Situated in the French Market District, Café Du Monde was established in 1862 and has become one of, if not the, most iconic eateries in New Orleans. While a well-known tourist destination, it retains its local customers and color.
Café Du Monde is world-famous for beignets (a type of French doughnut) and their café au lait, which is made with a coffee-chicory blend. The process of mixing coffee and chicory has its roots in the French civil war, when coffee was scarce and chicory, the ground root of the Endive plant, was added to help stretch their meager supplies. Chicory has a slight bitter flavor and adds an almost powdery mouth-feel to the coffee.
Café Du Monde’s café au laits are made with a fifty-fifty split of warm milk and coffee, which tempers the bitterness, and makes for a smooth, creamy cup. If coffee isn’t your thing, orange juice, hot chocolate and milk are also available, but almost everyone is there for the coffee and beignet experience.
The Beignets are the only food item on the menu, but they are done right. Served hot, in orders of three, they arrive absolutely covered in powdered sugar. Despite many patrons’ Herculean efforts to the contrary, everyone winds up with powdered sugar on their clothes and faces. That said, wearing dark clothing to Cafe Du Monde is not advised. Also, laughing, coughing or even breathing wrong is liable to raise a cloud of white powdery topping, but that’s all part of the fun. They have a bit more chew than your average doughnut, and aren’t as sweet, but the mound of sugar on top more than makes up for that.
Being such a popular spot, Cafe Du Monde can get quite busy at times, so expect a wait during peak hours. If you can, grab one of the outside tables under the awning to enjoy the view and perhaps the sounds of street muscians. They are open 24 hours a day, every day except Christmas.
The coffee and chicory blend comes pre-ground in a traditional coffee can. While it was ground a little fine for a French press, that is what we had, so we heated up some milk and gave it a whirl.
The results are what one would expect from pre-ground coffee, a little flat tasting, but fine. The chicory adds perhaps a hint of musty bitter-chocolate flavor but it’s hardly noticeable with all the milk in the mug.
Making the beignets couldn’t be easier, combine two cups of the mix with seven ounces of water in a bowl and stir until blended.
The dough is then rolled out on a floured surface until it’s about 1/8 of an inch thick. Cut into 2 and a 1/4” squares (roughly) and place into 370º oil.
You’ll know your oil is hot enough if they rise to the top in 8-10 seconds.
Once they do, baste them with oil, while they continue to cook, until puffy and golden brown. Next, drain them and dust with powdered sugar while still hot, which helps the sugar stay were you want it (sorta).
Surprisingly, the taste was fairly close to the real thing, crispy on the outside and a bit chewy on the inside. They’re definitely on the savory rather than sweet side, but that can be adjusted by how much sugar you decide to top them with. Also, because they aren’t tooth-achingly sweet, you’ll feel less guilty when you eat a half-dozen for breakfast. With Mardi Gras on everybody’s mind this time of year, it was fun to have a little bit of New Orleans in our own kitchen.
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