The Secrets Behind Cafe du Monde’s Beignets

cafe du monde-9

What do you think about when someone says New Orleans?  Incredible food, jazz music, Mardi Gras, and beignets are a few things that come to my mind when talking about the Crescent City.  If you have never been, then you are missing out on one of the most fascinating cities in the country.  New Orleans has a vibe all its own and you need to add this travel destination to your bucket list.

I have been fortunate to travel to New Orleans a number of times in my life.  This city is captivating, magical, and unique with its merging cultures, multilingual heritage, and stunning French Creole architecture.  What stands out most to me, however, is the city’s vibrant food traditions.

Early evening on Bourbon Street as it gears up for the crowds

Early evening on Bourbon Street as it gears up for the crowds

A carriage ride on Decatur Street

A carriage ride on Decatur Street

“Food doesn’t travel well” is certainly true of New Orleans.  Feasting on gumbo, eating a Mufaletta, or sucking the heads and eating the tails of crawdads does not translate well from Bourbon Street to Main Street in any other part of the country.  There is a rhythm, a soul, a lot of heat and spice, and a bit of mystery in New Orleans that captures your heart and teases your palate.  It beckons you to return again and again.

St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square

St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square

Riverboat on Lake Ponchartrain

Riverboat on Lake Ponchartrain

While I have made many traditional New Orleans recipes at home and have been pleased with the outcome, beignets at Cafe du Monde are one of those foods that is best enjoyed in New Orleans.  Sitting in the bustling cafe, early in the morning, as the city recovers from the all night festivities while the fog rolls in along Lake Ponchartrain, cannot be transplanted to anywhere else.  Sipping a stout chicory coffee, watching the servers hustle plates filled with powdery sugar dusted hot beignets, is one of the quintessential moments that I associate with New Orleans.  This experience has been enjoyed by many generations as this is the 150th year of Cafe du Monde’s rich history.

Cafe du Monde at the French Market

Cafe du Monde at the French Market

The fog rolling in over Lake Ponchartrain

The fog rolling in over Lake Ponchartrain

Cafe du Monde stays busy all day

Cafe du Monde stays busy all day

During our recent trip to the city, we were invited on a behind the scenes look at the process of making beignets at Cafe du Monde.  Beignet is actually the French word for a fritter or doughnut. While we were hoping to learn all of the secrets to making these famous fried French fritters and were given many great tips, not all of Cafe du Monde’s secrets are to be shared, otherwise they wouldn’t be secrets.  However, they did share a few details with us.

In the kitchen at Cafe du Monde

In the kitchen at Cafe du Monde

One of the most critical steps to making perfectly crisp and light beignets is to be sure the oil is very hot (at least 380 degrees) and that it remains hot throughout the cooking process.  If it isn’t, the beignets absorb too much oil and the powdered sugar melts when served and the beignet is greasy, sticky, and a hot, sweet mess of soggy dough.  Cafe du Monde fries their beignets in cottonseed oil, even though most recipes call for vegetable oil.  They have tried other oils but always return to cottonseed oil as it produces the best results.  Cottonseed oil has a high smoke point of 420 degrees, which allows them to keep the oil extremely hot.

The beignets are cut by hand using this machine

The beignets are cut using this machine

Another tip for making superior beignets is that you don’t want to overwork the dough or the beignet will become tough.  A yeast dough will produce a lighter and sweeter beignet than a basic white flour dough, which many recipes recommend.  Cafe du Monde uses multiple flours in their mix, including rye flour, and they aren’t willing to share the exact mix and proportions in their recipe.  You might try your own combination at home to see if you can unlock that secret.

How many do you think he cuts each day?

How many do you think they make each day?

After making the dough, let it rest in the refrigerator at least 16 hours before rolling and cutting. Cafe du Monde suggests using a cast iron skillet to fry the beignets, but they use deep fat fryers, so if you have a fryer, use it.  The beignets will float to the surface of the oil as they cook.  Be sure to turn the beignets over while cooking to ensure an even golden brown exterior and keep the oil very hot in the process.

Keeping the oil very hot is the key to expertly prepared Cafe du Monde beignets

Keeping the oil very hot is the key to expertly prepared Cafe du Monde beignets

When they are properly prepared, beignets are one of the best foods on Earth. These light, puffy pillows that were born of a French doughnut make a perfect morning accompaniment to coffee or are an ideal afternoon dessert while taking a break from touring the city.  Some late night revelers satisfy their sweet cravings after an evening on Bourbon Street at the location by the French Market that is open 24 hours a day.  No matter when you go, a visit to Cafe du Monde epitomizes the New Orleans experience.

Cafe du Monde's beignets are crisp on the outside and lighter tham most others on the inside

Cafe du Monde’s beignets are crisp on the outside and lighter than most others on the inside

Mardi Gras is in full swing and Fat Tuesday is February 12, 2013.  If you are able to travel to New Orleans for the festivities, you should do so.  A visit to this amazing city will thrill and fascinate and will create memories that last a lifetime.  What goes on in New Orleans should stay in New Orleans, especially the food. ;-)

If you want to try Cafe du Monde’s beignets, then I suggest you go to the original location at 800 Decatur Street by the French Market.  We have never found a recipe, nor been able to create one, that rivals the luscious, sweet, crispy puffed, and powdery sugared goodness of Cafe du Monde’s beignets.

