A Mardi Gras Celebration starts with traditional, New Orleans-style beignets! Click below for recipes, tips and ingredients.
The Real Mardi Gras Story in 500 Words or LessHow much do you know about the story of Mardi Gras? It’s pretty well-known that Mardi Gras is a part of the Christian calendar, but many folks don’t know much about Mardi Gras history and culture. That’s okay: Who wants to sit in class when there’s a party going on outside? Still, the story of […]
How much do you know about the story of Mardi Gras? It’s pretty well-known that Mardi Gras is a part of the Christian calendar, but many folks don’t know much about Mardi Gras history and culture. That’s okay: Who wants to sit in class when there’s a party going on outside? Still, the story of Mardi Gras is pretty cool. Here’s a look at its history in 500 words or less. We promise you’ll be finished in time for a little fun!
Early American Origins
In the United States, the history of Mardi Gras actually predates the birth of the nation. In the closing years of the 17th century, an explorer named Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville led his crew up the mouth of a bayou to a point near what would become New Orleans. He happened to arrive there on Mardi Gras, so he named it Mardi Gras Point. Fitting, no?
Fast forward a few years and informal Mardi Gras celebrations were being held in communities around the Gulf Coast, including Mobile and Biloxi. The first krewe, or parade organizing society (also known as a “mystic society”) was formed in 1711 and dubbed itself the Fat Cow Society. As the years went on and the region’s population increased, Mardi Gras celebrations grew larger and more elaborate.
New Orleans Gets Serious
New Orleans was a relative latecomer to the Mardi Gras game: The first recorded parade didn’t occur there until 1837. By the mid-19th century, however, New Orleans was the undeniable capital of Mardi Gras. The city passed a number of no-nonsense ordinances organizing and institutionalizing Mardi Gras celebrations, including one that prohibited anyone from riding on a Mardi Gras parade float without a mask. And the now-ubiquitous practice of bead-throwing appears to have arisen in the city during the 1870s. Way to go, New Orleans!
Modern Mardi Gras
Today, Mardi Gras is celebrated throughout the country, but its historic and cultural heart remains in New Orleans and the surrounding areas. In most places, Mardi Gras is a single day; in Cajun country, it’s an entire season that stretches from Jan. 6 to the day before Ash Wednesday. It’s also marked by a number of unique cultural signifiers: elaborate parade floats and costumes courtesy of well-organized krewes; king cake and beignets that are among the tastiest examples of cottonseed oil cooking around; and a booming tourism industry that has brought New Orleans back from the brink of death since Hurricane Katrina.
Mardi Gras is about more than beads, costumes and delicious food. It’s an integral part of the culture and identity of New Orleans and the surrounding areas. So the next time you’re participating in a Mardi Gras event, don’t forget a mental shoutout to the men and women who made this unique American event what it is today.Close
5 Things You Didn’t Know About Mardi Gras in New OrleansNo matter where you’re from, you’ve probably heard of Mardi Gras. Your hometown might even throw a parade or feature some drink specials at local bars and restaurants. That said, we’re pretty sure its Mardi Gras celebration — and, come to think of it, the entire weeks-long runup to Fat Tuesday — can’t hold a […]
No matter where you’re from, you’ve probably heard of Mardi Gras. Your hometown might even throw a parade or feature some drink specials at local bars and restaurants. That said, we’re pretty sure its Mardi Gras celebration — and, come to think of it, the entire weeks-long runup to Fat Tuesday — can’t hold a candle to New Orleans Mardi Gras. Here are five things you probably didn’t know about Mardi Gras in New Orleans. As if you needed more proof that they do things differently in the Big Easy!
- Mardi Gras Season Isn’t Just About Fat Tuesday
“Mardi Gras” is synonymous with the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, and with good reason: “Fat Tuesday” is the undeniable culmination of pre-Lenten festivities in New Orleans and elsewhere in the Catholic world. But Mardi Gras season actually lasts far longer than a single 24-hour period: Depending on how the church calendar falls, in fact, it can stretch for more than two months between the Epiphany (Jan. 6, or the 12th day of Christmas) and Ash Wednesday, which falls in February or March. So if you want to capture the Mardi Gras spirit while beating the crowds, no worries — just head to New Orleans before Fat Tuesday!
