While the rest of you on the home soil and elsewhere were competing to make the best pancakes in the universe, over here we were eating bugnes (pronounced boons with a J sound before the n!!!). These little fancies are also called fantasies, beignets, oreillettes, depending on where you’re from or what form you’d like them to take (although there doesn’t seem to be any rule, a bit like the cheek kissing!).
Like a lot of things here most traditions revolve around food and there is no way you could have walked into a boulangerie anywhere in France this week without making their aquaintance! Little golden puffs of delight placed on the counter, enticing you, when all you wanted was a baguette! Oh well then … just a few!
Les bugnes lyonnaises, apparently their classic title, are made from a basic dough, with not too much sugar and a big wallop of butter. They are then deep fried (to complete the heart attack!) and served with a sprinkling of icing sugar for good measure. And they are delicious!
They come in all shapes and sizes. Diamonds, squares, triangles, ribbons all glistening in sugar and winking (ok maybe they were only winking at me!). Anyone who has visited New Orleans has probably tasted their world famous beignets which are a version of the same. The thing I could most easily compare them to would be a doughnut batter, but they are so much more delicate than that.
I actually hadn’t ever made them before yesterday. It is usually Grand’mère who does the honours but as she is still getting over her hand surgery, I decided to give it a lash! I had good fun, I like making pastry and breads so I was enjoying the process. After I rolled out the dough, I paused to step back and admire the smooth texture. I can never resist running my hand over a cool, smooth pastry surface. I was one of those children who was always running their hand along a wall as they walked along. I once worked in a place where there was a polished concrete handrail. It was too much to resist everyday! And let’s just say some of the statues in the Louvre nearly made me chew my hand off to resist touching them!
I cut out the little shapes and laid them out on parchment paper to transport them more easily to Grand’mère’s house. We had arranged to meet over there in the afternoon and enjoy the cooking together. Usually in Grand’mère’s we eat in the dining room, but there are certain traditions that call for the little kichen table beside the cooker – and this is one of them. We sat around chatting about our days, enjoying the fresh warm bugnes. A little dollop of rhubarb jam and mmmmmm. I’ve heard of other families who make an accompanying chocolate fondue to really go out of orbit. The bugnes, although traditionally served on the Tuesday before Lent, are not completely reserved to this day. Mon homme has happy childhood memories of this being the evening meal from time to time. Served with a steaming bowl of café au lait or a chocolat chaud.
In France, Pancake Tuesday is called Mardi Gras. This is where the famous carnival tradition comes from. At this time of year there are parades in some of the bigger cities, the most famous being the Carnaval de Nice. In smaller villages and towns it’s not unusual to see the children on their way to school in fancy dress!
Mardi Gras literally means “fat Tuesday”. I think I did my best to honour the tradition. Now for the purge!
This is the recipe I used to make Bugnes (although this is France so there are about a million other recipes. Those Frenchies can’t agree on anything!) :
- 400g plain flour
- roughly 2 teaspoons of baking powder
- 50g sugar
- a pinch of salt
- 3 eggs
- 100g butter (melted)
- 1 soupspoon of orange flower water (or it works perfectly well with a glug of rum and orange zest)
- A little water at room temperature
- Icing sugar for dusting
Mix your dry ingredients together well. Add the eggs, one at a time. I shape my hand like a claw while mixing! Alternatively if you’re used to a mixer you can do that.
Add the orange flower water or rum at this point and then add in your melted butter (make sure it’s cooled – don’t burn yourself!) If the dough seems dry you can add some of the lukewarm water. Little by little. The dough should be similar in consistency to a pizza dough and like most dough or pastry it’s best not to overwork it.
Let the dough rest in a fridge for 1 to 2 hours and then roll it out to about 1cm in thickness.
Now you can let yourself go with making your shapes. Let your inner child shine!
I made the classic diamond shapes. Just cut the diamond shape and then fold it over tip to tip, to enable you to cut out a smaller diamond in the middle. I also made some ribbon twists. Just cut out a rectangle and then twist!
Bugnes are traditionally deep fried and don’t take long. We use Grand’mère’s old fashioned open fryer as you do need to turn them and check that they’re golden on both sides. They also need to be cooked by small batch so that they don’t all stick together.
A quick and generous dusting of icing sugar and enjoy warm if possible!