As soon as I made the chips, which are shallow-fried in olive oil, I thought they’d be even more delicious if they were stuffed with something soft and creamy and maybe cheesy. But when I went to glue the potato slicestogether, they popped apart in the oil. I’m sure I could have found a way to keep these double-stuffeds together, but minutes after they started to open, I was onto new ideas. The idea of stuffing potatoes made me think of potato-stuffed wontons, then kreplach, then perogi and before I knew it I was all around the globe.
Then, in a flash that I can’t explain, I was back in the country I love and thinking about turning the French sweet fried-dough treat, bugnes, into something savory. Where did the idea to make the dough with Hungry Jack Potato Flakes come from? I’m not sure. It just jumped into my mind along with the salty bugnes. But in retro-fitting the brainstorm, I remembered two great French chefs, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Jean-Pierre Piege, using instant potato flakes as a coating for fish fillets. So, I knew I could fry the stuff and I thought it would give me the taste I wanted.
And I was right! As soon as I made them I was as giddy as a kid – I loved them! They were easy and really fun to make. They were pretty. And they really tasted great.
I made them several times in New York and then, when I went to Paris, I brought along a box of Hungry Jack and made the bugnes there. Success! My French friends loved them, even my friend Martin, who comes from Burgundy, bugnes birthplace.
CRACKERY POTATO BUGNES
Created for Recipe Redux, The New York Times Magazine
Serves about 10 as a nibble with drinks (makes about 60 pieces)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup potato flakes (I used Hungry Jack)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or 3/4 teaspoon fleur de sel)
1 large egg, at room temperature
About 3 tablespoons hot water
Olive oil, for frying
Fleur de sel or sea salt, for sprinkling
Whisk together the flour, potato flakes and baking powder.
In another bowl, whisk the butter and salt together until smooth. Add the egg and whisk until the egg is beaten – the mixture will look curdled, almost like egg drop soup, but that’s fine. Add the dry ingredients and whisk to moisten as much of the mixture as you can. The dough will have lumps and clumps and a few flakes. Pour 3 tablespoons of hot water over the dough and whisk (or mix with a rubber spatula) until the dough comes together. If it looks dry, add a little more water drop by drop (3 tablespoons is usually enough). You should have a soft, moist dough.
Knead the dough a couple of times, divide it in half, pat it into a rectangular shape and wrap each half well. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour or for as long as overnight.
Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Working with one piece of dough at a time, place it on a well-floured surface, flour the top of the dough and roll the dough, turning it over so that you’re rolling on both sides, until you’ve got a rectangle that’s paper thin. Don’t worry about rolling the dough into a perfectly even shape, you just want the dough to be very thin and if you flour it well enough, it will be easy to get that thinness. (I roll the dough into a rectangle about 8-x-12 or -13, but size and evenness really don’t matter.)
Using a ruler and a pastry wheel (one with a zig-zag edge is nice for this job) or pizza cutter, cut long strips about 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide, then cut the strips at 2-inch intervals. (Again, size isn’t really important and the shape is flexible – you can make long strips, triangles or squares.) Using the tip of a paring knife, cut a lengthwise slit about 3/4-inch long in the center of each piece. Lift the pieces onto the baking sheet – when you’ve filled the sheet, just cover the dough with another piece of wax paper and keep going. Roll and cut the other half of the dough and place these pieces on the baking sheet as well, separating the layers with wax paper. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour or for as long as overnight. If it’s more convenient, when the dough is firm you can pack the pieces airtight and freeze them for up to 2 months; they can be cooked without defrosting.
When you’re ready to fry the dough, line a baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels.
Pour about 1 to 1 1/2 inches of olive oil into a deep sauté pan or Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot – it should measure 300 degrees F on a deep-fat frying or candy thermometer – drop a few pieces of dough into the pot. Don’t crowd the pot, you want the oil to bubble around each piece of dough. Fry until the bugnes are lightly browned around the edges and golden in the center, about 2 minutes, then turn and brown the other side, about 1 minute more. Lift the bugnes out of the oil with a slotted spoon, allowing the excess oil to drip back into the pot, and transfer them to the lined baking sheet. Pat off the excess oil, sprinkle with salt and continue frying the remaining pieces.
Serve the crackery bugnes just warm or at room temperature, solo or with a little crème fraiche (or sour cream) and salmon roe or caviar.