Anne Marie's post on Cafe Du Monde's beignet mix got me all misty-eyed for that New Orleans institution. While it's not that difficult to make your own at home, you might not feel like heating up a big vat of
oil for a weekend brunch. Otherwise, we'd have a whole lot more people frying up doughnuts at home.
So for those like me who want the easy way out, for this week's duel, we compare ready-made beignets from Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen Express in Downtown Disney and a brand-new bánh mi shop called Lynda Sandwich.
The keys to good beignets? Perfectly risen dough fried to order. At Jazz Kitchen Express, fresh, soft dough is rolled out by hand on a marble bench, then doubled over itself to form two, thin layers, creating a hollow void between them when fried. It's one of the signature menu items that's made continually throughout the day, until it closes at 10 p.m.
Since Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen is owned by a New Orleans restaurant family, you can expect the beignets served are the real deal. They're the traditional size and shape, and the sweet dough has the right flavor profile.
But honestly? Even though the pastry chefs are doing things just as they might in New Orleans, the beignets are okay at best. They're not as light as they can be, and they don't always form a hollow pocket inside, both of which hint at inadequate proofing of the dough. They're more than a little greasy, which indicates the fry oil isn't hot enough.
When nearly three dozen large pieces of dough crowd the fryer at once, the oil naturally drops in temperature. The nonstop production at Jazz Kitchen Express ensures freshness on the one hand, but the equally nonstop demand might compromise quality control.
In many ways, the beignets from Lynda Sandwich are all wrong. They're much smaller than tradition demands and come in triangles or strips instead of larger, pillow-shaped rectangles. And yet, they're so much better for their wrongness.
Pop-singing husband-and-wife duo Lynda Trang Dai and Tommy Ngo opened their bánh mi shop two months ago, and they feature beignets on the menu simply because they love them. The love shows in the willingness to cast aside the Cafe du Monde archetype, which are a little too big and doughy in the middle. By making them bite-sized, Lynda's beignets have a better ratio of toasty crust to doughy center, and the acute-angled corners of the triangle fry up almost crunchy–a great contrasting texture. The well-proofed triangles puff up hollow and airy, making it easy to eat one after another without that pesky bloated feeling. Makes
me one feel less guilty for eating a whole order solo.
But perhaps you prefer your beignets more doughy in the middle instead of hollow? The finger-sized strips fill that need. Too narrow to puff up in the middle, they retain a satisfyingly soft-chewy texture compared to the triangles. Both shapes can be flavored with the traditional powdered sugar, a cinnamon sugar or a honey glaze.
Rather than the continuous-production modus operandi of Jazz Kitchen Express, Lynda Sandwich fries your beignets to order, which took 10 minutes on a relatively slow night. When they came out, they were not at all greasy because the oil was allowed to heat up to the correct temperature. As business picks up for this new kitchen, your order might take even longer, but it's worth the wait. Sip on some strong, dark-roasted Vietnamese coffee, marvel at the wall full of beautiful celebrities' autographed head shots, and chillax.
They might be newbie restaurant owners, but Lynda and Tommy easily beat the restaurant-veteran Brennan family at this week's duel. They also make top-tier bánh mì, croissants and pâté chaud, so watch this blog for an upcoming review of the restaurant. For now, Lynda Sandwich wins Battle Beignets
Lynda Sandwich, 15380 Beach Blvd., Ste. B., Westminster, (714) 898-5400.
Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen Express, 1590 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 776-5200; www.rbjazzkitchen.com.