The beignet is popping up on menus throughout Los Angeles, from casual coffee shops to top-notch restaurants. Each has its own take on this New Orleans specialty. Some you won’t recognize.
The Gumbo Pot at Farmers’ Market offers a traditional version of the holeless doughnut. Three inch-squares of sweet yeast dough are fried to a deep golden brown, topped with powdered sugar and served warm. They’re crisp and slightly chewy. The centers are hollow, allowing my husband and I to finish an entire basket (four to an order) with minimal guilt.
The chocolate beignets are noticeably plumper. They come three to a basket, dusted with powdered sugar and drizzled with chocolate sauce. It’s the same dough as the regular beignets, but these squares are stuffed with chunks of slightly melted milk chocolate. This is a multi-napkin treat. I’m happy to lick the glaze off my fingers, but hubby digs in with a plastic knife and fork.
On the opposite end of the Farmers Market, Bob’s Coffee & Doughnuts cools a dozen of its New Orleans Beignets on a rack. These diamond-shaped gems appear lighter in color and texture. With a little persistence, we score two. The baker (who isn’t Bob) grabs a shaker of confectioner’s sugar and vigorously coats the hot beignets. He slips them to us in a paper bag, which we open in the secluded dining area upstairs. These beignets are tender, light yet solid, each bite as pillowy as the next.
There’s talk of designer doughnuts in Beverly Hills. Frittelli's, the city’s only “Gourmet Doughnut & Coffee Shop", is offering beignets as part of its fall/winter menu. Does high-end flour and imported butter really make a difference?
I scan the long selection of doughnuts in the glass case, but I don’t see the beignet. Owner Alison Winston hands me a large, irregular shape. It resembles a diamond, the longest side is about four inches and the shortest side is less than three inches. At least the powdered sugar is familiar. I tear the pastry in half. The dough is light and fluffy, like Bob’s beignet, with apricot filling in the center. I close my eyes for the first bite. It tastes like a jelly doughnut – a good jelly doughnut, but not remarkable.
Michelin-rated Sona in Hollywood, takes even greater liberty with its beignet. Made from a bittersweet chocolate batter, it looks like a brown zucchini – elongated, with a bulbous end. An order of three arrives in a tangle, plated with chocolate sauce, a scattering of pomegranate seeds, and a spoonful of black pepper ice cream. With a light dusting of powdered sugar, the mass resembles a thick funnel cake. I pull one beignet free. Stabbing through the crunchy shell with my fork, I find a soggy center. Perhaps the pastry chef was attempting a bittersweet ganache ball? I sample the warm, bitter sludge, and immediately want the taste out of my mouth.
Fortunately, there are round beignets nearby, in the Grand Lux Café at the Beverly Center. They arrive at our table, hot. The smell of fried dough is heavy and intoxicating. These beignets are bigger than golf balls; they come eight to an order with three dipping sauces: raspberry, vanilla and chocolate. Airy and slightly crisp, they have a dense, custard-like center. Be sure to order 30 minutes in advance.