- Those Beads Actually Have a Serious Meaning
Mardi Gras beads are a prominent symbol of the big day, but they also have a serious meaning. Each color represents a different religious theme or tenet: gold for power, green for faith and purple for justice. Originally, recipients of thrown beads would be selected for their suitability: lawyers might get purple beads, local politicians might get gold, and churchmen might get green.
- New Orleans Wasn’t the First U.S. Mardi Gras Host
Shocking but true! The first U.S. city to host a formal Mardi Gras celebration was actually Mobile, Alabama, an historic Gulf Coast town that also benefited from pervasive French and Creole influence during the 18th and 19th centuries. Although Mobile beat New Orleans to the Mardi Gras punch by several years, its celebration was quickly eclipsed by the Big Easy’s.
- For Some, Masks Aren’t Optional
Mardi Gras costumes and masks seem like fun, harmless components of a fun, harmless holiday, right? Yes and no. While regular revelers are free to dress up or down (way down, in some cases!), New Orleans city law has a deadly serious dress code for folks riding on parade floats. In fact, it’s actually illegal not to wear a mask on a parade float — so if you’re riding high this Mardi Gras, don’t forget your getup!
- Mardi Gras Has a Storied Culinary Component
Amid all the revelry and costuming, it can be easy to forget to pause and refuel. But party people need to eat too, especially if they’ve been running around in pursuit of beads and floats all day. Fortunately, Mardi Gras (and Carnival season in general) has a host of unique culinary traditions that satisfy the palette and entertain the eyes. Two of the most notable: beignets and king cake. Both are straightforward cottonseed oil cooking recipes that can easily be made on a conventional stovetop or in a home oven.
What’s your favorite little-known fact about Mardi Gras in New Orleans? Next time you’re in the Crescent City during Mardi Gras season, don’t forget your notepad (and camera)!Close
4 New Orleans Originals You Can’t Miss This Mardi GrasThere’s never a bad time to visit New Orleans. Whether you’re a fan of early American history, a lover of French architectural styles or live for partying it up with other thrill-seekers, you’re sure to find something to love in New Orleans. But Mardi Gras season brings a host of extra reasons to visit the […]
There’s never a bad time to visit New Orleans. Whether you’re a fan of early American history, a lover of French architectural styles or live for partying it up with other thrill-seekers, you’re sure to find something to love in New Orleans.
But Mardi Gras season brings a host of extra reasons to visit the Big Easy. Here are four New Orleans Mardi Gras originals that you won’t find anywhere else.
- Cottonseed Oil Beignets from Cafe du Monde
From po’boys to daiquiris, New Orleans is home to plenty of culinary originals. One of the most beloved is the beignet, a light, airy pastry — similar to the fried dough you’d find at a carnival or amusement park, but way better! — that’s made with cottonseed oil, confectioner’s sugar and lots of love. Cafe du Monde, a storied New Orleans bakery and restaurant, serves the best-known (and, arguably, plain old best) beignets of them all. If you’re keen on trying theirs, arrive early, as lines can stretch around the block during peak hours.
- It’s All About the Krewe
You mean “crew,” right? Maybe in 49 other states, but not Louisiana. In New Orleans and the surrounding areas, “krewes” are close-knit groups — often friends, family members and neighbors — who organize Carnival parades and balls. If that sounds like a lot of work, it is! To cover expenses, such as parade floats and costumes, krewes typically assess membership fees that can range from $20 to hundreds of dollars. Because of all the organizational work involved, krewes may actively operate for months out of the year, but most parades and balls take place within a month of Mardi Gras.
- Historic Trolleys (Without the Hills)
When most people think of historic trolleys and streetcars, they think of San Francisco’s iconic cable cars. But New Orleans also has a functioning network of historic streetcars — and without the City by the Bay’s unavoidable, stomach-churning ascents and descents. There are three lines: St. Charles, Riverfront, and Canal Street. Collectively, they hit or pass close to most of the major landmarks in the Garden District, French Quarter and downtown New Orleans.
During Mardi Gras season, these public transit gems become packed with revelers. Will you be using them to get around?
- Mardi Gras Beads: Can You Collect Them All?
