Our Thoughts Go Out to Nawhlins
and our beloved Cafe du Monde.
The Great Tradition of Beignets and Café au Lait
In 1782 Spanish colonists established the trading area on the banks of the Mississippi River that we now know as the New Orleans French Market. From the beginning this market housed coffee stands. Coffee vendors were the elite of the merchants but got along well with the ethnic and social mix of customers who drank coffee throughout the business day. By the early 1800's, the custom of taking coffee at the French Market had spread throughout New Orleans society. The French Market's corner coffee stand opened in the 1830's and continues to operate today in the same location. From its inception, this coffee stand served up the typical strong coffee of the day and its soon to be famous beignets.
It is believed that the Ursuline Nuns of France, who came to Louisiana in 1727, brought this simple pastry to New Orleans. The recipe remains the same to this day. The beignets are hand rolled and deep fried then covered with heaping amounts of powdered sugar. By the mid 1800's beignets had become a welcome treat for all social classes at all hours of the day.
As is still the tradition, beignets were most often enjoyed with café au lait. In New Orleans, café au lait is strong dark roast coffee and chicory, served with equal part hot milk. In the early history of Louisiana, chicory was added to coffee to stretch dwindling supplies. It was found that, in addition to stretching supplies, the chicory also created a smoother, richer brew. The addition of hot milk to strong coffee and chicory created one of the oldest and greatest coffee traditions in the world.
Today New Orleans' locals refer to beignets simply as doughnuts. When you hear a native talking about "going for doughnuts and coffee," he or she is not referring to a trip to Krispy Kreme, but to a tradition unique to the Crescent City.As this tradition approaches its 200th year, beignets and café au lait have become symbolic of the old world charm of New Orleans and the French Quarter.