A wonderful starter for a holiday dinner are beignets, the light and airy morsels of bake dough that can be stuffed with a variety of fillings. They’re easy to make and perfect to serve when family and guests are arriving and milling around having their wine, beer, or eggnog. The beignets themselves can be made early in the morning for serving later.
Basic Beignet Dough for Baking
In French, this kind of beignet dough is called pâte à choux or pâte à beignets soufflés or, more colorfully, pets-de-nonne, nun’s farts, and is made with flour and butter stirred into boiling water, with eggs then being incorporated one at a time. It is an ordinary cream puff pastry, the same kind used for making cream puffs and eclairs. Beignets are popular elsewhere in the Mediterranean too, such as Italy where pastella per bignè can also be called pasta reale. In Greece beignet dough is called sou. There are two kinds of beignet dough, one for baking (this one) and the other used for deep-frying.
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
6 large eggs
Freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
1. Put the milk, butter, and salt in a large, heavy saucepan and turn the heat to medium-high. Once the butter has melted, add all the flour all at once. Stir with a wooden spoon until it creates a dough, pulls away from the sides of the saucepan easily, and the butter begins to ooze a little, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
3. Beat the eggs into the flour mixture, one at a time, beating vigorously with a fork and making sure each egg is absorbed and the dough is smooth before you add the next one. Sprinkle with nutmeg, if desired.
4. Butter a baking sheet and, using a tablespoon, drop large tablespoonfuls of the dough in rows on the sheet 1 1/2 inches apart. Each droplet of dough should be about an inch in diameter for smalls ones and 2 inches for medium-size ones. Bake until golden brown, 22 to 25 minutes. Do not be tempted to peek in the oven, and if you simply must, crack the oven door slowly open, otherwise, the puffs may collapse. They will look and seem done at 20 minutes, but they are not; continue to bake until they are firm when pressed down on top with your finger, another 2 to 5 minutes.
Makes 30 medium-size or 60 small beignets
Beignets with Smoked Salmon Mousse
This French hors d’oeuvre called beignets de mousse de saumon fumé is rich and elegant and will please any guest. It sounds difficult to make but it is not at all. It is unlikely you will need to salt anything because the smoked salmon will be salty enough, but taste the final mousse mixture to be sure before stuffing them into the beignets.
1 recipe Basic Beignet Dough for Baking (see above)
3 ounces smoked salmon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup shrimp stock
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Cognac
1/4 cup heavy cream, whipped to form firm peaks
Salt to taste (optional)
1. Prepare the beignet dough and bake them according to the instructions above.
2. In a food processor, puree the salmon, butter, cayenne, and nutmeg together until very crumbly. Transfer to a medium-size bowl and set aside.
3. In a small saucepan, soften the gelatin in the shrimp stock and dissolve over low heat. Let cool. Add to the salmon mixture, along with the lemon juice and Cognac.
4. Fold the whipped cream into the salmon mixture until well blended, check for salt, then stuff into the beignets and serve or hold in the refrigerator up to 4 hours until ready to serve. Serve at room temperature or a little cooler.
Makes 50 to 60 beignets