KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 12 — Valentine’s Day is around the corner. Time for boxes of chocolates and bouquets of roses again, right? If you’re bored of those — and who wouldn’t, year after year of the same pairing — then perhaps it’s time to try a new Valentine’s Day pairing.
Something lighter and subtler, perhaps? Go with your favourite scents and flavours and flowers. A soufflé made with the juice of mandarin oranges and perfumed with chrysanthemum petals. A molten lava cake oozing with white chocolate instead of dark, decorated with a scattering of jasmine blossoms. Why not?
My beloved adores the sweet scent of real vanilla and the gentle fragrance of lavender so these are my ingredients of choice. To showcase them at their best, I’m going with something out of the ordinary — beignets, the doughnut-like fritters from New Orleans that remind one more of Mardi Gras than Valentine’s Day, surely.
First introduced to Louisiana by the French-Creole colonists in the 18th century, beignets are infamous for their over-the-top coating of powdered sugar. The sweetness is cut, slightly, by serving them with hot, milky café au lait.
Now imagine that snowy coating of sugar being redolent of vanilla. Imagine these puffy and pillowy beignets suffused with the heady fragrance of lavender. Oh what a Valentine’s Day treat this would be!
VALENTINE’S DAY VANILLA & LAVENDER BEIGNETS
While beignets are traditionally deep-fried, I find baking them to be a healthier alternative. Less oil used and certainly less of the smoky smell associated with deep-frying. You get a paler beignet, more lemony yellow, which is a lovely nod to its subtle, zesty fragrance.
The shape of the beignets are traditionally squarish but after tasting the scrumptious rendition at Blue Bottle Coffee Aoyama in Tokyo, I’ve decided ball-shaped beignets are the way to go. By rolling them in your hands, you can make them as big or small as you like.
I prefer smaller, bite-sized beignets. Remember the dough will continue to expand after you shape them into balls as they continue to proof before baking. Otherwise you might end up with beignets the size of a dai bao any dim sum shop would be proud of serving!
To make the vanilla icing sugar, simply ground the vanilla granulated sugar in a food processor till it’s the consistency of icing sugar. This is a good way of only storing granulated sugar in your kitchen and creating your own “icing sugar” only when you need it. Saves the trouble of having different types of sugar (and remembering which to replenish when you’re at the supermarket).
Finally rather than dipping them in the default chocolate sauce (a tad too heavy, I find), why not try some thing more tangy, like a runny marmalade? Or simply enjoy them as they are, while they’re hot out of the oven.
500g granulated sugar
1 stick of vanilla bean
120ml full-cream milk
Zest of 1 lemon
2 pinches lavender buds
150g lukewarm water
100g vanilla sugar (see above)
1 teaspoon dry yeast
1 teaspoon sea salt
500g bread flour
30g butter, melted
Dusting the beignets:
50g vanilla icing sugar
Make the vanilla sugar ahead of time. Pour the sugar into an airtight container such as a mason jar. Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds using the back of the knife. Mix the vanilla seeds into the sugar until well incorporated, then add the bean pod to the sugar. Tightly cover the jar and leave for at least a week until the sugar is infused with the vanilla fragrance.
To prepare the lavender milk, heat the milk, lemon zest and lavender buds until the mixture begins to simmer. Remove from the heat and steep for 15 minutes. Strain the mixture when cool, keeping only the milk.
While the lavender milk is steeping, begin making the beignet batter. Mix the water, vanilla sugar, and yeast in a small bowl. Set aside for five minutes until some bubbles appear on the surface (indicating the yeast is active).
In a larger mixing bowl, combine the eggs, salt and lavender milk. Add the yeast mixture and melted butter, and mix well. Finally add the flour and mix until a slightly sticky dough forms. Leave the dough in its mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside for at least two hours to allow it to rise.
The dough should now have doubled in size. Take bits of dough and roll it in your hands into small balls. Place these on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Allow the dough to proof for a further 30 minutes. While the dough is proofing, preheat oven to 180°C.
Bake the beignets for about 15 minutes. Dust the beignets with the vanilla icing sugar — don’t be afraid to be generous — and serve immediately while they’re still warm.
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