Mardi Gras just wouldn’t be the same without the beads. Thrown from parade floats, windows and enthusiastic passers-by, the purple, gold and green beads symbolize the colorful joy of Mardi Gras. They also have a storied history: The first “beads” were actually candied almonds thrown from parade floats in the mid-1800s, but savvy businessmen quickly realized that glass beads would be cheaper and easier to produce en masse. Since the 1870s, glass (now plastic) bead necklaces have been mainstays at Mardi Gras parades throughout New Orleans.
If you’ve ever been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras (and why would you go anywhere else!?), you can probably think of a dozen more items to add to this list. What can we say? New Orleans Mardi Gras originals abound. So the next time you’re walking down Bourbon Street with a hot beignet in your hand or scrambling for stray beads with your new best friend, make a mental note to tell the folks back home.
It Wouldn’t Be Mardi Gras Season Without King CakeIf you’ve never heard of king cake, don’t feel too bad. Most folks, especially those who grew up outside the Cajun belt, have never seen or tried this seasonal delicacy. For folks in and around New Orleans, however, king cake is an integral part of Mardi Gras season. Every year, untold thousands of these baked […]
If you’ve never heard of king cake, don’t feel too bad. Most folks, especially those who grew up outside the Cajun belt, have never seen or tried this seasonal delicacy. For folks in and around New Orleans, however, king cake is an integral part of Mardi Gras season. Every year, untold thousands of these baked goods are fired up and shipped to the far corners of Louisiana. But how did this tradition get started?
Early History and Religious Significance
King cake is a seasonal delicacy that’s typically produced and shared between the Epiphany (Jan. 6, or the last of the 12 days of Christmas) until the day of Mardi Gras. The “king cake season,” or Carnival season, it effectively a bridge between the Christmas and Easter seasons, with Jan. 6 representing the official end of Christmas and Mardi Gras the day before the start of Lent.
King cake owes its name to the Biblical “three kings,” the “wise men” who brought gifts for baby Jesus. True to this tradition, king cakes contain either a figurine or abstract representation (often a fava bean) of the baby Jesus. Many “king cake parties,” both in Louisiana and elsewhere in the Catholic world, reward (or penalize) the person who finds and consumes the representation.
King Cake in New Orleans Culture
Although the origins of king cake are a bit misty, the practice definitely began in Catholic Europe. Today, king cake is made and consumed in France, Portugal and other historically Catholic countries, as well as non-Catholic countries like Greece and Bulgaria. The custom made its way to Louisiana early in the state’s history, with the first officially recorded “king cake party” taking place in New Orleans in 1870. Today, it’s a nearly ubiquitous item in local bakeries during Carnival season. And king cake has even made its way into the sports world: The New Orleans Pelicans’ secondary mascot, trotted out during Carnival season, is a king cake baby.
Variations and Recipes
Though king cake comes in many forms, it’s generally a round, brightly colored cake with frosting swirls, embedded fruits and candies and simple depictions of religious scenes. It uses three primary colors — purple, green and gold — and possibly some secondary colors. A typical recipe includes confectioner’s sugar, butter, milk, yeast, water, brown and white sugar, salt, egg, nutmeg and cinnamon. Recently, high-end bakeries have taken to offering a more diverse array of cake options, including some with boudin sausage embedded in the flour.
However, some enterprising bakers replace the butter with an equal amount of cottonseed oil or other healthy cooking oil. This reduces the cake’s cholesterol content without compromising flavor.
Think you have what it takes to make a mean king cake that stands up against the best New Orleans has to offer? Even if your first cake isn’t bakery-quality, everyone has to start somewhere. So why not roll up your sleeves, bust out the creativity and try your hand at this classic cottonseed oil cake? You might just discover a talent you never knew you had.Close
Best Beignet Video Contest ResultsNCPA Announces Video Contest Winner!
Mardi Gras Revelers Cook Up Their “Best Beignets”Close
Video entries showcase a variety of beignet recipes, tips
03.01.2011– Just in time for Mardi Gras, the National Cottonseed Products Association (NCPA) is revealing the delicious results of its national “Best Beignet” video contest. Piping hot and piled high with powdered sugar, pillowy beignets are a “must” on any proper Mardi Gras menu. And while the traditional, Café du Monde-style beignet is always a favorite, the “Best Beignet” video entries revealed a bevy of beignet recipes and styles from across the country.
