The Secrets Behind Cafe du Monde’s Beignets
What do you think about when someone says New Orleans? Incredible food, jazz music, Mardi Gras, and beignets are a few things that come to my mind when talking about the Crescent City. If you have never been, then you are missing out on one of the most fascinating cities in the country. New Orleans has a vibe all its own and you need to add this travel destination to your bucket list.
I have been fortunate to travel to New Orleans a number of times in my life. This city is captivating, magical, and unique with its merging cultures, multilingual heritage, and stunning French Creole architecture. What stands out most to me, however, is the city’s vibrant food traditions.
“Food doesn’t travel well” is certainly true of New Orleans. Feasting on gumbo, eating a Mufaletta, or sucking the heads and eating the tails of crawdads does not translate well from Bourbon Street to Main Street in any other part of the country. There is a rhythm, a soul, a lot of heat and spice, and a bit of mystery in New Orleans that captures your heart and teases your palate. It beckons you to return again and again.
While I have made many traditional New Orleans recipes at home and have been pleased with the outcome, beignets at Cafe du Monde are one of those foods that is best enjoyed in New Orleans. Sitting in the bustling cafe, early in the morning, as the city recovers from the all night festivities while the fog rolls in along Lake Ponchartrain, cannot be transplanted to anywhere else. Sipping a stout chicory coffee, watching the servers hustle plates filled with powdery sugar dusted hot beignets, is one of the quintessential moments that I associate with New Orleans. This experience has been enjoyed by many generations as this is the 150th year of Cafe du Monde’s rich history.
During our recent trip to the city, we were invited on a behind the scenes look at the process of making beignets at Cafe du Monde. Beignet is actually the French word for a fritter or doughnut. While we were hoping to learn all of the secrets to making these famous fried French fritters and were given many great tips, not all of Cafe du Monde’s secrets are to be shared, otherwise they wouldn’t be secrets. However, they did share a few details with us.
One of the most critical steps to making perfectly crisp and light beignets is to be sure the oil is very hot (at least 380 degrees) and that it remains hot throughout the cooking process. If it isn’t, the beignets absorb too much oil and the powdered sugar melts when served and the beignet is greasy, sticky, and a hot, sweet mess of soggy dough. Cafe du Monde fries their beignets in cottonseed oil, even though most recipes call for vegetable oil. They have tried other oils but always return to cottonseed oil as it produces the best results. Cottonseed oil has a high smoke point of 420 degrees, which allows them to keep the oil extremely hot.
Another tip for making superior beignets is that you don’t want to overwork the dough or the beignet will become tough. A yeast dough will produce a lighter and sweeter beignet than a basic white flour dough, which many recipes recommend. Cafe du Monde uses multiple flours in their mix, including rye flour, and they aren’t willing to share the exact mix and proportions in their recipe. You might try your own combination at home to see if you can unlock that secret.
After making the dough, let it rest in the refrigerator at least 16 hours before rolling and cutting. Cafe du Monde suggests using a cast iron skillet to fry the beignets, but they use deep fat fryers, so if you have a fryer, use it. The beignets will float to the surface of the oil as they cook. Be sure to turn the beignets over while cooking to ensure an even golden brown exterior and keep the oil very hot in the process.
When they are properly prepared, beignets are one of the best foods on Earth. These light, puffy pillows that were born of a French doughnut make a perfect morning accompaniment to coffee or are an ideal afternoon dessert while taking a break from touring the city. Some late night revelers satisfy their sweet cravings after an evening on Bourbon Street at the location by the French Market that is open 24 hours a day. No matter when you go, a visit to Cafe du Monde epitomizes the New Orleans experience.
Mardi Gras is in full swing and Fat Tuesday is February 12, 2013. If you are able to travel to New Orleans for the festivities, you should do so. A visit to this amazing city will thrill and fascinate and will create memories that last a lifetime. What goes on in New Orleans should stay in New Orleans, especially the food. 😉
If you want to try Cafe du Monde’s beignets, then I suggest you go to the original location at 800 Decatur Street by the French Market. We have never found a recipe, nor been able to create one, that rivals the luscious, sweet, crispy puffed, and powdery sugared goodness of Cafe du Monde’s beignets.
If you can’t make the trip, then purchase a box of Cafe du Monde’s beignet mix that is sold in many local stores or from their online shop. It’s the next best thing to being there.
Here are some additional recipes and articles about the city to pique your interest until you can travel to New Orleans:
Le Pavillon Hotel – No stay at this hotel would be complete without a ghost story or two and a nightcap of PB&J
The sights and sounds of Bourbon Street at night and a recipe for Creole Jambalaya
A traditional New Orleans cocktail – the original Sazerac made at the Sazerac Bar in The Roosevelt Hotel
An interview with one of the oldest names associated with food in New Orleans, Ralph Brennan, and a recipe for his famous Chocolate Bread Pudding
An interview with Chef John Besh at Restaurant August
City Park in New Orleans – a look at the quieter side of the city
The International Food Blogger’s Conference (IFBC) in New Orleans – August 2011
I have tried that mix…it’s pretty good but I want to try the real thing!! I have been dreaming of visiting NO forever, we need to make a trip there soon!
