These delicious pastry squares topped with powdered sugar can trace their origins to the French Colonial period of New Orleans. During War Between the States, supply shortages made this simple pastry a welcome treat at all levels of society and eventually became a symbol of the New Orleans French Quarter.
Now you can enjoy beignets in your own home while concluding an all-night celebration, or in the early morning when, with a little imagination, you can picture yourself in a French Quarter sidewalk cafe.
The Beginning of Beignets
In 1863, as the Civil War was coming to a close, a simple coffee house opened near the New Orleans’ open market, presently the French Market. This coffee house served up strong coffee (some say it was purposely made extra strong to dissuade the unaccustomed palates of the unwelcome Union military) and its soon to be famous beignets – fried squares of pastry generously topped with powdered sugar.
These simple pastries originated with the Acadian French that first settled South Louisiana, but because of war shortages they became a welcome treat for all social classes at all hours of the day. More often than not, the beignets were enjoyed with New Orleans style café au lait (double strength dark roast coffee and chicory, served with steamed milk). As this tradition continued to grow in the century that followed, beignets served with strong coffee and chicory soon became the symbol of New Orleans and the French Quarter.
Today New Orleans’ locals refer to beignets simply as doughnuts. When you hear a native talking about “going for coffee and doughnuts” he or she is not referring to a trip to a Dunkin Donuts but to a tradition unique to the Crescent City that began over one hundred years ago.