Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bite-size Beignets with Gruyère, Fennel & Piment d'espelette

These beignets are based on the French dough, pâte á choux. It’s the same dough used for profiteroles or éclairs. A very simple method which produces impressive results.

Beignets may be rolled out and cut then fried, however in this recipe the beignet dough is shaped with a spoon or a scoop, then dropped into hot oil to cook. You can also pipe them onto a baking sheet, brush with an egg wash and bake them.

Rather than the traditional sweet version, this time I added shredded Gruyère cheese, minced fennel bulb which I sweated in a little butter, and toasted fennel seeds to the dough, then fried them and sprinkled with the highly fragrant and spicy Piment d'espelette. Cayenne, or another ground red pepper could be substituted as well.

Please don't allow the length of this recipe to dissuade you from making them ~ they actually go together quite quickly.

I like to form the little balls with a very small food scoop (about 1-inch in diameter). This way the puffs cook quickly and perfectly, the exterior is crispy, crunchy, and the interior is moist and just cooked through. They are best best eaten immediately after cooking, which is a good thing because it is an effort in futility to resist these little morsels, as they drain on paper towels!

However, you can keep them for a short time by placing them on a pan, in a warm (200* F) oven for up to a half an hour.

Bite-size Beignets with Gruyère and Fennel
This recipe is easily doubled or tripled. The recipe as listed makes a generous serving for 3 to 4 people as an appetizer, or accompaniment with soups or salads.

You can blend this dough by hand, but I use an electric hand-held mixer.

Initial prep:

Line a shallow metal pan with paper towels, or brown paper. Set aside.

1/4 cup water
2 ounces butter (1/4 stick), plus a teaspoon for sweating the minced fennel bulb
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1/3 cup grated Gruyère or other firm cheese
2 to 3 tablespoons minced fresh fennel bulb
1 to 2 teaspoons toasted fennel seeds
Vegetable oil for frying, I use canola oil
Piment d'espelette, Cayenne or other finely ground hot pepper for sprinkling


Toast fennel seeds in a pan over medium heat for a few moments until they release their fragrance. Remove to a dish and allow to cool.

In the same pan melt the butter and saute the minced fennel bulb. Add a tablespoon of water, stir and allow the fennel to sweat and become tender. Remove to a dish and cool, set aside.

For the dough:

Bring the water, butter and salt to a boil in a small saucepan.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the flour, stirring well until mixture is combined.

Return the pan to medium high heat and stir, or beat with hand held electric beater until batter pulls away from the side of the pan. Continue beating until the dough cools slightly for about a minute.

On low speed, add 1/3 of the beaten egg. After each portion of egg is added continue to beat until the egg is incorporated. (You can also beat by hand.)

Add the grated cheese and cooled fennel and fennel seeds. Beat well to combine and distribute additional ingredients evenly.

Either heat oil in an electric fryer, or heat oil in a deep heavy pot, stove top (only fill pot half full with oil). Heat oil to 365 to 370* (F) using a frying thermometer.
Drop scant teaspoon size portions of dough/batter into the hot oil very carefully. Only cook about 6 at a time or the oil will not retain temperature and beignets will be heavy and oily.

The dough will drop to the bottom of the pan then immediately rise and float during cooking. Turn occasionally with a slotted spoon, chopstick or wire ladle.

When the beignets are golden brown and puffed, remove from oil and place on paper towels to drain. Sprinkle sparingly with Piment d'espelette or other finely ground hot pepper powder if desired.
Best eaten immediately, so serve right away, but be careful. The interiors will be VERY hot.

If not eaten right after cooking, place in preheated 200* (F) oven, in a single layer and not touching each other, for up to a half an hour.

Serve on a plate, in paper cones, or in a pretty napkin-lined basket.

Beware, these are irresistible ~ I hope you enjoy!

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