Penn Marzen Blue Crab Beignets with remoulade sauce.
But why not begin your own Shrove Tuesday tradition and make some at home?
Sally Quinn is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.
To replicate the airy, crisp texture and tangy yeast flavor of these classic New Orleans doughnuts, this Cook’s Country recipe begins by using plenty of yeast and prodding it with warm water and sugar to start developing flavor right off the bat. A super-hydrated dough means lots of steam, which creates an open, honeycombed structure as soon as the beignets hit the hot oil. Since wet dough is tricky to roll out, we let it rise in the refrigerator to firm it up.
This dough is very wet and sticky, so flour the counter and baking sheet generously. You’ll need a Dutch oven with a capacity of at least 6 quarts. Makes about 2 dozen beignets
1 cup water, heated to 110 degrees
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons plus 2 quarts vegetable oil
Combine water, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, and yeast in large bowl and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes. Combine flour, remaining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, and salt in second bowl. Whisk eggs and 2 tablespoons oil into yeast mixture. Add flour mixture and stir vigorously with rubber spatula until dough comes together. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until nearly doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Set wire rack inside rimmed baking sheet. Line second sheet with parchment paper and dust heavily with flour. Place half of dough on well-floured counter and pat into rough rectangle with floured hands, flipping to coat with flour.
Roll dough into ¼-inch-thick rectangle (roughly 12 by 9 inches). Using pizza wheel, cut dough into twelve 3-inch squares and transfer to floured sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.
Add enough of remaining 2 quarts oil to large Dutch oven to measure about 1½ inches deep and heat over medium-high heat to 350 degrees.
Place 6 beignets in oil and fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes, flipping halfway through frying. Adjust burner, if necessary, to maintain oil temperature between 325 and 350 degrees. Using slotted spoon or spider, transfer beignets to prepared wire rack. Return oil to 350 degrees and repeat with remaining beignets. Dust beignets with confectioners’ sugar. Serve immediately.
Blue Crab Beignets
Use the best and freshest crabmeat you can get your hands. The recipe is from La Petite Grocery in New Orleans, and shared by Bon Appetit magazine.
The crab mixture can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and chill.
For the crab mixture:
1⁄2 small shallot, finely chopped
6 ounces fresh blue or other lump crabmeat, picked over
1⁄3 cup mascarpone
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
Combine shallot, crabmeat, mascarpone, and chives in a medium bowl; season with salt. Gently fold to combine. Set aside.
To batter and fry:
Vegetable oil (for frying; about 4 cups)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1⁄3 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt plus more
1 cup amber lager
Pour oil into a large saucepan fitted with a deep-fry thermometer to a depth of 6 inches. Heat oil over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 375 degrees.
Meanwhile, whisk flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Gradually whisk in beer, just to blend (batter will be thick).
Working in batches of about 4 and returning oil to 375 degrees between batches, measure 1 heaping tablespoon crab mixture, roll into a ball, and drop into batter. Using a fork, toss to coat and lift from batter, letting excess drip back into bowl. Carefully lower beignets into oil. Fry, turning occasionally, until crisp and deep golden brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and season with salt.
Sweet Corn Beignets with Bacon-Sugar Dust Recipe
These beignets are best served the day they’re made. The recipe comes from Country Woman magazine.
1 package ( 1⁄4 ounce) active dry yeast
1 cup warm 2-percent milk (110 to 115 degrees)
1 1⁄4 cups fresh or frozen corn, thawed
1⁄4 cup sugar
1⁄4 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 1⁄2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
6 cooked bacon strips
Oil for deep-fat frying
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm milk. Add the corn, sugar, eggs, butter, salt, vanilla and 4 1⁄2 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough (dough will be sticky).
Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine confectioners’ sugar and bacon. Process until combined; set aside.
Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; roll into a 16-inch-by-12-inch rectangle. Cut into 2-inch squares.
In an electric skillet or deep-fat fryer, heat oil to 375°. Fry squares, a few at a time, until golden brown, about 1 1⁄2 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels. Dust with bacon-sugar mixture. Serve warm.
Makes 4 dozen beignets.