Baked Beignets

New Orleans is famous for a lot of reasons. The culture, history, food and celebrations all make New Orleans a distinct and unique place like no other. Many popular food dishes have originated in New Orleans. New Orleans is known for creole and French inspired food. One of the most popular food items to originate in New Orleans is the ever so delicious Beignet.

The word Beignet is a French term loosely meaning deep fried pastry fritter. They are somewhat similar to a doughnut and are generally served for breakfast with a hot cup of Chicory coffee. Traditionally, they are made fresh, served warm and dusted with powdered sugar. Most (myself included) would consider beignets little pillows of heaven.   Since the traditional Beignet recipe contains shortening or butter and is deep fried in oil, it is far from being considered a healthy breakfast or dessert option. By all accounts, though, they are a special treat and if you have never tried an authentic beignet you must put it on your bucket list of things to have at least once.

As you can see from my other recipes I am a fan of taking something that is not considered healthy and trying to recreate it so that it is healthy (or at least healthier). Beignets have always been on my list of things I wanted to recreate and since this week is Mardi Gras I figured what better time than now to do so.  The resulting baked beignet is sweet, fluffy and very tasty.  Granted it is very hard to match the unmistakable qualities of a deep fried food, but this baked beignet is a very good healthy alternative that still allows you to have the beignet taste without all the guilt.

The traditional Beignet is deep fried in oil.  Deep frying anything in oil is generally considered a less then healthy way to cook something.  Knowing that my healthy Beignet could not be deep fried, I had to think of an alternative cooking method. Really the only other option was the bake the Beignet instead of deep frying it. I decided to test out a round of various dough combinations to see if I could accomplish a healthier, baked Beignet.

The traditional Beignet recipe uses shortening or butter, along with sugar, whole eggs, flour, salt, yeast, milk and water. While most of these ingredients are okay, I wanted to replace the ones that were not. The traditional beignet has a yeast dough base.   Creating a yeast dough can be very time consuming, so make sure you have the allotted time to devote to this recipe and its steps. Traditionally, to activate the yeast you need warm water, and according to most, sugar. Sugar is said to feed the yeast while they bathe in the warm water. Since I am not a fan of sugar, I wanted to be able to find an alternative way to activate the yeast without the use of sugar. I have successfully used unsweetened applesauce, to activate the yeast, in my other yeast dough recipes so I figured it should work in my baked beignet recipe.

Since a traditional Beignet has a rich, yet crispy, fluffy dough. I wanted to be able to keep this same dough texture in my baked Beignet version. I knew that if I replaced the butter with my traditional go to replacement, unsweetened applesauce, the dough would not have the same crispness I was looking for. While unsweetened applesauce is a great ingredient to use, I decided I needed something that would act more like a true oil. My first thought was to use coconut oil. Coconut oil is a great, healthy oil to use in a variety of recipes. I figured since coconut oil is an actual oil it would give the Beignet dough a consistency that was more in line with a traditional Beignet dough.

Whole eggs are used in a traditional Beignet recipe. While eggs are great (I have them every day), by just using the egg white instead of the whole egg you can reduce the amount of fat, calories and cholesterol in the beignet. Egg whites provide the same ingredient binding and fluffing properties that the whole egg would produce.

The last ingredient for me to tackle was the granulated white sugar. My go to sugar replacement is pure Stevia extract. If you do not like pure Stevia extract than you can use cane sugar or coconut sugar. Cane sugar and coconut sugar are far better options over granulated white sugar.

The recipe below creates about 10 to 12 beignet (depending on how thick you make the dough). Please note that creating a yeast dough from scratch is a time consuming process. Make sure you allot a good amount of time for the prep work.

Baked Beignets

1/4 cup lukewarm water (between 100 and 110 degrees)

1 egg white

1 (0.25) envelope of active dry yeast (store leftover yeast in refrigerator)

1/4 teaspoon pure Stevia extract (or 1/2 cup cane sugar or coconut sugar)

3/4 teaspoon salt

3 cups unbleached bread flour

1/2 cup evaporated fat free milk

4 tablespoons coconut oil (softened only slightly in microwave)

1 tablespoon unsweetened applesauce

3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

In a medium sized bowl, mix lukewarm water, unsweetened applesauce and yeast. Allow the yeast mixture to rest for about 10 minutes. Yeast mixture will become milky and somewhat frothy.

In another medium sized bowl mix egg whites, salt and fat free evaporated milk together. Mix egg mixture into the rested yeast mixture. Add 1 cup of bread flour at a time to the egg/yeast mixture and stir after each cup to combine. Fold in softened coconut oil and combine until a soft dough ball has formed.

Place dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough well combined and smooth. Lightly oil a large bowl (I prefer spray coconut oil) and place dough inside. Turn the dough so that it also get a light layer of oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a warm, damp towel. Allow the dough to rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size (at least 2 hours).

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside. After dough has risen, punch down the dough and place the dough ball once again on a lightly floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a rectangular shape. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into 2 inch squares.

Place the dough squares on the parchment lined cookie sheet. Lightly spray the tops of the dough squares with a spay oil (again I prefer spray coconut oil). Place plastic wrap over the dough squares and allow the dough to rise again (about 30 to 40 minutes).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. After dough has risen, remove plastic wrap and place in the preheated oven. Bake the Beignets for about 8 to 10 minutes (or until lightly brown). Remove Beignets from the oven and while they are still warm sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar*.

*While I am not traditionally a fan of using sugar in my recipes, this baked Beignet recipe is an exception.  It is possible to create a sugar free confectioners’ sugar by using cornstarch and a sugar free substitute.  However, I have to admit the sugar free powdered sugar is just not the same as the real thing.  Since only a sprinkle of sugar is used for this recipe, I have decided to keep the powdered sugar, as is, in my baked beignet recipe.  Some grocery stores sell an organic and/or cane sugar powdered sugar version which is a healthier alternative to white powdered sugar.  

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