If you’ve been to New Orleans as a gluten or grain-free person, or been with someone who is, you know that sad feeling in the pit of your stomach. You know that look. The one that says, “I really don’t crave gluten stuff anymore or…I thought I didn’t. I mean, I really don’t, but damn I really wish I could have a beignet!”
Well friends, guess what? YOU. CAN. TOTALLY. HAVE. A. BEIGNET!!
I was in New Orleans a few months ago, and the “gluten envy” hit me hard.
Gluten Envy is a distinct phase in the emotional process that one goes through when forced to make massive, sweeping changes to their diet. It lives well beyond the physical food cravings of the foods that you miss, but not yet past the resentment that can sneak up on you at a restaurant, party, or any outing where food is served. It’s that moment that you want more than two menu items available at a restaurant. When you don’t want to have to think twice about every single food. When not eating would seem rude to the host, but when asking to check ingredient labels in her pantry would be too. And of course, when you want to try all of the local food when you travel, especially when, pre-diet-change, you relished being that adventurous eater who would try anything, anywhere and any time.
Eventually we work our way beyond gluten envy, too, to a place where we are content and all of that is just a part of life. NBD. But every now and then, gluten envy launches a sneak attack. And so it was as we strolled past Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter. The aroma of chicory coffee, fried, yeasty pastry dough, and powdered sugar was a bit too much, and I vowed to perfect a gluten free beignet once I was back home. We took it a step further and made this beignet GRAIN FREE as well, and it’s so delicious that you won’t miss wheat flour for a second.
The heart of this beignet is cassava flour. Cassava flour is made by drying and grinding the root of the cassava plant (also known as manioc, yuca, tapioca, and others), and it’s rightly getting a lot of attention lately. Cassava flour is grain, gluten, and nut free, can be substituted 1:1 for conventional wheat flour in many recipes – and without any of the off-putting flavors that some “alternative” flours have (I’m looking at you, amaranth!). I did have to adjust the amount of cassava considerably from the recipe that I adapted, but this is to be expected with yeasted dough recipes.
After making the cassava dough, turn it out onto your counter and gently roll it out to about 1/4-1/2″ thickness. (No rolling pin? No problem! I use a tall, smooth beer glass!)
Add more cassava flour a bit at a time if it’s too sticky. Cut parallel lines through the dough, then again on the diagonal. Leave your dough to rise for 30-45 minutes.
Add about 2″ of oil to a deep pot suitable for frying (or use a deep fryer to your machine’s specs) and, using a thermometer, bring it up to about 365°F. Cafe Du Monde suggests cottonseed oil for authenticity. I’d like to try that one day, but today I’m using vegetable oil since I already had some in my pantry. Drop a few beignets in your oil and let it sizzle for 2-3 minutes. Flip and cook 2-4 minutes, until golden brown. Remove to a screen or a paper towel-lined plate, and douse generously with sifted powdered sugar.