During a conversation, one colleague said: “I prefer bugnes when they're crispy.” Another said “they're better when they're soft.” An animated discussion ensued, about this simple question: should a bugne be soft or crispy?
In the Dictionnaire Universel de Cuisine Pratique (a bible for French gastronomes), which was published in the late nineteenth century, the Swiss author, Joseph Favre, devoted several paragraphs to these sweet fritters from Lyon. He did not, however, specify whether they should be thick or thin. A case of Swiss neutrality? The etymological origin of the word throws no light on the matter, ‘bugni’ simply being the old Lyonnais word for ‘beignet’ (French for fritter or doughnut). Then, the ‘oreillette’ appeared... This was a thin, crispy variety of the beignet. It was a sweet treat from Languedoc and Provence, which celebrated the end of Lent. The bugne of Lyon, on the other hand, has a more spongy consistency. To settle the argument, bugnes were originally soft beignets. A branch of their evolution then led to them becoming crispy.
In fact, bugnes are not necessarily a speciality of Lyon...
They were born in the Duchy of Savoy in the fifteenth century. After gracing the tables of the nobility, they invaded the Rhône Valley, Franche-Comté, Auvergne, Loire and Lyon. Bugnes (a Gallicization of the Lyonnais term ‘bugni’) made their first official appearance in 1538, in Pantagruel, François Rabelais’ dream-like, food-filled fable.
... nor are they necessarily a French speciality.
Variants of the bugne can be found in Spain, Italy (historians assert that chiacchiere were eaten as early as the Carnival of Ancient Rome), Belarus, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania, Sweden and other countries.
They all share the characteristics of being soft, greasy, sweet and delicious.
Should one say ‘la bugne’ or ‘les bugnes’?
The Académie Française is categorical: this word only exists in the plural feminine form. So ‘les bugnes’ it is, then, which makes sense, as who could possibly resist the temptation of a second, or third...
As Shrove Tuesday draws closer, the real question is: where can these delights be found? Never mind about their shape, or how crispy they are?
- Sève – aux Halles de Lyon. 102, cours Lafayette, Lyon 3e.
- Pignol - 17 rue Emile Zola, Lyon 2e.
- A la Marquise - 37 rue Saint-Jean, Lyon 5e.
- Dorner Frères - 91 Boulevard des Belges, Lyon 6e.