New Orleans makes dessert part of its own unique culture

The floor of Cafe DuMonde is never truly clean. But don’t let that discourage you from eating at the popular New Orleans coffee and donut shop.

Part showmanship

The floor of Cafe DuMonde is never truly clean. But don’t let that discourage you from eating at the popular New Orleans coffee and donut shop.

Cleaning the floor in this place is a losing battle.

Tim Horton’s it isn’t, but the line-ups outside could rival the busiest Timmy’s drive-through in Canada — amazing when you consider they only serve one kind of donut.

Café Du Monde specializes in making the official state donut of Louisiana, the beignet (pronounced bey-YAY). A beignet is a square-shaped raised donut brought to New Orleans by French colonists in the 18th century.

Beignets are served hot with a heaping mound of powdered sugar on top making it a real challenge to eat one without spilling just a little bit on the floor.

These donuts have been associated with Mardi Gras in France since the sixteenth century and are a New Orleans specialty at Mardis Gras or any other time of year.

There are plenty of sweet things to enjoy in the Big Easy, but there are at least three desserts that you simply shouldn’t miss — beignets, pralines, and bananas foster.

Each one of these desserts has a history that ties it to the city and makes it a unique reminder of the culture of the people who live there.

So here’s a little food history and a few recipes to help you get a taste of New Orleans even if you aren’t able to travel there.

New Orleans-style Beignets

(Makes 3 dozen)

1 teaspoon plus 1/2 cup sugar, divided

1 envelope active dry yeast

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 cups flour, plus extra for work surface, divided

1 cup whole milk

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large egg, at room temperature

Peanut or vegetable oil for deep-frying

At least 2 cups powdered sugar for dusting

Note: You may add 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom, nutmeg or cinnamon (not traditional, but optional)

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup warm water and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the mixture and stir lightly until the mixture is creamy. Let sit 5 to 6 minutes.

Combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, salt and 3 cups of the flour in a large bowl with a whisk or standing mixer.

Combine the milk and butter in a small saucepan and heat over low heat just until the butter is melted.

Using a dough hook on a standing mixer slowly mix the milk mixture into the sugar-salt-flour mixture. If mixing by hand, stir with a fork or wooden spoon.

Add the egg, the yeast mixture and the remaining 1 cup of flour. Mix until a soft dough forms. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot until the dough doubles in size (about 1 to 2 hours).

Heat about 7.5 cm (3 inches) of oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven until the temperature reaches about 370 degrees.

Divide the dough into thirds. Working in batches on a floured work surface, knead each piece briefly. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a rectangle less than 1 cm thick.

Cut the dough into roughly 3-inch squares and gently drop them, 2 or 3 at a time, into the hot oil. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, until golden brown, then flip them over carefully with a slotted spoon.

Cook 1 to 1 1/2 minutes longer, until the beignets are puffed and evenly browned. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beignets to paper towels to drain off excess oil. Dust thickly with powdered sugar and serve hot or warm.

Pralines Anyone?

In New Orleans, the proper pronunciation of the city’s most popular candy is “prah-lean.” Pralines are made with locally-grown pecans (pronounced peck-ons), brown sugar, butter and cream.

French settlers brought this recipe to New Orleans and for more than a century it has been sold by vendors on the streets and in the best candy shops in the city.

Creamy Pecan Pralines

1 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup heavy cream

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons water

1 cup pecan halves

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the light brown sugar, granulated sugar, heavy cream, butter, and water. Place over a medium-high heat and stir constantly until the pralines reach the softball stage, 238 to 240 degrees F. Add the pecans to the candy, and pull the pan off of the stove. Continue to stir the candy vigorously with a wooden spoon until the candy cools, and the pecans remain suspended in the candy, about 2 minutes. Spoon the pralines out onto a parchment or aluminum foil lined sheet pan and cool completely before serving.

—Recipe courtesy of New Orleans’ chef Emeril Lagasse – Emeril Live – The Food Network – www.foodnetwork.com.

Bananas Foster

In 1951, Brennan’s chef Paul Blange created the recipe for Bananas Foster. It was named for Richard Foster who was then serving as the Chair of the New Orleans Crime Commission and was a frequent customer of the restaurant and a good friend of Owen Brennan, the original owner.

This recipe immediately became an international success and today it is the most requested item on Brennan’s menu. So much so, that the restaurant flambes almost 16,000 kg of bananas annually.

Brennan’s Bananas Foster

1/4 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup banana liquor

4 bananas cut in half lengthwise and then halved

1/4 cup white rum

4 scoops vanilla ice cream

Combine butter, sugar and cinnamon in a flambé pan or skillet. Place the pan over low heat and cook stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the banana liquor and the bananas.

When the banana sections soften and begin to brown, add the rum. Continue to cook the sauce until the rum is hot, then ignite the rum. When the flames subside, lift the bananas out of the pan and place four pieces over each portion of ice cream.

Generously spoon warm sauce over the bananas and ice cream and serve immediately.

—Recipe compliments of Brennan’s Restaurant

Having Coffee with Your Dessert?

Many people enjoy drinking a cup of coffee with their dessert and in New Orleans you have a choice between regular coffee and coffee with chicory.

Coffee with chicory was introduced to North America by way of New Orleans back in the mid-1700s when the French settled along the Mississippi. The French developed a taste for coffee with chicory during the French civil war when coffee was very scarce and people added chicory to coffee to make it last longer.

Chicory is actually the root of the endive plant, a type of lettuce. When the root of the plant is roasted and ground up it is called chicory. When it is added to dark roast coffee it is said to soften the bitter edge of the drink.

Coffee with chicory is traditionally served Au Lait, meaning it is mixed half and half with warm milk.

To find out more about coffee and chicory or to order some over the Internet, visit: www.cafedumonde.com.

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story that we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.

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