Winter is still nipping at the heels of spring, holding its last bit of ground before releasing us into warmer weather and Vermont’s fifth season – mud season. April is an odd month in Vermont. It can never seem to make up its mind whether it is winter or spring. We have had flurries this along with rainy days that leave every inch of ground like a mud bog followed by clear, sunny days. I, however, love these foggy, rainy spring days. You can smell the sweet mixture of new growth budding through the decomposing forest floor. You hear the top layer of ice finally cracking allowing the rivers and streams to flow freely and hear singing and chirping of birds that have decided it is safe to migrate back to the mountains. But for Vermonters, this schizophrenic weather pattern of freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw can only mean that sugar season has begun. This winter was especially cold and snowy, leaving us a bit stir crazy, so we welcome the mud and opportunity to get out into the brisk spring air and collect sap.
Our sugar maples have been tapped and the sap has been collected and ready to boil. The fire is roaring and the sugar shack is filled with a thick, syrupy steam. Sugaring is really a social event, at least it is with our family. Friends and family stop by to help bottle the finished syrup into the variety of glass jugs and bottles, and help tend to the wood fire to keep the sap boiling. They come by to visit and have a beer or take a nip at some whiskey to keep warm while boiling into the evening. And inevitably someone will bring over homemade doughnuts. This year we thought we would try something different and make beignets. We referenced the following recipe by John Currence’s book Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey: Recipes from My Three Favorite Foods Groups (with some of our own modification in italics). I must say they were damn good. It brought Rory and I back to when we lived in the South and our visits to New Orleans with 2 a.m. stops at Cafe Du Monde.
BOURBON CARAMEL (We recommend making a skoch more and storing it in a squeeze bottle – this stuff is amazing on vanilla ice cream!)
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons bourbon (we used Bulleit Bourbon)
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 (1/4-ounce) envelope active dry yeast
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
7 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cayenne
4 tablespoons lard
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Peanut oil, for deep frying (We used freshly rendered lard from one of the farm’s Mangalitsa pork belly for frying as well)
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
(serves 6 to 8)
To make the caramel:: In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar and 3 tablespoons water over medium heat. Swirl the sugar as it begins to boil (do not stir it). Continue swirling the sugar until it begins to change color. As it approached a medium amber color, remove from the heat and whisk in the cream. Be careful: This mixture will bubble up furiously at first, but it will settle. Whisk in the butter, salt, and bourbon. Set aside.
To make the beignets:: Mix the water, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl and let sit for 10 minutes, or until it foams.
In another bowl, beat the eggs, salt, cream, and milk together. Mix the egg mixture into the yeast mixture.
Add 3 cups of the flour and the cayenne to the yeast mixture and stir to combine. Add the lard and butter and continue to stir while adding the remaining 4 cups flour. Remove the dough from the bowl, place onto a lightly flours surface, and knead until smooth. Lightly rub a large bowl with vegetable oil. Put the dough into the oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place for at least 2 hours.
Preheat 2 1/2 inches of peanut oil (or lard) in a deep fryer to 350. Roll the dough out to about a 1/4-inch thickness and cut into 1-inch squares. Carefully place a few pieces of the dough in the deep fryer at a time, flipping constantly and frying until they turn golden. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Serve immediately, dusted heavily with confectioners’ sugar and drizzled with the caramel (or maple syrup).
Words by Candice