Alex Guarnaschelli: My Signature Raspberry Beignet Recipe

08/19/2014 at 12:59 PM ET

Alex Guarnaschelli Raspberry Beignets
Courtesy Alex Guarnaschelli; Inset:Neilson Barnard

Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-School Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.

Do you have a favorite, trademark recipe? Maybe something, usually super simple, that your family asks you to make time and time again? For me, I always asked my mother for her spaghetti with Marinara sauce and her corn bread. And I would always ask my father to make the famous Guarnaschelli family meatballs loaded with garlic and curly parsley. Well, the same thing happens in a restaurant. You end up with a “signature” dish that never leaves the menu. We always joke at the restaurant about how people will come and say “do you still make those delicious doughnuts we had the last time we were here?”

Truth is: those doughnuts were kind of an accident! But I have been serving them at Butter in New York City for the last 13 years. Every day. And I every time I see them being made and fried and filled with raspberry jam, I still want to eat them!

When I arrived at Butter years ago, there was a beignet with a dipping sauce already on the menu. It was the most popular dessert on the menu, but when the pastry chef left, he took the recipe with him. It seemed criminal to let go of a signature dish, so I set out to create my own version.

I wanted a slightly cakey doughnut that when fried to order would also be fairly light. And, while I was at it, I wanted it to have something creamy with vanilla flavor to go along with the tang of the raspberry jam. The final touch, I decided, would be a little crunch of granulated sugar on the outside.

I tried a million recipes, and I would up with a soggy, deflated beignet every time. I would go to doughnut shops and eat the sugar-raised honey dip doughnuts wistfully, wondering how they had achieved such a texture and cakey fluff.

Finally, after many attempts I wound up with a recipe that works. It’s a truly simple dessert, and the smell of those beignets has been a staple of the Butter kitchen every day for more than 13 years.

Alex Guarnaschelli Raspberry Beignets
Courtesy Alex Guarnaschelli

Raspberry Beignets with Vanilla Dipping Sauce
Makes about 25-30 beignets

There are two things to keep in mind to make sure this recipe is a success. First, once you combine the yeast and warm water, you need to put them in a warm place (like near the stove when the oven is on). You need that heat to get the yeast and water combination rolling. Second, don’t skimp on the two types of flour. The all-purpose flour is great for density and the bread flour, with increased protein, contributes to good shape a good “rise” factor. That’s why I’ve invited both to this party.

1 tbsp. plus 21/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1¼ sticks unsalted butter
⅔ cup granulated sugar
3 eggs, cracked and lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. kosher salt
3½ cups bread flour
Extra flour for rolling the dough (about 1 cup total)
1 quart fryer oil
¾ cup raspberry jam (preferably seedless) in a pastry bag fitted with a small tip
Granulated sugar for garnish

Temperature in baking:I admit that I have taken a recipe that has instructed me to have eggs and butter at room temperature and ignored it. But sometimes, you can’t. This is one of those recipes. The butter and eggs really need to have warmed up a bit. Take them both out and out them in a warm place while you gather and measure all of the other ingredients. Fully “creaming” the butter and then individually adding the eggs is at the heart of a good doughnut here. If they’re too cold, the mixture tends to “break” or separate and the resulting texture is not as good.

Alex Guranaschelli Raspberry Beignet
Courtesy Alex Guarnaschelli

1. Make the dough: Put the warm water into a medium size bowl. “Warm water” for this recipe is defined by falling within the temperature range where dry yeast likes to wake up from its nap in those little envelopes in the back of your cupboard. Namely: between 110-120 degrees Fahrenheit. When I run the water from the tap, it’s about where water starts to feel “hot” to the touch. Whisk in the yeast. Set aside to “proof”. After 10 minutes, you should see some bubbles on the surface. (If there is nothing at all, start again with fresher yeast). Stir in the all-purpose flour, cover with plastic and set aside in a warm place.
2. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar, 8-10 minutes. Do not skimp or rush the creaming time. Add the eggs, with the mixer on low speed, one by one. When the mix is smooth, add the vanilla and salt. Stir to blend. Add the bread flour and mix on low speed until fully incorporated. Add in the yeast mixture and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Put the dough in a bowl and allow to “proof “ in a warm place about an hour and a half.
3. Roll and cut the beignets: Lightly flour a cool surface and sprinkle with an even layer of flour. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out to about 1½-inch thickness. Cut rounds of dough with a 2-inch round cookie cutter and turn them onto a floured baking sheet to rest in a warm place, 20-30 minutes, before frying. You cannot re roll or use scraps unless you fry them “as is” so cut your doughnut rounds very close together to maximize yield. Note: If you wait longer than that to fry them and they are fairly puffed up, refrigerating them until you are ready is best. Leaving them in a warm place for too long can result in over proofing and yield an overly yeasty (and somewhat sour) doughnut.
4. Fry the beignets: Heat the oil in a medium pot to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Drop a “test” beignet in the hot fat and cook until golden brown on both sides, 3-4 minutes. Remove it from the oil with a slotted spoon. Poke the pastry tip (with the pastry beg filled with some seedless raspberry jam) into the side of each beignet to “inject” into the center of each and roll in the granulated sugar. You can also put the jam in a squeeze bottle and poke then end into each beignet to fill them. Serve immediately.

Vanilla Bean Sauce
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (or substitute 2 teaspoons vanilla)
2 cups whole milk
6 egg yolks
⅔ cup granulated sugar

1. Steep the milk: In a pot, combine the vanilla beans and milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 2 minutes and then set the pot aside off the heat to steep for 10 minutes.
2. Make the sauce: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the egg yolks and sugar. Whisk at medium speed until the eggs are bright yellow, 3-5 minutes. Strain the milk mixture, pressing down to extract the maximum from the vanilla beans. Pour ½ of the milk mixture into the egg yolks with the machine on low speed. When blended, return the entire mixture to the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, 5-8 minutes.
3.Take a bowl and place in a larger bowl with ice underneath. Pour the mixture into the bowl and stir to accelerate cooling. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

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