NCPA’s “Best Beignet” video contest challenged entrants to demonstrate in three minutes or less their tips for creating their personal best beignet, fried in cottonseed oil. The grand prize: $5,000.
Entrants ranged from professional New Orleans-based chefs and food bloggers to mother-daughter and -son duos. However, the entry that took the cake – or beignet, rather – was submitted by Dr. Scott Vernon of Nipomo, Calif. His winning video featured 11-year-old son Kyler, a Food Network star in the making, with his brother, Conner, acting as cameraman. In the video, “Chef Kyler” skillfully demonstrates the art of making homemade beignets, provides an overview of the benefits of cooking with cottonseed oil, and even gives a “shout out” to America’s cotton growers.
Other contest highlights included a creative demonstration from Café du Monde’s experts themselves; a unique Double Banana’s Foster Beignet recipe, using the “drop method,” from Chef Tory McPhail of New Orleans’ Commander’s Palace; and an exceptional entry by food blogger Doniree Walker, featuring her mouth-watering Chocolate Bourbon Orange dipping sauce. To view all of the “Best Beignet” video entries, visit www.YouTube.com/cottonseedoiltour.
“Regardless of the dough recipe, technique or topping, each entrant thoughtfully demonstrated that the key to creating a bead-worthy beignet is choosing the right cooking oil: neutral, trans free cottonseed oil, which the experts at Café du Monde have used for generations,” says Ben Morgan, executive vice president, National Cottonseed Products Association.
For additional beignet tips and recipes, visit www.cottonseedoiltour.com/mardi-gras. Cottonseed oil, America’s original vegetable oil and a favorite in the South, is naturally trans free and cholesterol free, and is an excellent source of vitamin E. Consumers can purchase cottonseed oil at various sporting goods stores, including Bass Pro Shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Sportsman’s Warehouse.
RecipeLooking for an easy beignet recipe? You’ve found it.
Looking to make your own homemade beignets? Order Café du Monde’s Beignet Mix and see if you can replicate the pillowy beignets made by the pros!
Or, use this Homemade Mardi Gras Beignet recipe, adapted from Paula Deen’s French Quarter Beignets.
Homemade Mardi Gras Beignets
Recipe adapted from Paula Deen’s French Quarter Beignets
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup evaporated milk
6 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup shortening
Cottonseed oil, for deep-frying
Mix water, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl and let sit for 12 minutes.
In another bowl, beat the eggs, salt and evaporated milk together. Mix egg mixture into larger bowl with yeast mixture. Stir 3 cups of the flour into the egg and yeast mixture. Add shortening and continue to stir while adding the remaining flour. Remove dough from the bowl, place onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray. Put dough into the bowl and cover with a towel. Let rise at room temperature for at least 2 hours.
Preheat cottonseed oil in a deep frying pan to 370 degrees F. (Tip: Use the count test to determine if the cottonseed oil is hot enough. Drop a test beignet into the oil; if the beignet rises to the top of the oil within eight seconds, the oil is ready.)
Roll the dough out to about 1/4-inch thickness and cut into small squares. Use a pizza roller for straight lines, or cookie cutters for fun shapes. Deep-fry until they turn golden, flipping or basting to allow even cooking. After the beignets are fried, drain briefly on paper towels, then transfer to a tray and cover generously with sprinkled powdered sugar. Serve warm.Close
TipsLearn how to perfect the beignet with these helpful tips.
First time making beignets? Perfect this delicious doughy treat with some tips from an expert, Café du Monde Vice President, Burt Benrud.
1. Use the right oil
“It’s all about the oil,” says Benrud. “We use only 100 percent cottonseed oil, which is very neutral in flavor, and won’t overpower the simple sweetness of the beignet.”
Cottonseed oil is naturally trans free with a neutral flavor and high smoke point. The oil is commonly available in commercial quantities and popular among snack food manufacturers. Consumers can also purchase the oil at various sporting goods stores around the country.
2. Turn up the heat
“Arriving at a high temperature, around 370 degrees, is a crucial step,” he says. “Use the count test to determine if the cottonseed oil is hot enough. If the dough rises to the top of the oil within eight seconds, it’s ready.”
