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What Is A Beignet? Answers, Recipes & More

What is a Beignet, you ask? Heaven.  

Beignets are one of the most delicious foods you can enjoy while in New Orleans. 

A breakfast treat, French beignets are pieces of dough that are fried to perfection and coated with powdered sugar. 

They’re a perfect accompaniment to a French roast or chicory coffee, offsetting the bitterness with sweet goodness that can become addictive. 

For those who didn’t take French in high school or haven’t visited the charming and multicultural city of New Orleans, a beignet is pronounced “Ben-yay.” 

Learning to say beignet is essential to ordering them in New Orleans and its famed French quarter, so make sure to practice pronouncing beignet before traveling to Louisiana.

You may have a basketful of questions about beignets, but we’ve got answers. 

All you have to do is look forward to trying beignets in New Orleans or making a batch of beignets at home.  

What is a beignet?

Contents

A beignet is a square piece of fried dough that’s fried and then coated with powdered sugar. 

As the dough fries, it puffs as it rises, providing a light, fluffy beignet texture.  

Since frying takes just minutes, beignets are quickly cooked up for a morning treat. 

The hot oil makes the exterior of a beignet lightly crispy, which is a delightful contrast to the softness of the bread inside. 

The oil that’s on the exterior of a beignet makes a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar stick, but the wise beignet fan won’t eat them while wearing black. 

Part of the powdered sugar topping will inevitably still coat your hands and fall off onto clothing. 

Beignets are well worth any mess from the powdered sugar, though.  

Beignet flavor is sweet, doughy, and indescribably good. 

Similar to a fried dough cousin, the glazed doughnut, beignet flavor is rich, sweet, and delicious. 

The history of the beignet

Loosely translated from French to “fritter” or “doughnut,” the beignet has been enjoyed for breakfast or dessert since the 18th century.

In France, these treats can also be called boules de Berlin, or Berliner doughnuts, which lack a hole and can be filled with jam. 

In Canadian French, doughnuts are called beignets. 

Delicious in any language, beignets came to New Orleans by way of French colonists and Acadians in the 1700s. 

Since beignets were popular in their mother country of France, these Louisiana settlers surely thought beignets in New Orleans tasted like home. 

Then as now, beignets are best enjoyed shortly after they’re fried while they’re still warm. 

Having beignets today is much like enjoying a sweet taste of New Orleans’s history.

What does a beignet taste like?

A beignet has a rich, sweet yeast flavor from the dough, fried until golden brown and fluffy. 

Beignets also get a big dose of sweetness from the generous topping of powdered sugar. A beignet isn’t a beignet without the sugary snow atop each fried puff.  

While the oil used to fry the beignets doesn’t provide a flavor, it does give beignets richness as well as a slightly crunchy exterior. 

Inside, the dough is fluffy and light. 

The combination of flavors and textures of beignets makes them a New Orleans culinary must. 

Some recipes for beignets are savory, with Cajun-inspired fillings that make them similar to a kolache. 

Others are sweet for breakfast or dessert.  

Usually, a beignet gets its fluffiness and part of its flavor from yeast in the beignet dough. 

Biscuit dough, which contains baking soda or baking powder for leavening, can also be used for an easier beignet dough. 

These beignets will not have the yeast flavor but will still be fluffy, light, and sweet. 

What is the difference between a beignet and a doughnut?

While beignet translates to doughnut in English, beignets and doughnuts are quite different. 

Take a look at the two treats and you’ll see the first difference. 

A beignet is a square puff of fried dough, while a doughnut is round, with a hole in the middle unless the doughnut is jelly-filled. 

Beignets are lighter than doughnuts, too. 

Doughnut dough usually has more eggs than beignet dough, making it heavier. 

Then there are the toppings such as frosting and glaze, which can weigh down a doughnut. 

Doughnuts are usually larger than beignets, so a doughnut will weigh more than a beignet because of size, too. 

A beignet has a topping of sifted powdered sugar which is lighter than a glaze or frosting. The frying makes the beignet dough puff into a soft, warm pillow. 

The flavors of beignets and doughnuts are similar, but their textures are slightly different. 

Their toppings are quite different, too. 

Doughnuts don’t get the dusting of powdered sugar the way beignets do. 

Doughnuts get a sugary glaze instead.  

Think of beignets and doughnuts as first cousins, similar yet different. 

Whether you have a beignet or a doughnut with your coffee, you have a delicious treat and a sweet start to your day.

How to eat beignets

Eating beignets is something of an art since they are crowned with a heavy topping of powdered sugar. 

Managing to enjoy a beignet without wearing half the sugar is a challenge, especially if you’re dressed in black or dark colors. 

The trick to eating a beignet neatly is to lean over your plate while eating, so any powdered sugar falling off the beignet will hit the plate or tablecloth instead of your lap. 

Good manners dictate having a napkin in your lap, but beignets do, too. 

Your napkin will be an added protection from any falling powdered sugar.  

French beignets are finger foods, so just pick them up and eat them carefully, as the best ones are served hot and fresh. 

You might need to wash your hands afterward since the sugar topping each beignet will inevitably coat your fingertips and make them sticky. 

