The term beignet can be applied to two varieties, depending on the type of pastry. The French doughnut beignet in the United States is simply a deep-fried choux pastry; this variety is very similar to Italian zeppole. Beignets can be made with yeast pastry as well however - such yeast donuts might be called boules de Berlin in French, referring to Berliner doughnuts which have a ball shape filled with fruit or jam. This variety is similar to the Polish pączki.
In France, beignet is an umbrella term for a large variety of pastries made from deep-fried dough with fruit or vegetable filling. They may contain other fillings, as well: potatoes, mushrooms, or even meat. The tradition of deep-frying fruits for a side dish dates to the time of Ancient Rome. Names for beignet recipes can differ throughout France - beignets, bugnes, merveilles, oreillettes, beignets de carnaval, bottereaux, tourtisseaux, corvechets, ganses, nouets, vautes and more.
The western parts of Germany took over the name beignet mainly for beignet variants with a fruit filling while referring to other variants as Krapfen.