Oct 28, 2008


There are several versions of doughnuts in Louisiana. Of course, there are the standard round things with a hole in the middle, encased in a sugary glaze. But then there are my favorite--beignets. Little deep-fried pillows of heavenly goodness, sprinkled with powdered sugar as if from a magic doughnut fairy. If you ever find yourself in New Orleans, please go to Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter and order some beignets. Hmmm...beignets.

There are lesser known versions of doughnuts too. Little treats that are fritter-like, made from a few simple ingredients, but packing huge delight.

Calas (KUH-la) are deep-fried rice fritters that have a practical spin...they require leftover rice. We eat a lot of rice here. This past week, we ate rice with dinner almost every night (so much for my meal planning skills). In my defense, I'm surrounded by rice fields. Anyway, we eat a lot of rice but we don't eat it all...there's bound to be some leftover. What do you do with it?

I recently attended a food demo given by Poppy Tooker, who promotes the Slow Food Movement and Eat It To Save It. If you watch Throwdown with Bobby Flay, you may have seen her kick ass during a gumbo challenge. One of Poppy's passions is to preserve the Creole tradition of making Calas. I had heard the word and basically knew what they were, but had never tasted them. They weren't being made anymore. These fritters, consisting of rice, flour, egg, sugar and a few other simple items, were sold on the streets of the French Quarter in the 1800s. Here's where the story gets interesting and hooked me. According to Poppy Tooker, Slaves could purchase their freedom if they had the funds. Slaves had one day a week off, which they often used to make and sell calas. The money they earned bought them their freedom. Calas are a food made of simple ingredients with a powerful, life-changing history. Through the efforts of Poppy Tooker, these little treats are showing up all over New Orleans.
Another South LA doughnut variation is the Cajun take on beignets...
croquignoles (croaks-in-yoal). Croquignoles are similar to beignets in that they are cut into rectangles or triangles, however I think this is where the similarities end. Beignets are light and airy, being hollow inside. Croquignoles are dense, almost like a tea cake or scone. I prefer both the texture and taste of beignets, but I will admit that croquignoles can be made much faster. Beignets are made from a yeast dough which is chilled overnight, while the Cajun croquignoles have no yeast and require no down-time.

Several old timers have said that croquignoles were a coveted after school snack, although most cookbooks list them as a breakfast item. Originally croquignoles were fried in hog lard (hey, don't judge...that's what they had). A few people have mentioned that they remember their mothers or grandmothers dropping the dough by tablespoons into the oil, but most recipes I've come across call for rolling out the dough. I tried the drop method and found that the outside gets too brown before the inside is cooked.


from Poppy Tooker (basic version)

vegetable oil for frying
2 c cooked rice (best if cooked ahead of time and cooled)
6 heaping Tbsp flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 c sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
confectioner's sugar

Begin heating your oil to 360 degrees.

Combine rice, flour, and baking powder in a bowl. Mix in sugar. Mix in vanilla. Add eggs to bind the ingredients and mix well. It will form a nice tight batter. carefully drop rice mixture by spoonfuls into hot oil and fry until golden brown. Remove from oil with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and serve hot.

Mis en place for the calas. Make me proud and get it ready, ya'll!
Use rice that has been cooked previously and chilled for best results. This is an easy batter and fast to put together.

Make sure your oil is hot enough before adding the batter. If you don't have a deep fryer, use a thermometer or test the oil by adding a small bit of batter. If the batter bubbles, it's ready to go. If it just sits there, the oil is not hot enough. Be careful when adding the batter..don't just throw it in! Use two spoons or an ice cream scoop.

Fry until nice and golden brown all over. Turn them over part way through. Nice!

Dust with confectioner's sugar. I like to use a small sieve. Works great. Now go pour some coffee and eat 'em before they get cold, baby.

from Ms. enPlace
oil for frying
3 eggs
1/2 c sugar
1 Tbsp butter, melted
2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
3 to 3 1/2 c flour
confectioner's sugar

Heat oil to 350 degrees.
Beat eggs. Add sugar, melted butter, water, and vanilla. Mix well. Sift baking powder and flour together. Add to egg mixture. Roll out dough to about 1/8" on a floured surface. Cut into triangles or rectangles (pizza cutter works well). Carefully place in hot oil, being careful not to crowd. Fry until golden brown on both sides (turn halfway through). Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with confectioner's sugar. Serve.

Mis en place for croquignoles. Don't get started without it!
Beat the eggs, then add the liquid ingredients and mix well. Sift the flour and baking powder, then add to the egg mixture. You may not need all of the flour. Use 3 cups first, mix it in, then sift more if needed.

After mixing the dough (You know, sometimes hands work the best. Don't worry, they're washable), place on a floured surface and roll out. Cut into triangles or rectangles. A pizza cutter works great.

Carefully place in hot oil (don't forget to test it first), fry until golden brown on both sides.

Dust with confectioner's sugar and serve right away.

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