Have you ever had a beignet? They are the French cousin to our all-American doughnut with thin crusts and cushy middle — a doughy, hand-held carbohydrate dream. If you haven’t tried one yet, I suggest French-styled bakery Cou Cou Rachou as a fine place to have your first.
Found on 917 Preston, Cou Cou Rachou is a stylish little bakery nestled across from the Dairy Market. Its name translates from French into the friendly greeting “Hello Rachel,” referring to its founding pastry chef Rachel De Jong. It is open from Wednesday to Sunday between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. However, the beignets are sold only on weekends, available by 11 a.m.
Though the bakery specializes in traditional French fare, upon arrival, a vibrant Charlottesville inspiration is apparent. The ingredients are locally sourced, everything is organic and the interior shines with warmth only the dearest neighborhood spots inspire.
Fillings change by week — switching from vibrant passionfruit to full-bodied pistachio. But regardless of flavor, come weekend mornings, there is always a small line of beignet zealots curling out of the building. I was one of those zealots Saturday — waiting by the door with my friends, lamenting getting out of bed and hoping Cou Cou would be worth the wait.
Once we made it inside, smells of butter and almond paste billowed in the air. There was no wall separating customers and chefs. Brilliant rows of risen dough and blackcurrant scones filled my view from behind the checkout counter.
The pastry display was a colossal presence on its own. A dazzling spectacle of patisserie — amber glossiness and sugar-dusted bread sat behind the glass dome. It was here that Cou Cou Rachou’s French spirit glowed brightest. Dozens of caramel kouign amanns, herby quiche and bronze canele lined the shelving. My friends and I were not immune.
The building itself was too small for indoor seating, but Cou Cou’s outdoor patio is spacious and bright. Customers readily sat and enjoyed quiet morning chatting. My friends and I happily joined the idle scene, fixing ourselves against a wooden counter against the back of the patio. A waiter soon brought out our plates.
My beignet was a star on the table. Priced at $5.50, it was a gorgeous rotunda of pastry, tossed in granulated sugar and fried to a tawny tan. Mocha filling splurged soon after. With it came rushes of punchy espresso and a far more one-note chocolate afterthought. Splinters of unidentifiable nuts also needled the spread — too few and scattered to presume intention, I suspect it was a case of a faulty hand.
Still, the filling was dreamily whipped and rich as mousse. It’s here I was reminded of the finesse that accompanies a Cou Cou product. The beignet’s soft-filling center — matched with that brilliant chewy overcoat — made for a bite so good and sigh-worthy that any grievance about my early morning trek quickly melted.
For me, the beignets were a fantastic victory for morning sugar highs. Although they may take an earlier weekend wakeup to get, the Cou Cou beignets are so glittering in their bready virtues, I say they’re worth it.