A Sweet Investigation
The beignet as a learning experience
As we head to the point of summer when we don’t remember the last time we felt cold air outdoors and our brains seem to be melting, keeping kids from falling away into heat-induced doldrums and complaining of boredom seems an almost impossible task. If you’re looking to keep kids mentally sharp as we enter the school year, there is nothing like a food-based adventure seeking out and comparing something just about every New Orleanian loves: the beignet.
While almost all of us have found ourselves covered in powdered sugar at Café du Monde at least once in our lives, there are a number of places in town that offer the classic beignet as well as places that have their own spin on the iconic dessert. While most kids won’t turn down dessert of any kind, taking a moment to teach kids about comparisons comes with another important lesson about how things may seem the same, but are actually very different. Couple this lesson with a little history on the beignet, and you’ve just introduced your child to the burgeoning field of foodways, which seeks to explore the historic and cultural significance of national and regional cuisines.
What is so interesting about the beignet is its universal appeal. Just about every culture – dating back to the Greeks and the Romans – has some sort of fried dough. The beignet is specific to the French and was popularized by the French colonists in New Orleans, quickly becoming a staple of Creole cuisine.
Before embarking on your adventure, have kids make a list of qualities, tastes and textures they associate with a beignet: crunchiness, chewiness and sweetness, for instance. If you want to make it a competition, you can also have a rating system.
It almost goes without saying that the either the first or last stop on your family beignet tour should be at Café Du Monde. Opened in 1862 in French Market, you can get beignets 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the only days closed being Christmas Day and for the occasional hurricane. While the standard operation is to sit down at a table, I’ve had people swear the beignets are better from the to-go window. Either way (Or maybe you should try both to compare?), the iconic café is effectively the control group in this experiment.
Nearby, however, is Café Beignet, which gives a smaller, more intimate, atmosphere and, from what I’ve been told, a very different beignet experience. There are also sandwiches if you need a palate cleanser or a blood-sugar leveler.
If you’re looking for a departure from the traditional beignet, you can head Uptown to New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Co. to try what many consider either an inspiration or an abomination: a chocolate beignet.
Finally, you and your little foodies can do a little investigating and find even more folks around town experimenting with beignets. There are multiple places in town that periodically experiment with filling beignets, and the crawfish beignets at Jazz Fest have inspired many chefs to create other savory varieties. Meanwhile, your journey doesn’t need to stop in New Orleans. The Berrytown Corner Café in Ponchatoula is famous for their fruit-filled beignets, and summer strawberry season in the state’s strawberry capital is the perfect time to try that variety.
After your journey is complete (or after you’ve collapsed from a sugar crash), it’s it fun to see what your children have discovered about a dish that seems simple but has a lot of variation and inspires creativity. It may even inspire some creativity in your own home – no doubt resulting in floors covered in flour and powdered sugar, but also some memories of little fingers working dough and smiles spreading across faces.
Just the Facts …
Café Du Monde
800 Decatur St.
Hours: Seven days a week
(Closed Christmas Day), 24 hours
334 Royal St.
Hours: Mondays-Sundays, 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Co.
4141 St. Charles Ave.
Hours: Sundays-Thursdays, 6:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays, 6:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Berrytown Corner Café
100 W. Pine St., Ponchatoula
Hours: Mondays-Saturdays, 7 a.m.-2 p.m.; Sundays, 8 a.m.-noon