Similar to beignets, bugnes are a specialty of Lyon made on Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, the last day before the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter. When I was a child, my mother and my aunts would make bugnes that day, and so did all the bistros in Lyon. The bugne is a fritter made with strips of thin dough flavored sometimes with orange water, rum, or vanilla, and deep-fried. Some are made with yeast, which makes them spongier. I like my version without yeast. Drier and crisper, it is covered generously with confectioners' sugar. I also like to sprinkle vanilla sugar on top of my bugnes. I always have some leftover vanilla beans that I put in a jar at home, cover with sugar, and leave to flavor the sugar. I dust some of it on top of my bugnes, and then sprinkle on some powdered sugar, which sticks to them. Beautifully dusted with the sugar is just as I remember them when my brother and I fought over big plates of them at the restaurant.
Bugnes are fried in regular vegetable oil; I like to use corn, peanut, or canola oil. They cook quite fast, in a couple of minutes. If you are making a lot of them, the best way to drain them is on a wire rack, and they should sit there for a minute or two to cool off a little before you put them on plates and dust them with the sugar. In Lyon, they are usually cut with a wooden wheel with a crinkled edge, called a jagger or a roulette in French. Sometimes, however, they are cut by hand with a knife into various shapes, usually little rectangles about 1 inch wide and 4 or 5 inches long. Often, a lengthwise incision of about 2 inches is cut down the middle of these dough rectangles, so that when they cook the dough separates, giving it a nice look and crunchy edge. Also, sometimes one of the ends of the rectangle is pulled through the incision to create a ribbon-like shape that is classic with bugnes.
I make my bugne dough in a food processor, which makes it easier, and then I roll it very thin. My mother mixed the ingredients in a bowl with a wooden spatula to make a dough that was quite soft. My dough is also soft, and it can be used right away, although it is a bit more tender when made ahead and allowed to rest. Use flour and a rolling pin to roll the dough, even though it can practically be extended with your hands because it is soft and easy to roll. Well-made bugnes will stay crisp for hours at room temperature.
Measure out 1 1/2 cups (about 7 ounces) of all-purpose flour and put it into the bowl of a food processor with a dash of salt, 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 stick of room temperature butter. Process for about 10 seconds, then add 1 teaspoon of lemon zest, 1 tablespoon of dark rum, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 2 eggs. Blend for another 15 seconds, or until a soft dough forms. Transfer the dough to a table to roll immediately, or let it rest, refrigerated, for an hour or so.
Lightly flour the table roll the dough into 4 balls. Place on ball a on the floured surface. Spread with your hands, then turn the dough over and extend it further with your hands. Spread or roll lightly with a wooden rolling pin until the dough is no more than 1/8 inch thick. Cut into rectangles about 1 inch wide by 4 inches long with a crinkle-edged wheel or with a knife. Leave as is, or cut a 2-inch slit down the center of each rectangle to make a hole that will spread open as it cooks. If you like, slip one of the ends of the rectangle through the slit and pull it back, to give a kind of spiral or corkscrew effect to the strips of dough. Work quickly because the dough is very soft and delicate to handle. If you have a problem with it, cool the dough in the refrigerator to firm it up.
In a shallow skillet, heat 3 cups of oil to 325°. Put 4 or 5 strips of dough into the hot oil and cook for about 1 minute on one side, then turn with tongs and continue cooking for another minute. Lift the bugnes from the oil and place on a wire rack while you repeat with the remaining dough. Sprinkle the bugnes with a little regular sugar, vanilla sugar (if you have it), or, if you like, cinnamon sugar (not used in France, but appreciated in the U.S.). Then sprinkle with powdered sugar on both sides. Pile up on plates and enjoy.
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