The Truth About Beignets

It took a journey of several thousand years and several thousand miles for Louisiana's official state doughnut to get to where it is today. Like all doughnuts, the beignet most likely had its roots in "scriblita," a type of ancient Roman pastry, which was made with a very moist dough and then cooked in boiling fat (via Joe Gambino's Bakery).

From there the idea of frying dough made its way to France, and in the 17th century, French settlers brought the recipe for the moist dough pastry with them when they moved to the eastern coast of Canada, where they settled in a region called Acadia, but it was not to last (via National Geographic). The French Acadians were forced to move again a hundred years later, when British forces took control of the region. The final, forced migration drove settlers down to Louisiana, where their descendants, known as Cajuns, live in the area to this day.

Beignets used to be called something else

No one talks about Louisiana beignets without mentioning Cafe du Monde, the New Orleans restaurant that put the fried pastry on America's food map. But the restaurant, which has been serving beignets for over 150 years, didn't always refer to their specialty as such. Until the mid-20th century, Cafe du Monde's fried pillows were called donuts, or French Market doughnuts, after the area where the restaurant was located. 

It was only in 1958 when the square doughnut with no hole was called a "beignet," which is French for fritter. In 1986, the beignet was named Louisiana's official doughnut. Today, the iconic square donut continues to be served with generous helpings of powdered sugar at the now legendary Cafe du Monde the way they have been for a century and a half — paired with a cafe au lait, which is made with dark roast coffee, chicory, and an equal portion of warm milk.

Beignets don't exist in a vacuum. They are considered to be culinary cousins of the Spanish sopapilla, which is also a fluffy pillow pastry — but unlike beignets, which are square, sopaipillas are cut either into triangles or circles.