You definitely need to go to New Orleans! There is nothing quite like enjoying beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde. You need to experience it at least once in your lifetime and I promise, these beignets will be nothing like that mix. While the beignets from that box are good (and we have tried them), it’s the atmosphere and the vibe of the city that makes a trip to Cafe du Monde so special. Here’s hoping to a visit to the Crescent City in 2014!
Oh how I dream of one day eating one!
I hope you can travel to New Orleans some day soon to have a beignet. 🙂
I had my first experience in New Orleans a few weeks ago. The atmosphere and people are like no other city I have ever been too! Cafe du Monde beignets are fantastic. You will see things on Bourbon St. you never could have imagined.
Yes indeed, Bourbon Street offers many sights that will never been seen any other place in the country. We have a few of those photos in one of the posts I mentioned. 😉 Everyone needs to visit New Orleans at least once. It is truly a unique city, as you have discovered.
On another note, how about making those beignets in Louisville?! That could be a winner!
I’m going to New Orleans in three weeks! I HAVE to go to Cafe du Monde – the beignets look fabulous!!
Yes, you definitely need to stop by Cafe du Monde while you are in New Orleans. That is one of the classic places to visit.
Have fun! It is an incredible town.
one of the many ‘must dos’ on any trip to NOLA – we use to go over at least once a month but now at best just a couple of times a year… such a shame since we live only a few hours away… One thing I found particularly interesting is the servers have to do all the work… Enjoyed the read… Take care Gwen
We would love to meet up in New Orleans sometime in the future and have beignets or gumbo. I know you get there more often than we do, but it would be fun to finally get together over great food.
A trip to New Orleans has never been so enticing! I love the idea of someday being able to have a warm crusty beignet. Someday….
Please let me know when you decide to go and maybe we will meet you there! 🙂
I think it is so funny that you post this on my birthday since I actually ate these beignets at Café du Monde with you! Fabulous write up and lucky you for getting to go in the kitchen and watch.
Yes, that was timely. This trip into their kitchen was on another visit to New Orleans, but I think one of the photos was from the time were there together. We must do it again one day!
I made the beignets from Dam Good Sweet written by chef David Guas and Raquel Pelzel. They were just like the ones at Cafe du Monde. BTW, every recipe I’ve made from the book has been terrific.
Thank you for your comment. I will have to take a further look at Chef Guas’ cookbook beyond the beignet recipe. His flour mixture is a little different from what Cafe du Monde told us. They actually use a blend of flours, while his is just bread flour with buttermilk. He also fries the beignets in peanut oil and Cafe du Monde uses cottonseed oil. I am sure Guas’ beignets are excellent although they are different. How can fried dough with powdered sugar (when cooked properly) be anything less than great?! 😉
My friend brought me a box of the beignet mix, but I look forward to trying the real thing this week!
I found your blog entry very interesting and fun to read. I made beignets last night and they came out great. I too used different flours because I like to experiment. I refrigerated the dough I didn’t use ,so hopefully they’ll taste even better when I make some for breakfast this morning!
Thank you for your comment. I’m happy to hear that you had success with your beignets and hopefully, they were even better the next morning.
I guess I am spoiled! Grew up in Slidell, which is about a 20 minute drive from New Orleans. Driving to the Cafe Du Monde was a special outing for us. I have many fond memories of eating them along with a carton of cold chocolate milk!
Yes, you are very lucky. We dream of the beignets at Cafe du Monde many mornings, but 7-8 hours is just a bit too far to venture for our cravings. 🙁
Just got back and it’s true – the beignets are spectacular! Right down from Jackson Square and next to the river, Cafe Du Monde was packed and we had a wonderful afternoon break hanging out and people watching.
So glad you enjoyed them and yes, Cafe du Monde is a great place for people watching. 🙂
This past weekend I went to New Orleans for the first time and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and encourage anyone who has the opportunity to visit and definitely visit the french quarts there are so many interesting things there and it is just so much fun
I love NO. Went there several years ago and would love to go back but can no longer travel. What a great city! One of a kind and the music !!!!!
Nice write-up on Gwen. As a native Texan who fell in love with and persuaded to relocate to the greater NO area for a 1/2 a decade by a raven-haired “Cajun Queen” in my late 20’s, 3 distinct foods engrained themselves in my medulla oblongata.
1) BBQ Shrimp from Deanie’s Seafood on the Lakefront.
2) Boiled crawfish, served by the muli-pound to your table, in either those round logoed drink trays. 1 full of the “bugs”, and a second to use for the discards. Or the oblong cardboard trays, cases of beer or softdrinks come in.
3) Café au lait and “fried dough” (as my love called ’em), from Morning Call Coffee, the predecessor of Cafe Du Monde.