Waiting on an order of beignets

Waiting on an order of beignets

Beignets and chicory cafe au lait

Beignets and chicory cafe au lait

If you can’t make the trip, then purchase a box of Cafe du Monde’s beignet mix that is sold in many local stores or from their online shop.  It’s the next best thing to being there.

Here are some additional recipes and articles about the city to pique your interest until you can travel to New Orleans:

Le Pavillon Hotel – No stay at this hotel would be complete without a ghost story or two and a nightcap of PB&J

The sights and sounds of Bourbon Street at night and a recipe for Creole Jambalaya

A traditional New Orleans cocktail – the original Sazerac made at the Sazerac Bar in The Roosevelt Hotel

An interview with one of the oldest names associated with food in New Orleans, Ralph Brennan, and a recipe for his famous Chocolate Bread Pudding

An interview with Chef John Besh at Restaurant August

City Park in New Orleans – a look at the quieter side of the city

The International Food Blogger’s Conference (IFBC) in New Orleans – August 2011

 

Only an empty plate and a pile of sugar remains after a trip to Cafe du Monde

Only an empty plate and a pile of sugar remain after a trip to Cafe du Monde

 

 

30 Responses to “The Secrets Behind Cafe du Monde’s Beignets”

  1. 1

    JulieD — January 28, 2013 @ 7:13 pm

    I have tried that mix…it’s pretty good but I want to try the real thing!! I have been dreaming of visiting NO forever, we need to make a trip there soon!

    • Gwen replied: — January 28th, 2013 @ 7:48 pm

      Hi Julie,

      You definitely need to go to New Orleans! There is nothing quite like enjoying beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde. You need to experience it at least once in your lifetime and I promise, these beignets will be nothing like that mix. While the beignets from that box are good (and we have tried them), it’s the atmosphere and the vibe of the city that makes a trip to Cafe du Monde so special. Here’s hoping to a visit to the Crescent City in 2014!

      Gwen

  2. 2

    Jen — January 28, 2013 @ 11:47 pm

    Oh how I dream of one day eating one!

    • Gwen replied: — January 31st, 2013 @ 4:06 pm

      Hi Jen,

      I hope you can travel to New Orleans some day soon to have a beignet. :-)

      Gwen

  3. 3

    Jon R — January 29, 2013 @ 9:30 am

    I had my first experience in New Orleans a few weeks ago. The atmosphere and people are like no other city I have ever been too! Cafe du Monde beignets are fantastic. You will see things on Bourbon St. you never could have imagined.

    • Gwen replied: — January 31st, 2013 @ 9:36 pm

      Hi Jon,

      Yes indeed, Bourbon Street offers many sights that will never been seen any other place in the country. We have a few of those photos in one of the posts I mentioned. ;-) Everyone needs to visit New Orleans at least once. It is truly a unique city, as you have discovered.

      On another note, how about making those beignets in Louisville?! That could be a winner!

      Gwen

  4. 4

    Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar — January 29, 2013 @ 11:56 am

    I’m going to New Orleans in three weeks! I HAVE to go to Cafe du Monde – the beignets look fabulous!!

    • Gwen replied: — January 31st, 2013 @ 9:38 pm

      Hi Katrina,

      Yes, you definitely need to stop by Cafe du Monde while you are in New Orleans. That is one of the classic places to visit.

      Have fun! It is an incredible town.

      Gwen

  5. 5

    Drick — January 30, 2013 @ 12:01 pm

    one of the many ‘must dos’ on any trip to NOLA – we use to go over at least once a month but now at best just a couple of times a year… such a shame since we live only a few hours away… One thing I found particularly interesting is the servers have to do all the work… Enjoyed the read… Take care Gwen

    • Gwen replied: — January 31st, 2013 @ 9:47 pm

      HI Drick,

      We would love to meet up in New Orleans sometime in the future and have beignets or gumbo. I know you get there more often than we do, but it would be fun to finally get together over great food.

      Gwen

  6. 6

    Christine @ Fresh — February 3, 2013 @ 11:42 pm

    A trip to New Orleans has never been so enticing! I love the idea of someday being able to have a warm crusty beignet. Someday….

    • Gwen replied: — February 12th, 2013 @ 9:21 am

      Please let me know when you decide to go and maybe we will meet you there! :-)

  7. 7

    Jamie — February 6, 2013 @ 5:46 am

    I think it is so funny that you post this on my birthday since I actually ate these beignets at Café du Monde with you! Fabulous write up and lucky you for getting to go in the kitchen and watch.

    • Gwen replied: — February 12th, 2013 @ 9:22 am

      Hi Jamie,

      Yes, that was timely. This trip into their kitchen was on another visit to New Orleans, but I think one of the photos was from the time were there together. We must do it again one day!

