RECIPE: FLUFFY BEIGNETS

Pate a choux pastry is used to make all sorts of dessert deliciousness. Churros, éclairs, profiteroles, and even towering croquembouches are made from choux pastry. Beignets can also be made from choux but isn’t often used in the South; most chefs make the chewier, rolled yeast variety of beignets like they serve at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. I prefer a fluffy choux beignet which have been made famousby my buddy Panini Pete. If you make it to his place in Fairhope or Mobile, Alabama, you'll see an early morning line forming for Pete's beignets. They taste more like a hot doughnut and are delicious fried dough heaven. Sprinkled with Confectioners’ sugar while they are hot. Serve with a squeeze of lemon. These won’t hold well once your squeeze the lemon over them but then again, they’ll go so fast you won’t have to worry about that.

FLUFFY BEIGNETS

Prep Time: 12 minutes   Cook Time: 7-8 minutes per batch

INGREDIENTS

1 ½ cups water

6 ounces unsalted butter

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

6 eggs, room temperature

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Canola oil for frying

Food thermometer

Confectioners’ sugar and lemon wedges for garnish

DIRECTIONS: 

Put canola oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat and bring it to 350 degrees F.

Mix the salt into the flour.  

Put the water and butter in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and whisk in the flour all at one time to combine and form dough which will pull away from the side of the pan. Switch to a wooden spoon. Add the eggs, two at a time, blending well with the wooden spoon between each addition. Beat the dough with the wooden spoon until it goes from ‘slippery’ and glossy to matte.  Add the vanilla and stir to incorporate.

Scoop the dough with a small ice cream scoop and place in the hot oil. Take care not to over crowd the pot or the temperature of the oil will drop and your beignets will soak up oil. Fry for 7-8 minutes, turning the beignets around frequently in the oil. Drain on paper toweling.

Serve warm with a dusting of Confectioners’ sugar and lemon, lime, or orange wedges.

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RECIPE: MY MOM'S SPICY SOUTHERN CHEESE STRAWS

My mom would always make spicy cheese straws for the holidays and was sure to have them waiting for us for almost every celebration. A Southern staple for teas, weddings and showers, you can make these as wafers, as shown, or use a cookie press to shape them into straws. I find the wafers faster and easier-- plus I can roll the dough into a log and freeze. That way I can just slice and bake when guests pop in or when I am in need of a quick bite to serve with a glass of wine or Champagne.

I want to mention that this dough always looks like it is not "wet" enough once you mix it. Do not be tempted to add additional butter or liquid. It will come together. Just use your hands to form it. You'll see.

Baked cheese straws are always on the table for parties and celebrations in the South. This is my mom's recipe- one I've used for 30 years.

Baked cheese straws are always on the table for parties and celebrations in the South. This is my mom's recipe- one I've used for 30 years.

SPICY SOUTHERN CHEESE STRAWS

Skill Level: Easy

Prep Time: 15 minutes        Cook Time: 10-12 minutes

 INGREDIENTS 

1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into cubes*

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Dash Tabasco or to taste

 DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Chill the cheese well and grate it using a food processor or the side with large holes on a box grater. Set aside.

NOTE: I make this recipe in a food processor because I find it easier but you do not have to use a food processor. My mom never had one. Just mix in a bowl.

In a food processor, add the flour, salt and pepper and pulse 10-12 times to blend. Add the butter. Turn the food processor to "run" for 10 seconds. The result should be like coarse cornmeal. If it is not, pulse a few more times. Add the cheese and the hot sauce. Pulse just until the cheese is incorporated. Turn the food processor to "run" for 5-6 seconds. 

*NOTE: If you intend to pipe the dough into straws, you may obtain a better/easier to pipe result if you melt the butter rather than use cold butter and leave the cheese at room temperature. See directions for piping into straws below. Many of the old school southern recipes call for melted butter.

(Note: If you do not have a food processor, mix the dry ingredients together. Use a pastry cutter or two forks to cut the butter and the cheese into the flour. Add the hot sauce and mix well.)

For wafers: Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap for wafers. Shape it into a log using your hands and roll the dough up in the plastic. Twist the ends of the plastic wrap to secure and put into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. To bake, remove the plastic wrap and slice into discs, place about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a rack.

(Note: Another option is to use a very small ice cream scoop to portion uniform balls onto the prepared pan. Using a fork, (which you may need to flour) press each one, creating the design shown above.)

Easy homemade Southern cheese straws

For straws: Place the dough into a cookie press or pastry bag fitted with a star tip. Push the dough into one corner of the bag and press the air out. Snip the tip and pipe them into 3” long strips about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom and edges.

Yield: 2- 4 dozen depending on the size and shape. You can get 55-60 wafers from this recipe using a small ice cream scoop or melon baller.

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RECIPES: MY MOM'S TOTALLY ADDICTIVE HOLIDAY FRUITCAKE COOKIES

One of my favorite holiday traditions with my mom was starting our holiday baking the day after Thanksgiving. We always made spiced fruit cake cookies but we'd have to buy the ingredients over a few weeks so we could afford them. I remember the anticipation of watching the shelf fill up with the candied fruit: pineapple, cherries (yes, even the green ones) and how excited I was when we finally got the last ingredient. I still love those cookies... and they hold so many memories for me. 

I know. You hate fruitcake. I'm pretty sure I don't like most of them but I promise you these gorgeous little fruitcake gems are so addictive and delicious, you will not want to wait a whole year to make them again. These are the same mugs we used for Christmas Eve cocoa way back then.

Holiday Fruitcake Cookies Martie Duncan.jpg

MOM'S HOLIDAY FRUITCAKE COOKIES

Makes about 6 dozen depending on how large you make them.

INGREDIENTS

1 pound candied red cherries

1 pound candied pineapple

1 pound candied green cherries

6 cups pecans, roughly chopped

1 pound dates, chopped

2 tablespoons dark run (optional- but you need to up the orange juice if you omit)

3 cups plus 1 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup Crisco shortening

1 cup granulated sugar

slight pinch kosher salt

3 teaspoons baking soda

3 tablespoons milk

4 eggs (room temperature)

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 teaspoon nutmeg

INSTRUCTIONS

The day before: chop the dates into small pieces and put them in a glass bowl. Add rum. Cover with plastic wrap. Let sit overnight to absorb the rum. You can leave this step out if you want but I find it makes the dates more delicious and the cookies have more flavor.  

Preheat oven to 375. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper. Get out 2-3 cooling racks.

Dice the candied fruit into small pieces and place in a very large bowl; I use the top of my cake carrier. Roughly chop the pecans and add to the fruit. Add the dates. Add one cup of the flour. Toss well to coat all of the pieces and break them up so they are not sticking together.

Next, whisk the baking soda into the milk and let it dissolve.

Mix the Crisco into the fruit. Add the remaining ingredients: sugar, remaining flour, salt, nutmeg, eggs, orange juice and milk with baking soda into the mixture.  Mix together with your hands but just until you no longer see the flour. Try not to over mix. The batter will be very dense. Use a small ice cream scoop or two teaspoons to drop the cookies onto the prepared pans, about 1 inch apart. 

Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on the wire cooling racks.

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