There are so many terms for fried dough – doughnuts, malasadas, fritters, zeppole, churros, loukoumades, Berliner, youtiao, gulab jamun….the list goes on and on. It would be hard to find another food item that is so culturally universal. They all share the same basic characteristics – they are fried and made of some type of dough. Some are savory. Most are sweet. Some are both savory and sweet.
But some may argue that the king of all doughnuts is the beignet. Because it is made from choux pastry dough, it results in a light fluffy treat that is at the same time rich and rewarding. The butter and the eggs really differentiate it from other doughnuts. And of course, the epicenter of the beignet is in New Orleans at Cafe du Monde.
If you haven’t ever had a really good beignet, it sort of puffs out as it gets deep fried. The center is usually hollow, which is also a characteristic of choux dough as it cooks (hence the term cream puffs). This is due to the water in the butter that is mixed into the dough forming pockets of steam. Because something is hollow, doesn’t necessarily mean that you are getting a raw deal. I have had really bad beignets where there is no puffing out and it result in a thick mealy type of doughnut that is not pleasurable to eat at all.
The Beignets at Cafe du Monde are covered with mountains of powdered sugar. It is hard to eat them without looking like you just partied with Robert Downey Jr in the 80’s. Inevitably, you will be coughing as some of that powder will end up in your respiratory tract.
And to complete the experience, a cup of strong black chicory coffee is a must. Chicory coffee is actually an adulteration of pure coffee. It’s like adding water to your shampoo bottle to make it last longer. Originally, coffee was hard to come by for the early French settlers. So they would add chicory, which was cheaper and readily available. It is the roasted root of the endive plant. Yup, the same stuff in your salad.
Chicory adds an level of depth to the flavor of the coffee. It is one of those things where people love it or hate it. Fans of it proclaim that it gives a deeper chocolate flavor to the coffee while making it less bitter. Haters note a more earthy, watered down coffee with flavor notes of tilled soil or motor oil. But most will agree that chicory coffee is does become more palatable when enjoyed as Cafe au Lait (translation: coffee with milk), which is prepared with 1/2 chicory coffee and 1/2 milk.
Any trip to New Orleans will mean that you will eventually end up here at some point. The lines and wait can get ridiculous. But the good thing is that Cafe du Monde is open 24 hours and lines are pretty non-existent from 1100 pm to 700 am. Then you have to deal with other sorts of craziness like drunks and aggressive pan-handlers.
Bill total = 2 orders of beignets (6), 2 drinks, tax, tip = about $10 (about $5 per person)