Preamble: It slowly dawned on me (see here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/378614) that driving to various Los Angeles restaurants for beignets (fritters) was 1) dumb, 2) expensive, and 3) a losing proposition. Besides, it's just fried dough, right? So, out comes Chef John Folse's book (Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cooking) and off came the rust from my baking skills, which I haven't exercised in over a decade. One thing that should be noted is that I had never deep fried anything in my life. So, we figured out pretty much all of this on the fly, mostly by following Folse's guidelines, taking temperatures, and seeing what happened.
Folse's recipe is easy to follow (or just buy a package of the Cafe du Monde mix). I went to Bristol Farms, which is the top of my price range, and they didn't have Cafe du Monde mix, so I made my own dough and rolled it out to about 3/8" thick, 3" squares, per Folse's suggestion.
Next up was finding some oil that smokes hot enough to fry the beignets (CdM and Folse both suggest 350-375 degrees for optimum puffiness). Cafe du Tourist suggests cottonseed oil, Folse suggests vegetable oil. Folse wins -- I had canola oil in the cabinet. Inquiring minds might want to know -- will Trader Joe's canola oil get up to 350 degrees, or will it burst into flames? (Couldn't I have find this stuff on the Interwebs? Well, yeah: http://www.cookingforengineers.com/ar... -- but then, how do you figure out which refined-ness of oil you have in your cabinet? Thermapen to the rescue, once again.) As you can see in photo #1, it is the former that happens to be the case. Hooray for Trader Joe's.
Now for the fun part -- will frying process result in fluffy beignets, or a trip to the emergency room? Just to keep things interesting (and because I don't own a fryer), I did all of the frying in the same vessel in which I tested the smoke point of the oil, a 1.5qt mousseline pan. It is nice and tippy, for added excitement. Dough was lowered into the oil with a slotted spoon (see figure #2) and flipped over once it had become golden brown (about 90-120 seconds per side).
In order to keep the beignets from getting soggy and greasy with oil, I put paper towels over a cooling rack and sprinkled the powdered sugar onto them while they were draining. This struck me as terribly clever, although it's probably the way everyone does it anyhow. (See photo #3)
The result was nice and fluffy and brown, and (I assume) incredibly bad for me. We each had two, with coffee and a bit of summer raspberry syrup from Georgia that I found in the fridge. (Depicted, more or less, in Photo #4)
And what, pray tell, do folks in New Orleans do? I'd hate to ruin the fun, so here's a final link: http://neworleans.metblogs.com/archiv... (Yes, my family tree is rooted in Louisiana soil; and no, I don't recall ever having to make beignets by hand in NoLa.)
So, if you are looking for a fun way to spend a Sunday morning and/or suffer 3rd degree burns (ask my sister, a trauma resident, about the close relationship between ER doctors and turkey fryer enthusiasts sometime), you could do a lot worse. Hope this helps you (...decide not to).