Bigne are a type of French puffed pastry made from deep-fried pate a choux dough. The finished pastry puffs are either served on their own, coated in sugar or filled with fruits or other ingredients. The bigne dough is very simple, consisting of only water, eggs, flour and butter, although it is the exact technique employed that causes the dough to rise and puff out. There is another version of a bigne that includes fewer eggs in the mixture and uses yeast as the leavening agent. Although they are most often associated with desserts, snacks and sweet dishes, bigne also are used with savory fillings.
Pate a choux dough used to make bigne begins with a fair amount of butter in a pan, melted together with water and some salt. Once the liquid is smooth, flour is added and stirred over heat until the mixture becomes thick and starts to pull away from the sides of the pan. Alternately, instead of water, milk or evaporated milk can be used to melt the butter for a more creamy taste.
The flour mixture is allowed to cool for a short time, after which the eggs are added. This is done one egg at a time, while stirring. Each egg that is added is stirred into the flour until it is fully incorporated before moving on to the next egg. Recipes for bigne generally call for a large amount of eggs to be added because they are part of the leavening process for the pastry.
The same process and ingredients can be used to make a yeast bigne dough, except that fewer eggs are added and activated yeast is mixed in. The yeast dough also must be allowed to rest and rise for several hours before it can be used. The resulting pastry has a slightly different taste than a non-yeast version and can ultimately be a little denser.
Traditional recipes call for the finished dough to be formed into small spheres and then placed into hot oil to deep fry. Another method is to place the pieces of dough on a baking sheet and bake them in an oven. If the dough is made without yeast, then steam from cooking and the eggs will cause it to puff up and expand. The properties of the dough mean each piece can expand up to five times its uncooked size.
Inside the bigne there will be a small cavity where the steam expanded to cause the pastry to puff up. This can be filled with honey, sugar, cheese or fruit. Salmon pate, ham and other savory ingredients also can be placed inside.