In the mix: Calling up ‘The Big Easy’ from a box

Each year, I’m determined to get at least a little closer to visiting New Orleans, if only via a Crayola-yellow box and 48 ounces of hot cooking oil.

We’re talking beignets here, those puffy little squarish French doughnuts made famous by Cafe Du Monde, the French Quarter landmark coffee stand that has been for decades serving them up hot and fresh and buried under drifts of powdered sugar.

A few weeks ago, I was treated to fresh beignets and chicory coffee (also a Du Monde tradition) at The Workshop , a local eatery specializing in Cajun cuisine, including beignets that are pumped out by the basketfuls on Saturday mornings only. My lips still dusty with sweetness from that experience, I recalled that Cafe Du Monde has for a long time sold a beignet mix to make your own at home.

I decided to feature a test of the mix here. Actually, this test would not really be a first-time thing. Years ago, I purchased some of the same beignet mix for my mom, and we made the beignets together. We were astounded at the ease of the whole experience — mixing and rolling a very amenable dough we cut into nicely irregular little squares and rectangles that were promptly fried off and enjoyed with an enthusiastic round of crunchy/chewy “mmmmmmm”’s.

I was already pretty certain the mix had maintained its quality results. Still, to be sure, one must press forth in the interest of recipe and mix testing! The mix can sometimes be found in stores (like World Market and some supermarkets), particularly close to Mardis Gras time, but I ordered a special beignet mix/chicory coffee bundle through Amazon.

You know those mixes where you must add an additional $10 worth of ingredients (I once made a carrot cake mix where I brought everything to the table, including carrots and cream cheese. I might as well have made it from scratch)? Cafe Du Mode Beignet Mix does not fall into that category. Outside of the cooking oil you fry the doughnuts in, the beignets are made by adding a mere 7 ounces of water to two cups of mix. That’s it.

This forms a very soft dough, slightly sticky, but still easy to work with when dusted with flour. The dough is rolled out thin, and I used a pizza cutter to cut into 2-1/2- to 3-inch pieces.

Working in batches of seven or so at a time, I fried the beignets in a deep skillet filled with about two inches of oil heated to 270 degrees. The little doughnuts turn golden brown fairly quickly.

I ended up with a nice batch of these beauties, the air heavy with that unmistakeable and oddly irresistible odor of fried dough (whee). I nibbled one before dusting with powdered sugar…crunchy, chewy and yummy just naked.

But, as is tradition, the snowy drifting of powdered sugar makes a beignet a beignet. I took a lighter approach than the versions I’ve been served (I once tapped off a lot of excess sugar on a pile of doughnuts as “Wild Bill’s Beignets and Bikes” in Nashvile). I enjoyed the treat of these little doughnuts with their wispy coating of sweetness, a nudge that I needed to make travel plans, soon.

How much dough: $4.50 to $7, in select stores and through mail-order venues, such as Amazon and Target. Each batch makes about two dozen beignets (two batches per box).

Cook/Baker level: Beginner to intermediate (kids can certainly mix, roll out and cut beignets, but adults should do the frying).

Oven-worthy: Worth a quart of canola oil!

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