There were seven countries that have laid claim to the Virgin Islands, before it was acquired by the United States in 1917. France and Spain were two of those countries. I suspect it was through them that this treat was brought to the island, and transformed by the addition of local tropical ingredients.
Locally, it is spelled and pronounced “Benye”. However, it is obvious that it is intended to mirror its Southern European cousins. The French have the Beignet, the Portuguese have the Malasada, and the Crucians have the Benye! In belated honor of Fat Tuesday, and the heaven sent New Orleans Beignet and Cafe Au Lait, here is a mouth watering recipe for one of my favorite treats.
I have only had true Crucian benyes twice in my entire life. But each time I have had them, I understood that I was eating something very special. Hence, it is a very rare treat. My memory of benye was that it was similar to a fried doughnut in texture, and a very well balanced spiced pastry. It was also mahogany colored and dense throughout from the addition of overly ripened bananas. This is my twist on the traditional Crucian Benye.
I lightened up the dough to create an airy pastry pillow that literally melts in your mouth. It is buttery, (but not at all greasy) and not overly sweetened, even with the generous topping of cinnamon or powdered sugar.
My version does not shine the spotlight on banana as the prominent flavor, as the traditional recipe does. Instead, the banana is simply part of a greater ensemble cast that includes vanilla, nutmeg, of-course-coconut, and a variety of other spices!
I never tire of coconut, and find a way to tuck that ingredient into practically everything I make. However, if you are allergic, or are simply weary of the taste you can substitute fresh whole milk in this recipe.
A Contessa Beignet, a cup of unsweetened or honey sweetened Cafe Au Lait, and a sun-kissed Crucian morning. Have you started packing your bags yet?!
2 Tablespoons Lukewarm Water
1 Tablespoon Active Dry Yeast
1/2 Cup Sugar
3 Large Eggs
2 Tablespoons Melted Butter
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
4 Cups Bread Flour
1/2 A Ripened Banana
1/2 Cup Coconut Milk
1/2 Cup Half and Half
1/2 Teaspoon Grated Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1 Tablespoon Vanilla
A few drops of Banana Essence (It is very potent so only a few drops are necessary.)
Warm the coconut milk, half and half, and water to no more than 100 degrees. If the temperature is higher then it might kill the yeast and the beignets will not rise.
I only use fresh coconut milk in my recipes. If you are using the canned version try to use an organic canned milk, as it will likely not have all the gums that may change the texture of this doughnut. If you can’t find an organic can of coconut milk, try to use the one with the least amount of ingredients on the back. I am a fan of the Goya brand, when I am out of fresh coconut milk.
Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and stir until dissolved. Add the sugar and let sit for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the butter. Then to the butter add the flavorings, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, and Vanilla, Banana Essence. Banana Essence is not the same thing as Banana extract. It is a very concentrated burst of banana flavor. If you can’t find essence you can omit it. Butter is the perfect carrier to ensure that all the flavors are properly disbursed throughout the dough.
Finely mash the banana. You want it to be the consistency of a puree. You do not want chunks of banana in this.
Combine one cup of the bread flour with the milk/yeast mixture, butter, and mashed banana.
Then with a hand mixer, beat the eggs until they are lightened and thick, depending on the speed of your machine, this could take about five minutes of steady beating.
Stir in the eggs, and add another cup of flour to the dough. Then add the salt and stir. I never add salt straight on top of yeast in dough recipes, as it could kill the yeast. Yeast is a living thing. Be gentle with it.
Add the remaining flour and mix with the paddle attachment on your stand mixture until it is all incorporated. You can not make this recipe without a good stand mixer. If you don’t have one, you will have to try to do it by hand with a sturdy spoon.
Take the dough and leave it in a warm place for about an hour and a half. Since this mixture has eggs in it, I never leave it at room temperature for more than an hour and a half.
Then turn the dough over gently and refrigerate it overnight. This allows the dough to develop its best flavors.
The next day take the dough out about an hour ahead of when you want to use it. Roll it out a 1/2 inch thick, and cut it into 2 inch squares.
Heat a pot with about three inches of oil in it to 350 degrees on a candy thermometer. Then begin frying individual squares a few at a time. I like to fry in large cast iron pots. I find the heat of the cast iron is better distributed for frying than in other pots. But any pot you feel comfortable with will do.
Fry the beneights until they are golden brown in color on each side. Drain them on a paper towel or on a wire rack. I prefer the wire rack.
Then shake them in a brown paper bag with cinnamon sugar when they have cooled slightly. You can also dust them with some simple powdered sugar, once they are completely cooled.
Enjoy a few with a nice cup of Cafe Au Lait!