After holding their own in the vicious world of chicken tenders, causing straight-up pandemonium in the fried chicken sando market, and killing it with the side options (Cajun fries? Red beans and rice? Come on!) it appears that Popeyes is making a play in the dessert game. McDonald’s has soft serves and sundaes, Wendy’s has the Frosty, In-N-Out has their line of milkshakes, Jack in the Box has … mini-churros or something, and now, amid much fanfare, Popeyes is bringing the beignet to the fast-food world.
The move actually makes a fair bit of sense for the brand. While the company is currently headquartered in Miami, Popeyes first launched in New Orleans — the beignet capital of America. But as the first menu follow-up to the ultra-hyped fried chicken sandwich, this dessert has its work cut out. Does the chain have yet another hit on their hands or will this treat go down as a sad attempt to catch lightning in a bottle for a second time?
More importantly, how do these fast food beignets compare to the real deal?
A Little Context:
A beignet, if you’ve never had one, is very similar to a donut, in that it’s fried dough. But texture-wise, it’s airier, flakier, and also — almost inexplicably — chewier. Generally, beignets are covered in mountains of powdered sugar and make a great accompaniment to coffee, whether you’re sipping on a cafe au lait or like it straight black. Occasionally, they have a filling like raspberry, chocolate (as in Popeyes’ case), or even something more savory.
Check out the famed Cafe du Monde beignets below:
Like many a fried-dessert lover, the Cafe du Monde renditions of this treat are special to me. The vivid memory of trying to dust the powdered sugar from their beignets off my clothes minutes before boarding an airplane from New Orleans to Los Angeles is my last pre-COVID travel memory. And the gate at Louis Armstrong International wasn’t the first time I indulged in the airy treat on that trip, not by a long shot. So you’d better believe that after a year spent going absolutely nowhere, I’m going to remember the taste-bud awakening ecstasy that is a freshly and authentically prepared beignet.
So What’s The Verdict?
As you can tell from the photo above, the Popeyes beignets have a serious presentation problem. Not only are they considerably smaller than your average beignet, but the amount of powdered sugar really leaves something to be desired. Part of the problem is that Popeyes serves their beignets in a loose bag, resulting in an under-dusted appearance.
This is a dessert that needs a small, shallow box. Let that sugar show!
The other major strike against the Popeyes beignet is the chocolate, which — as many people will be distressed to discover — comes from Hershey’s. I’m pretty lukewarm on Hershey’s myself, but serious chocolate aficionados have an absolute revulsion to it. Regardless, from what I’ve seen New Orleans beignets typically feature darker chocolate than Hershey’s standard milk chocolate, which Popeyes uses.
All this to say that if you roll up to a Popeyes drive-thru thinking you’re going to experience something akin to a legit New Orleans beignet, I’m sorry to inform you that you’re going to be disappointed. But appearance aside, we wouldn’t go as far as calling them a “deflated disappointment” like the Washington Post. If the idea of fried dough that’s been dusted — okay, sprinkled — with powdered sugar and filled with molten Hershey’s sounds delicious to you, you’re still going to be satisfied.
Texture-wise, the beignets I was handed were perfectly crispy on the outside with a delicious flaky exterior. The inside was soft, chewy, and hot, with each bite exploding with molten Hershey’s (at the very least, let’s agree that Hershey’s is better melted than in bar form). In fact, because these are chocolate-filled, their small size is actually a benefit — simply toss a whole one into your mouth, rather than dealing with biting them in half and getting messy.
The Bottom Line:
Sure, the Popeyes beignet won’t transport you to NOLA. But it’s fried dough caked in sugar that you can get at a drive-thru. In the absence of sitting at an open air cafe in New Orleans, these get the job done.
To be honest — and speaking as someone who is obviously a fan of fried dough — I honestly can’t think of a fast-food dessert that I enjoy more than these little bastardized versions of the classic. I’d readily eat them again, but the chances are I wouldn’t be able to find them. Though they’re theoretically available nationwide in orders of three, six, and 12, it took me over a month to finally snag an order.