Beignets are best enjoyed with dark roast coffee, served black. 

New Orleanians usually choose a chicory coffee to go with their beignets. 

The rich, dark, bitterness of the coffee is the perfect foil for the sweet, sugar-dusted beignets.

Beignet Recipes

While the New Orleans breakfast staple of French beignets may sound exotic, they’re easy to make at home. 

Some supermarkets have beignet mix that makes cooking them easy, home chefs can easily make French beignets from scratch. 

Once you find out how quickly beignets can be fried up, you might be making a basket of beignets every weekend for brunch. 

Here are some recipes for beignets to get you started:

This authentic recipe for French beignets uses a yeast dough that can be made ahead and chilled in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. 

That will make frying beignets for a memorable New Orleans-style breakfast fast and easy. 

Baking beignets sounds like heresy to a true New Orleanian, but this recipe provides a healthier take on a classic French beignet. 

The texture won’t be exactly like fried beignets, but they’re still delicious and a little more heart-healthy.

A sweet yeast dough, hot oil, and plenty of powdered sugar make these fluffy, fried beignets as good as a weekend trip to the Big Easy. 

Yeast dough may sound complicated, but making it is surprisingly easy. 

Make a batch at night and refrigerate so it will be ready for frying in the morning. 

Beignets don’t have to be sweet or enjoyed only at breakfast. 

This stuffed beignet recipe fills the fried dough with a savory Cajun crawfish filling. 

If crawfish aren’t available, use shrimp instead for this New Orleans-inspired recipe.

While traditional French beignets do not include a sprinkling of cinnamon, this warm spice is most welcome atop the sweet fried dough and pairs wonderfully with a rich cup of coffee. 

A plus is that these cinnamon-y beignets will have your kitchen smell wonderfully.

Classic French beignets start with yeast dough, but for those looking for an easier option, this recipe starts with canned biscuits. 

You can also make your biscuit dough from scratch or a mix for this recipe.

More Beignet FAQs

You may still have questions about these New Orleans delicacies, but these frequently asked questions about French beignets may give you the sweet answers you desire. 

How long do beignets last?

Enjoy your beignets the way nature intended, while they are still hot and fresh. 

Fresh beignets taste much better. 

Eat them within two hours of frying.

Leftover beignets are usually never a problem, as they’re so deliciously hot and fresh that they disappear quickly. 

Can beignets be reheated?

Just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done. 

Beignets are hot, soft, and fresh when just out of the frying pan or fryer, but reheating them later will result in hard, stale beignets. 

What kind of oil should be used in frying beignets?

Cafe Du Monde, one of New Orleans’s most famed beignet spots, uses cottonseed oil for frying beignets. 

Cottonseed oil may not be available everywhere, so if it can’t be found nearby, use vegetable oil. 

Can you fry beignets in a skillet?

If you have a deep enough skillet to hold about an inch of vegetable oil, you can use a skillet for frying beignets. 

A deep fryer is preferred, but skillets that are deep enough to hold the oil safely will do. 
How can you avoid tough beignets? 

No one wants a tough beignet. 

After all, beignets are fun to eat because of their soft, light texture. 

The key to avoiding a tough beignet is making sure to not overmix the dough. 

Also, when rolling out and cutting dough, fry scrap pieces as they are rather than combining them and rolling them out again.  

Can beignets be gluten-free?

Good news for those with Celiac disease—beignets can be made with gluten-free flour.

Those trying to eliminate gluten from their diets or who are following Keto or Paleo diets can rejoice—French beignets can be grain-free.

Are beignets vegan-friendly?

To be vegan-friendly, beignet dough has to be egg- and dairy-free. 

Most beignet mixes include eggs and milk, but a biscuit or yeast dough could be made without eggs and dairy to make these treats vegan.

Can beignets be sugar-free?

We know beignets aren’t healthy food. If sugar is a problem, dust your beignets with a mix of Splenda and a little cornstarch for the look, texture, and taste of powdered sugar. 

Use a ratio of one cup Splenda to 4 tablespoons cornstarch. 

Are there beignet mixes on the market?

Thankfully, there are wonderful beignet mixes available at most supermarkets or online. 

If a mix isn’t available at supermarkets where you live, use a baking mix to make a biscuit dough or make a yeast dough from scratch. 

You can even fry canned biscuit dough, cutting biscuits into quarters before frying.

The bottom line

Now that you know what is a beignet, enjoy breakfast or a coffee break with a basketful of these delicious treats. 

These cousins to doughnuts have become a New Orleans must whether you’re a visitor to the Big Easy or one of its residents.  

Tourists will want to enjoy these light puffs of sugar-topped fried dough at Cafe Du Monde or other New Orleans eateries, but don’t worry if you’re not in the famed Louisiana city. 

Making your beignets at home can be quick and easy.  

While a classic French beignet is a fried piece of yeast dough, beignets can start with canned biscuits in a pinch. 

There are also beignet versions that are gluten-free, grain-free, and sugar-free. 

There’s even a baked version. 

We advise making the classic beignet a guilty pleasure, especially when visiting New Orleans. 

You can eat salads another day. 

Never count calories when beignets are around. 

Just enjoy!