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Joy the Baker's Sweet and Savory Beignets
Molly Clisham, courtesy of Charleston Wine + Food
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Cook time:
Prep time:
Yield:
24 to 48

At this year's Charleston Wine + Food festival, Al Roker joined Joy Wilson (aka Joy the Baker) to whip up not one, but two batches of a classic fried dessert: beignets. Sure, many of us have enjoyed the sweet variety, smothered in powdered sugar, but Joy took these puffy pastries to the next level with a savory version topped with freshly cracked pepper and umami-packed Parmesan. 

Ingredients

  • Beignets

    • 2 tablespoons warm water (about 100 degrees)
    • 2 ½ teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
    • 1/4 cup (plus a pinch) granulated sugar
    • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 1 cup whole milk, warmed slightly
    • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
    • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
    • 1 teaspoon sea salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    • Neutral oil, for frying
  • For strawberry beignets

    • 3 cups powdered sugar (for dusting the baking sheet and topping)
    • 3/4 pound (1.2 ounce bag) freeze-dried strawberries, ground into powder with a spice grinder
  • For Cacio e Pepe Beignets

    • 2 (8-ounce) containers Parmesan cheese
    • 3 tablespoons fresh coarsely grated black pepper (more to taste, if desired)

Preparation

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the water, yeast and a pinch of sugar. Let it rest for 5 minutes, until foamy. Add the softened butter cut into large pieces, the warmed milk, 1/4 cup sugar and egg.

2. Add 2 cups of flour, salt and baking powder. Beat on low speed, adding more flour (up to 1 ½ to 2 cups more) until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, sprinkle with a bit more flour, cover with plastic wrap and let rest at a warm room temperature for 1 hour and 30 minutes.

3. Punch down the dough and dump it onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll the dough out into a roughly 16- by 12-inch rectangle and, using a pizza cutter, cut it into 2-inch squares. Cover lightly with plastic wrap.

4. In a medium saucepan fitted with a deep-fry thermometer and set over medium heat, heat about 2 inches of oil to 360ºF.

For strawberry beignets:

1. Spread a generous amount of powdered sugar onto a rimmed baking sheet and stir in strawberry powder until well combined. Working in batches of about four, gently lower the beignets into the hot oil and cook for 2 to 3 minutes total, until golden brown on each side.

2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them directly to the strawberry powdered sugar and then dust them with them with even more powdered sugar immediately. Let the oil return to 375ºF before each batch and repeat with the remaining beignets. Enjoy immediately.

For the savory cacio e pepe beignets:

1. Add a generous amount of Parmesan cheese to the rimmed baking sheet. Stir in black pepper, adding more if you’d like. Working in batches of about four, gently lower the beignets into the hot oil and cook for 2 to 3 minutes total, until golden brown on each side.

2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them directly to the Parmesan cheese and then dust them with even more cheese immediately. Let the oil return to 375ºF before each batch and repeat with the remaining beignets. Enjoy immediately.