What is a nun’s puff?
A nun’s puff or nun’s fart is a small donut made of choux pastry, rolled in sugar and sometimes cinnamon, that is about 1½ inch in diameter, and is light, airy and golden. There are several versions for the story behind this little beignet.
What is the origin of nun’s puffs?
Two places in France are claiming the paternity of this pastry, which can also be found in Belgium and Germany, as well as in the UK, the US and Canada now : the Abbey of Marmoutier (in Touraine, on the Loire) and the Abbey of Baume-les-Dames (in the Burgundy region).
In the Abbey of Marmoutier, a meal was organized in honor of the Archbishop of Tours, who came to bless a relic. That day, the kitchens got ready, and everyone got busy preparing the banquet. Among the nuns of the Abbey is Agnes, a nun who is known to be wise, pious, gracious, and who is also a fine cook. It is to that Agnes unfortunately dropped a spoonful of choux pastry in a pot of hot oil during the preparation because, with the stress, a little unusual sound would have escaped her…
Here’s how the gourmet writer of La Belle Epoque, Jean-Camille Fulbert-Dumonteil, in his culinary book “La France Gourmande”, described the situation of poor Agnes:
Suddenly, a strange, loud, rhythmic, and extended noise similar to a moaning organ which fades, then to the dying sound of the breeze which sighs in the cloisters, comes to stupefy the indignant ears of the nuns
Ha ha! Certainly, it is said more poetically … but it remains a gas … or let’s just say it, a flatulence! That day, even though the stoves were very noisy, the noise does not go unnoticed. Agnes was completely destabilized in face of all those nuns who were laughing out loud. She lost her balance, and drops a dollop of choux pastry in a pan of burning oil not. And this is how the nun farts were born!
The second hypothesis of the origin of the nun’s fart (pet de nonne in French) leads us then to the Abbey of Baume-les-Dames. Georges Dubosc, a French painter and journalist, tells another theory according to which it would rather be an act of “peace” (paix in French) and not of “fart” (pet in French) as both words are pronounced the same in French. A nun would have given her recipe of fritters to the neighboring convent with whom relations had been strained for a long time finally ensuring peace (paix) between them.
According to Dubosc, the invention of this recipe would come back to the canonesses of the Abbey of Baume-les-Dames who were already famous for their popular pastry creations such as craquelin or waffle and their confectionery such as their quince paste.
Now, let’s go back to the time of the Romans.
In his book De Re Coquinaria (On the Subject of Cooking), the first known recipe book, Marcus Gavius Apicius, born in 25 BC, official cook of Emperor Tiberius, mentions aliter dulcia, which is regarded as the first version of nun’s puffs. Aliter dulcia, which means “other sweets” in Latin, was the popular beignet that was served at the end of Roman meals.
I prepared these nun’s puffs at dawn, for my sons Alexander, and Ruben, immediately after the landing of Ruben who was just coming from Montreal where he now lives. We swallowed them in no time! Yes, looks like some people definitely miss mom’s cooking!
This recipe is validated by our culinary expert in French cuisine, Chef Simon. You can find Chef Simon on his website Chef Simon – Le Plaisir de Cuisiner.
- ½ cup milk
- ½ cup water
- 8 tablespoons butter , cut into small pieces
- 1 cup flour , sifted
- 4 eggs
- 4 teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- A few drops vanilla extract (or orange blossom water)
- 1 tablespoon rum
- 3 oz. granulated sugar (or icing sugar)
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Bring water, milk, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil.
- When the butter is completely melted, remove from the heat and pour the flour all at once. Mix quickly with a wooden spoon.
- Replace the pan over low heat, and continue to mix until the dough comes off the edges and forms a ball.
- Let rest for 3 minutes, then incorporate the eggs one by one by working the dough vigorously (you can use your stand mixer too). Each egg must be completely incorporated into the dough before adding the next.
- Finally, add the rum, the selected flavoring and mix vigorously.
Heat a pot of oil. The oil should be warm but not smoking (about 350F/170C).
- Using a pastry bag or 2 teaspoons, drop small dollops of choux pastry into the oil in small batches. The nun's puffs will swell during cooking and turn over as soon as they are golden.
- Remove them from the oil using a skimmer and place them in a colander, on a rack or on paper towel.
- Sprinkle with icing sugar or sugar before enjoying them warm.