3. Bite size is better
“Scale down the size of each beignet,” he explains. “Café du Monde uses giant fryers and gallons of oil. At home, most cooks use a smaller skillet and a smaller quantity of oil, which together hold less heat. With smaller beignets, the heat reaches the inside more easily, making them perfectly light and puffy.”
For helpful more tips, visit Café du Monde’s Web site.Close
Where to Find IngredientsPerfect ingredients make the beignet. Find ingredients here.
Café du Monde is known for its piping hot beignets, piled high with powdered sugar and served with café au lait. For generations, the company has been frying its beignets in only 100% cottonseed oil, contributing to their light taste and pillow-like texture.
Cottonseed oil can be purchased at a number of locations, including national retailers and sporting goods supply stores:
Bass Pro Shops, available in stores and
Dick’s Sporting Goods
Mill’s Fleet Farm
Turkey Gold by Cajun Injector,
And to replicate the Café du Monde taste at home, purchase their beignet mix .Close
Party Planning TipsMake your Mardi Gras a hit with these party planning tips.
Known throughout The Big Easy, acclaimed New Orleans Event Planner, Thea Pagel, knows how to party. Follow her five easy tips to throw a perfect Mardi Gras celebration:
1. Pick a Theme
Mardi Gras parties know no boundaries. You can find them on any street corner in New Orleans or in the fanciest of Garden District homes. In the name of Mardi Gras, you will find revelers at parade parties, Queen’s Suppers, costume parties, formal balls, anywhere people gather and celebrate life will do for a party. Pick the format that suits your party list and then customize the details with New Orleans tradition and history.
“Whether your flavor of merrymaking is an Avant-garde parade party with multiple feasting stations, a traditional ‘Queen’s Supper’ serving up midnight breakfast fare, or a simple masquerade party featuring various trays of New Orleans’-style desserts, it’s important to start with a clear theme and stick to it,” says Pagel.
2. Serve Beignets
Whether a casual celebration or lavish affair, one essential New Orleans ingredient: piping hot beignets.
“Everyone loves a beignet,” Pagel says. “And it doesn’t get much better than the classic Café du Monde-style beignet. Purists love them in traditional form with powdered sugar and café au lait, but to add a twist on a classic, I ‘sauce them up’ for a more sumptuous and elaborate party.”
Pagel suggests setting up an “action station” where guests witness the spectacle of forming and frying beignets, then select from a variety of toppings and accoutrements, like warm chocolate or fruit sauces. And, of course, bead-worthy amounts of powdered sugar.
3. Shake Up a Specialty Cocktail
Libations can bring your Mardi Gras theme to life. For a classic affair, pull out the old-fashioned glassware and serve the Sazerac, a cognac-based cocktail dating back to 1850s New Orleans. For a truly spirited affair, partake in potions with pyrotechnic effects.
“Flaming cocktails are Carnival ritual at Atoine’s and Arnaud’s, two of the oldest restaurants in the country, and can be especially dramatic with the lights turned down,” Pagel says. “If you are a seasoned entertainer, try your hand at the popular Café Brûlot, featuring brandy, coffee, a handful of spices and a flaming orange peel. Your guests will never forget it.”
4. Provide Party Favors
“You don’t have to be Martha Stewart or have her purse to throw a great Mardi Gras party. All it takes is a great sense of fun, a good guest list and a few inexpensive party favors.” Assures Thea. Balloons and beads abound at Mardi Gras parties, filling a home with Mardi Gras atmosphere without deflating the budget. “Greet guests with colorful strands of bead necklaces, or transform the necklaces into napkin rings to add sparkle to the table,” she says.
5. Mix the Right Music
Music sets the tone. Even if a live jazz band isn’t in the cards, you can add sophistication and style by creating your own mix. “New Orleans trumpeter and vocalist Jeremy Davenport will add a sexy touch of sophistication to your party,” Pagel says. “If you want to funk it up and keep the party shaking into the wee hours, download Big Sam’s Funky Nation. Music needs to fit with the mood. A great free option is playing live streaming Mardi Gras music. Create 3 sets: one for the arrival to get people in the mood, another when the energy is peaking and then wind down music before the party ends.”
New Orleanians understand the magic in having a good time. Be a magician and create the right ambiance for the party. Set up the scene and then, with your guests, laissez les bon temps rouler!Close