      Gwen

  8. 8

    Carla — February 11, 2013 @ 11:47 am

    I made the beignets from Dam Good Sweet written by chef David Guas and Raquel Pelzel. They were just like the ones at Cafe du Monde. BTW, every recipe I’ve made from the book has been terrific.

    • Gwen replied: — February 12th, 2013 @ 9:28 am

      Hi Carla,

      Thank you for your comment. I will have to take a further look at Chef Guas’ cookbook beyond the beignet recipe. His flour mixture is a little different from what Cafe du Monde told us. They actually use a blend of flours, while his is just bread flour with buttermilk. He also fries the beignets in peanut oil and Cafe du Monde uses cottonseed oil. I am sure Guas’ beignets are excellent although they are different. How can fried dough with powdered sugar (when cooked properly) be anything less than great?! ;-)

      Gwen

  9. 9

    here be dragons — March 11, 2013 @ 1:34 pm

    My friend brought me a box of the beignet mix, but I look forward to trying the real thing this week!

  10. 10

    Raina — September 12, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

    I found your blog entry very interesting and fun to read. I made beignets last night and they came out great. I too used different flours because I like to experiment. I refrigerated the dough I didn’t use ,so hopefully they’ll taste even better when I make some for breakfast this morning!

    • Gwen replied: — October 28th, 2013 @ 1:30 pm

      Hi Raina,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m happy to hear that you had success with your beignets and hopefully, they were even better the next morning.

      Gwen

  11. 11

    Elena — September 26, 2013 @ 9:48 am

    I guess I am spoiled! Grew up in Slidell, which is about a 20 minute drive from New Orleans. Driving to the Cafe Du Monde was a special outing for us. I have many fond memories of eating them along with a carton of cold chocolate milk!

    • Gwen replied: — October 28th, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

      Hi Elena,

      Yes, you are very lucky. We dream of the beignets at Cafe du Monde many mornings, but 7-8 hours is just a bit too far to venture for our cravings. :-(

      Gwen

  12. 12

    kelly r — October 28, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

    Just got back and it’s true – the beignets are spectacular! Right down from Jackson Square and next to the river, Cafe Du Monde was packed and we had a wonderful afternoon break hanging out and people watching.

  13. 13

    Gwen — October 28, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

    Hi Kelly,

    So glad you enjoyed them and yes, Cafe du Monde is a great place for people watching. :-)

    Gwen

  14. 14

    Tyler Parnell — November 13, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

    This past weekend I went to New Orleans for the first time and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and encourage anyone who has the opportunity to visit and definitely visit the french quarts there are so many interesting things there and it is just so much fun

  15. 15

    Susan Brown — December 3, 2013 @ 8:21 pm

    I love NO. Went there several years ago and would love to go back but can no longer travel. What a great city! One of a kind and the music !!!!!

  16. 16

    Paul U. — December 7, 2013 @ 10:14 pm

    Nice write-up on Gwen. As a native Texan who fell in love with and persuaded to relocate to the greater NO area for a 1/2 a decade by a raven-haired “Cajun Queen” in my late 20’s, 3 distinct foods engrained themselves in my medulla oblongata.

    1) BBQ Shrimp from Deanie’s Seafood on the Lakefront.
    2) Boiled crawfish, served by the muli-pound to your table, in either those round logoed drink trays. 1 full of the “bugs”, and a second to use for the discards. Or the oblong cardboard trays, cases of beer or softdrinks come in.
    3) Café au lait and “fried dough” (as my love called ‘em), from Morning Call Coffee, the predecessor of Cafe Du Monde.

    Morning Call was roughly 5 mins from our house, in an area ironically called “Fat City”, directly across from a muli-plex theater. It took me quite awhile to wrap my head around, a “restaurant” that was opened 24/7/365, w/ a menu that consisted of essentially TWO items.

    • Gwen replied: — December 16th, 2013 @ 9:42 am

      Hi Paul,

      Thank you. Yes, NOLA has an awesome food culture. I wish we could visit more frequently to get a fix of some of the things you mentioned. :-)

      Gwen

  17. 17

    Bea — May 29, 2014 @ 5:21 pm

    I just come across your blog and being a native of New Orleans, Louisiana I was thrilled. I am going back in July. I read everything on your site. I loved the Paris trip. Now I want to comment on your Beignets. For me, don’t even bother with the boxed mix. It isn’t even close to the real thing. I love New Orleans and your article made me even more homesick. Where you really need to go is a little off the beaten path and then you will know what I am taking about. Thanks for sharing!

  18. 18

    Lanie — September 16, 2014 @ 4:30 pm

    I live in New Orleans. I have beignets almost every Saturday morning. They are the best things ever! Mardi Gras is so fun, too. My favorite part is the dancers. Crawfish is so good! I love to suck the heads!

  19. 19

    Lanie — September 18, 2014 @ 2:11 pm

    This morning I spilled my coffee at Cafe du Monde, but a lot of the people that worked there came out with napkins and cleaned it all of it up. So what I am trying to say is Cafe du Monde has great service.

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