Morning Call was roughly 5 mins from our house, in an area ironically called “Fat City”, directly across from a muli-plex theater. It took me quite awhile to wrap my head around, a “restaurant” that was opened 24/7/365, w/ a menu that consisted of essentially TWO items.
Thank you. Yes, NOLA has an awesome food culture. I wish we could visit more frequently to get a fix of some of the things you mentioned. 🙂
I just come across your blog and being a native of New Orleans, Louisiana I was thrilled. I am going back in July. I read everything on your site. I loved the Paris trip. Now I want to comment on your Beignets. For me, don’t even bother with the boxed mix. It isn’t even close to the real thing. I love New Orleans and your article made me even more homesick. Where you really need to go is a little off the beaten path and then you will know what I am taking about. Thanks for sharing!
I live in New Orleans. I have beignets almost every Saturday morning. They are the best things ever! Mardi Gras is so fun, too. My favorite part is the dancers. Crawfish is so good! I love to suck the heads!
This morning I spilled my coffee at Cafe du Monde, but a lot of the people that worked there came out with napkins and cleaned it all of it up. So what I am trying to say is Cafe du Monde has great service.
Though I live in New Orleans and know a lot about beignets, but now I know even more because my son is doing a project on beignets!
I’ve gorged on beignets for 75 years beginning age 6 . Morning Call was the favorite at that time with large sterling silver sugar bowls , counter stools all inside about a block away from Cafe Du Monde . Several movies used the setting . Morning Call is now in Metarie. The founder of Du Monde had been a family friend . We lived two doors from the now Pat O’Brians two doors from Bourbon St. . Fish covering tons of ice on Decatur didn’t slack our desire for Beignets . Those never experiencing this N.O. Delight are losing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures. Sit , eat beignets , drink chicory , wait awhile and do it over n over. Initially 15 cents for three when oysters were 50 cents a doz at Felixs prices have increased but flavor has not deminished . Bon Appetite .
Thank you for your comment. Yes, New Orleans foods and the whole experience are not to be missed. Fortunately, I will be traveling there for a brief visit next month and can’t wait. The first place I’m heading to is Cafe du Monde!
I’m looking forward to making beignets! Has anyone whose eaten them in New Orleans come up with a flour mixture which produces Cafe du Monde beignet results? What quantities of each? My friends RAVE about those beignets! They want to go back just for those.
Unfortunately, we have not found a recipe that resembles the beignets at Cafe du Monde. They sell a packaged mix that is good, but they use a mixture of flours and keep the actual recipe a secret. There are good beignet recipes, but they’re not quite like theirs. We’ve not experimented enough on our own to see if we could come close (we don’t need to eat that many beignets!).
It’s worth the trip to have them at the original Cafe du Monde. Part of it may be the whole experience, but they really are the best we’ve ever had.
I have a possible recipe that might be close to what you find at Cafe du Monde. It is the Paul Prudhomme recipe for Croquesignoles. I know that there are a few little difference between the two recipes; for example Prudhomme only uses AP flour, while Cafe du Monde uses a mixture of flours (including barley). However, both use yeast and chemical leavening agents, which is rare to find.
Recipe makes about 2 dozen croquesignoles.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 large egg
1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon dry yeast
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾ cup cane syrup
¼ cup evaporated milk
3 cups all-purpose flour, in all
In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, egg, baking powder, yeast, vanilla, salt, ground cloves, and nutmeg; beat on medium speed a few seconds until well blended, pushing sides down with a rubber spatula. Add the syrup and milk; beat about 2 minutes, pushing sides down as needed. Add 2¼ cups of the flour, half at a time, beating a few seconds on low speed until all the flour is mixed in; then increase speed to high and beat about 1 minute more.
Spoon the dough onto a flat surface floured with ½ cup of the flour. Flour your hands and knead dough fairly gently for about 1 minute. Add the remaining ¼ cup flour and knead about 1 minute more. Lightly flour board again, if necessary, then roll dough into a rectangular shape about ⅜ inch thick. Cut into rectangles 2 inches by 2½ inches. Score each rectangle twice, making each cut about 1 inch long.
Heat 1 inch of oil in a deep skillet or deep fryer to 375°. Carefully slide a single layer of the dough rectangles into the hot oil and fry until dark golden brown on both sides and cooked in the centers, about 4 minutes, turning at least once with a spatula. Do not crowd. (Adjust heat to maintain oil’s temperature as close to 375° as possible.) Drain on paper towels. NOTE: If you prefer a crispier doughnut, fry at 350° for about 4 minutes; to get a cookie effect, fry at 300° for about 13 minutes.
A few notes…
Cafe du Monde suggests that beignets be fried in oil at 380′ using cottonseed oli. They also suggest letting the dough rest for at least 16 hours before using it.
Thank you for your comment, tips, and recipe. I hope someone will make the recipe and leave a comment letting us know how they think it compares to the beignets at Cafe du Monde. 🙂
I could stay all day!
Chicory Coffee and two perfect beignets (maybe three)…