The festival city of America, New Orleans, is about to launch its carnival season and to celebrate what the French call Fat Tuesday. This is the happy time in March when the people let their hair down while celebrating the tradition of eating more butter and sugar and cream than should be allowed. Yet these are traditions we all enjoy—the festive consumption of food and drink before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season begins.
As a youth living in Colombia, SA near Bogota in a town called Fusagasuga, Mardi Gras became a carnival to remember — a time to enjoy the party, the parades and the wonderful festivities. We would travel to the Caribbean coast for the Mardi Gras season. Cartagena was alive. The music and dance were everywhere. You could feel it in the air.
It reminded me of the famous Brazilian film Black Orpheus, filmed in Rio, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1960. The film is particularly renowned for its soundtrack by the two Brazilian composers: Antônio Carlos Jobim, whose song "A felicidade" opens the film; and Luiz Bonfá, whose "Manhã de Carnaval" and "Samba of Orpheus" have become bossa nova classics. The redo of the film called Orfeu, the film’s leading character, has a soundtrack sung by the Frank Sinatra of Latin America, the Brazilian singer, Caetano Velosa. Check him out if you are unfamiliar.
Today New Orleans reminds me of those happy memories of Cartagena where party-goers wear masks and costumes. In fact it was common in Cartagena to see men and women cross dressing just for the fun of it. At the time i thought it peculiar but came to see it as no more than a brief period of time to ignore social conventions not unlike wearing the costumes of Halloween.
But the richness of the food and the over-consumption of so many delicious meals made Mardi Gras a special time of year. The foods made famous during Carnival in New Orleans are eaten by many throughout the year. Think of Gumbo, Jambalaya, Crawfish or Shrimp Etouffe, Shrimp Creole, Muffaletta, Po-Boy, Bread Pudding, Banana Foster or Beignets.
Beignets among other foods, sweet and savory, are a treat we can all enjoy that has become an established tradition in New Orleans. These sugary French doughnuts are square instead of round and have no hole in the middle. They are a traditional part of breakfast but have become a super treat for everyone. You can find them at pastry shops like Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans, which also serves hot chocolate and rich aromatic coffee.
It occurred to me that linking Beignet’s to chocolate and fresh raspberries would give birth to a wonderful dessert that can be served any time of day or night. It’s easy to make and delicious to share with a loved one. Joining chocolate with sweet donuts and luscious raspberries covered with powdered sugar is a special merger that grows in value. But it’s gone before you know it. So then you have to make another batch. Bon Appetit!
Beignets a la Zox
1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast 1/4 cup warm water (110° to 115°) 1 cup evaporated milk 1/2 cup canola oil 1/4 cup sugar 1 egg 4 1/2 cups self-rising flour Oil for deep-fat frying plus a sugar thermometer Confectioners' sugar
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the milk, oil, sugar and egg and 2 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough (dough will be sticky). Do not knead. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Punch dough down. Turn onto a floured surface. Roll into a 16” x 12” rectangle cut into 2” squares. In an electric skillet or deep-fat fryer, heat oil to 375°. Fry squares, a few at a time, until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Roll warm beignets in confectioners' sugar.
Homemade Chocolate Sauce with Raspberries Serves 10 large tablespoons
1/2 cup heavy cream 3 tablespoons sweet butter 1/3 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces 1/3 cup cocoa powder 1/4 tsp salt 1 cup raspberries
Heat the cream and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When melted, add the chocolate, cocoa and salt stirring with a whisk, until melted and smooth without any lumps. Serve immediately, or reheat slowly, stirring rapidly with a wooden spoon. If too thick, slowly add a tablespoon of hot water and mix until the consistency is to your liking.
Drizzle the warm chocolate sauce underneath the beignet, coated in confectioners’ sugar, adding the 2 tablespoons of fresh raspberries on top. If fresh raspberries are not available use frozen ones, having first defrosted at room temperature.