I first tasted sheep's milk ricotta cheese at the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company, a delightful dairy farm in Upstate New York where the milk comes from sheep (instead of cows) and the shepherds are llamas (instead of dogs). Sheep's milk is richer, has more calcium and is sweeter than cow's or goat's milk, and it makes wonderful cheese. These fritters have a delicious crisp gold-brown crust and tender insides, like a dessert version of hush puppies.
You can use any good-quality ricotta for this recipe, or even a mild fresh goat cheese. It adds moisture and a little richness to the dough, binding the ingredients together without making it wet. Ricotta is the second cooking of whey which makes a light fresh cheese.
For the Beignets:
- 1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato
- 1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese, preferably sheep's milk
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 egg white
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Pinch salt
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- Powdered sugar, for garnish
Make the Beignets: combine all the ingredients in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix until smooth. Roll into 1 1/2-inch balls (the size of a walnut) and set aside on a plate. Refrigerate until ready to cook.
Just before serving, heat 2 to 3 inches of oil in a deep, heavy pot fitted with a deep-frying thermometer to 365 degrees F. Working in batches, to avoid crowding the pot, fry the balls until golden brown all over, moving them around in the oil to make sure they cook and brown evenly. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels or a brown paper bag. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm. (Make sure to let the oil return to 365 degrees F between batches.)