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Sunday, September 25, 2005

In Through The Out Door: Lemon Curd Beignets with Raspberry Coulis and Peppered Melon Sorbet

(This post is by William, for the Gourmet Survivor game.)

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Wow, thanks to everyone who voted for my potato Po'boy last week! I was a little worried when I saw the other contestants' imaginative Po'boy entries, but I squeaked through in second place. I'm glad to see that the classics are still appreciated out there. Or maybe you all are just sticking up for Pim. Either way, thanks for keeping me in this thing, everybody!

I'm sorry to hear that Kathy will be leaving us, though. I figured she'd sail through to the next round based on those amazing photos alone. Kathy, you will be missed.

That brings me to this week's food challenge: the beignet. A beignet is a French-style doughnut that has been embraced and adapted by the city of New Orleans. Just like the other kind of doughnuts, someone figured out a long time ago that you can put fruit inside of them to make them even more delicious. Our task from Adam was clear - to come up with a unique, fruit-filled beignet, and perhaps pair it with an equally tasty dipping sauce. After a moment or two of reflection, I decided that the perfect filling for my winning beignets would be: raspberries. I can think of three reasons why I may have come to this conclusion:
1 If I made a 'raspberry beignet', I could make ever-so-clever references to a Prince song (Raspberry Beret), and people would like me.
2 Raspberries are tasty.
3 Did I mention the thing about the Prince song? Why can't I get that danged song out of my head?

made yummyAnd so, with three reasons and a catchy tune in my head, I went about preparing my raspberry beignets, complete with a chocolate-espresso dipping sauce. The result? Beignets that were tasty, but not great. The juicy raspberries sogged the dough around them, so every time I bit into a raspberry, I would also find a small soggy bit of undercooked dough. Not a big deal, but we're going for perfect beignets here. More importantly, I found the flavors to be out of balance. The tartness of the raspberries overwhelmed the subtlety of the fried dough and powdered sugar, and the wallop of the chocolate espresso sauce pretty much took over everything. Apparently, Prince songs don't make the best material for culinary inspiration.

Mind you, these beignets were passable. They were quite photogenic, too. I could have been satisfied, but no: this is a competition. I had to go for perfection. Do you see the trouble I make for myself to entertain and educate you, my readers? Well, OK, you're actually mostly Pim's readers, but still. I'm trying, here. So I started over from the ground up.

I'm quite a bit happier with my latest creations. For the fruit filling, I made candied lemon rind, then used the juices from the candying process to make a lemon syrup that flavored the dough. The small bits of candied lemon added just the unique character that I was looking for without overwhelming the natural beignet-ness in the process.

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Do you see the bits of candied lemon in the raw dough here? I was really hoping that these would be visible on the outside of the beignet after they cooked, but it wasn't meant to be. The powdered sugar covered up any indication of lemon that there might have been.

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These beignets were so good right out of the frying oil that I considered serving them simply with cafe au lait and no sauce. Then I thought, hey, I like raspberries (see point #2 above). I know, I've just spent much of this post saying bad things about raspberries. On the other hand, the problems I had with my raspberry beignets were related to the raspberries being in the dough. As an accompaniment, they won't have a chance to sog the dough, and a sauce can be kept from dominating more easily than whole raspberries.

The raspberry sauce that I used is fairly straightforward. It includes raspberries, sugar, and some of the lemon syrup left over from the lemon-candying process. I blended these together, then added a small amount of dissolved warm corn starch to thicken the mixture as well as to mellow the flavor. In the future, I would probably strain the mixture before adding the starch just to get rid of the raspberry seeds.

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Some of you may be asking, "Where is the cafe au lait?" Well, it's not here. Yes, to adhere strictly with tradition, these beignets should have been served with a hot mug of coffee. These particular beignets, though, were to be served as a dessert course, and I rarely if ever serve coffee with dessert. It's one of those continental traditions that has never caught on among myself and my friends. In place of the coffee, I served a small bowl of watermelon sorbet with black pepper. I remember having something similar to this once before, and I associate it with New Orleans. I found that the mild spiciness of the sorbet made for an interesting counterpart to the fruity and tangy flavors of the rest of the dish.

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Lemon Curd Beignets

For candied lemon rind:
1 lemon
2 c. water
1 c. sugar

For beignets:
1 pkg rapid-rise yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/4 c. warm water
1/2 c. evaporated milk
2 T. butter, melted
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten until frothy
4 c. flour
vegetable oil for frying
powdered sugar

1. Cut lemon in half and scoop out flesh from both halves (See photo). Retain the rind halves and lemon juice.

2. Boil rind halves in water until soft; 3 minutes. Remove rind from water and scoop white flesh away from yellow rind. If flesh does not remove easily, continue boiling. Discard flesh and roughly chop yellow rind.

3. Boil rind in 2 c. water along with 1/2 c. lemon juice and sugar. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally, until liquid reduces by 1/2, about 30 min. Rind should be translucent. Separate rind from syrup and retain both. Dice rind finely.

4. Combine yeast, warm water, and sugar. Set aside until foamy.

5. Combine milk, butter and salt with 1/4 cup of the lemon syrup and all of the lemon rind. Add to yeast mixture. Add egg and mix thoroughly. Slowly add flour, mixing continuously until completely incorporated. Dough should still be slightly sticky. Refrigerate dough for at least 1 hour.

6. Roll dough on floured surface until 1/4 inch thick. Cut into squares of desired size.

7. Fry in 2" of oil at 360 degrees until golden on both sides. The beignet should begin to float after about 5 seconds. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Makes about a dozen beignets.

Peppered Melon Sorbet

1 small (roundish) watermelon
1 tsp lime juice
1/4 tsp fresh ginger, crushed
1 cup caster sugar
1/2 tsp medium- or coarse- grind black pepper

1. Scoop melon flesh into blender along with lime juice and ginger. Pulse until watermelon chinks are consumed.

2. Press liquid through fine-mesh strainer to remove watermelon solids and seeds. Add remaining ingredients and mix until sugar dissolves.

3. Freeze in ice cream freezer according to the directions.

About 4 servings.

That's it for my beignet extravaganza! If you like what you see, or if you're feeling generous, please donate to Hurricane Katrina relief by voting in the Gourmet Survivor contest. All of the money goes to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. Make sure to include "William" or "Pim" in the comments box so that your vote will count. Thanks!

Vote for William here!

More photos on Flickr.

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