Tomorrow is Mardi Gras (literally Fat Tuesday, in English called Shrove Tuesday), the last day of Carnival (or Shrovetide) in the Christian calendar. Shrove Tuesday was the last moment to indulge in rich sweets just before the approaching fasting period (Lent) starting on Ash Wednesday. Since fats were traditionally forbidden during Lent, Carnival sweets were usually deep-fried, thus allowing to use up the forbidden ingredient. Even though now most people do not fast during the Lent, these seasonal sweets are still very popular in many countries.
Bugnes (pronounced “byuñ”), French carnival fritters, are the speciality of the Lyon region. The most popular bugnes version is made of doughnut-like soft leavened dough, but the bugnes I prefer – actually the only ones I like – are crunchy, featherlight strips, sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and very similar to Italian chiacchiere (also called cenci, bugie and a dozen of other regional names) and Polish “faworki” (“chrust“). In French-speaking Switzerland and in other parts of France very similar light Carnival fritters are called “merveilles” (miracles).
This recipe comes from “Le Grand Livre de Cuisine d’Alain Ducasse: Bistrots, Brasseries et Restaurants de Tradition” and just like all the Alain Ducasse’s recipes I have tried (for example Lemon Tart or Crème Brûlée), this one is perfectly explained and leads to amazing results. His bugnes have a very moderate sweetness level, are not fatty at all (one quickly forgets they had any contact with oil) and the grated zest gives them a wonderful flavour. I think these fritters are the lightest thing I have ever obtained with deep-frying method.
TIPS: Bugnes have to be planned ahead (the dough needs to be refrigerated overnight), but they are quite easy to prepare. The only arduous part is the rolling-out process. The dough really needs to be almost paper-thin (about 1 mm), otherwise the air bubbles will not form and the bugnes will not be featherlight.
a rolling pin
a pizza cutter or pastry cutter (a good sharp knife can also be used, but cutters are more practical)
Preparation: 15 minutes + 1 night in the fridge + 1 hour
Ingredients (yields about forty 4 cm x 12 cm strips):
250 g flour
1 teaspoon salt
15 g sugar
grated zest from one lemon and one orange or from two lemons
75 g softened butter
oil or pork fat for deep-frying
Combine the flour, the eggs, the salt, the sugar and the zest and knead with your hands or in a food processor until the dough is smooth.
Add the butter and knead for a couple of minutes until the dough stops sticking to your hands.
Wrap the dough in plastic film and leave overnight in the fridge.
The following day roll out the dough as thinly as possible (about 1 mm) and cut into strips.
Heat the oil (160°C if you have a possibility to check the temperature, if not make some experiments with small pastry cuts: if the oil starts bubbling around them and they don’t fall to the bottom, it means the oil is hot enough).
Deep-fry the bugnes until golden brown. They are very thin, so it will take only about 10 seconds on each side.
Drain them on paper towels.
Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and serve.