Sunday, June 24, 2007

WTSIM Apple Dumplings

Apple and mulberry dumpling

This month my entry into WTSIM.. dumpling is more of a voyage of culinary experimentation than a recipe to be triumphantly passed on and heralded as an unqualified success. Johanna decreed stuffed dumplings to be the theme this month. I come from an English background where dumplings are to be found unstuffed, floating in stews, to bulk out the meat and sop up the gravy - robust fillers for hungry labourers and school children. I'd never before eaten a stuffed dumpling, let alone cooked one.

Coincidentally, I am reading Elisabeth Luard's Still Life at the moment. It is an account of her travels around Central and Eastern Europe and Scandinavia in the mid-Eighties, researching traditional country recipes for her book European Peasant Cookery. I love her style which is forthright, inquiring and persevering and am lost in admiration of the quantities of pickled herring and black bread that she managed to endure and, more to the point, persuade her accompanying husband to endure, in the pursuit of more enticing culinary traditions. She starts her journey in Munich and as she traverses Austria is challenged by a mammoth meal which culminates in four plum dumplings per serving. She offers the recipe and, with the WTSIM event in mind, I thought I'd spend a blustery Saturday afternoon conducting my own dumpling research.

I compared Elisabeth Luard's recipe to Johanna's suggestion and also found an Austrian cookery site here. All the recipes looked pretty similar and though I had no plums, I thought I could try with a combination of apples and mulberries. I'd already come across the concept of using potatoes combined with flour to make a dough, from the Italian potato gnocchi, that I'd once helped make in a family home on my travels through Italy. They are savoury, served in a tomato sauce, so I was interested in how the potato dough would turn out with a sweet filling.

I slightly softened the apple chunks in a little butter first, as the recipe seemed to demand soft fruit. The potatoes duly cooked, peeled and mashed, I made up the dough, divided it into twelve and started wrapping the fruit. This was achieved reasonably well, though I didn't know quite how much fruit to try and encase, and odd corners of apple chunks insisted on poking through then the mulberry juice also wanted to escape.

I ended up with twelve tidy balls and set to boiling them. I danced attendance expecting disaster but the cooking was achieved uneventfully, no exploding dumplings and I felt quite pleased. The final step was to fry breadcrumbs in butter to coat them in. I think Elisabeth demanded too much butter though, as they ended up soft and glistening rather than the crispy coating described, but here they were - dumplings on a plate.

The acid test of consumption was where I encountered a hitch. My chief tasters lined up with bowls in anticipation, sprinkled the dumplings with sugar and cinnamon and I awaited comments. I was none too confident, as adventurous eaters they are not and my first exploratory tasting had come away with an impression of rather doughy potato flavour.

Well the verdict came in: youngest rejected the dumpling, due to its tasting of potato (in indignant tones) though she ate the fruit from inside. My son returned the whole thing barely nibbled at. My six year old sprinkled on more sugar and consumed the whole thing with gusto, soon ready for seconds. My husband loyally tasted it, though I knew he'd find it too heavy, but he nobly ate half his. I.. well, in the spirit of culinary curiosity, I ate one and then a second, to examine how I could have made them lighter, fluffier or generally more appealing. This excess of fervour made it rather hard to contemplate cooking supper a bare couple of hours later with my stomach still loaded with dumplings!

I'm putting up photos so that you can all tell me where I went wrong. I think I needed much more fruit in the centre and to have made the dumpling coating much thinner, though I don't know how well they would have stayed together if they were too thin. Should I have seasoned the dumpling dough with either salt or sugar? Should I have dried them on paper towel before enveloping them in the crispy crumbs? It's very hard to judge, when I've never eaten the genuine article as prepared by an expert. I only know that mine were way too heavy and the dough rather bland.

Dumpling post mortem - please help with the verdict!

Nevertheless, it was stimulating to try cooking something so completely different to our usual fare, though I've a long way to go before I'll be doughty enough to tour Eastern Europe Luard style on a diet of herring, tripe, black bread and sauerkraut!

Here is Elisabeth Luard's recipe anyway:

Plum Stuffed Potato Dumplings

500g/ 1lb floury potatoes
25g/1oz butter
1 tablespoon cream
1 egg
275g/6oz plain flour
12 small plums (I used 2 apples and ½ cup mulberries)
12 small sugar lumps
½ teaspoon salt

to finish:

75g/3oz butter
4-5 tablespoons breadcrumbs
icing sugar

Boil the potatoes in their skins till soft. Peel them while still hot and mash with a fork, together with the butter and cream. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then mix in the egg and flour. Knead until it comes together in a soft dough. You may need more or less flour, depending on the potato consistency.

Prepare the fruit. If using plums take out the stones and replace with the sugar lumps. If using apples cut into chunks and toss in a knob of butter over a gentle heat until just starting to soften (2 minutes). Divide the dough into 12 pieces and form into a ball then flatten to make a disc. Put the fruit in the middle and squash the dough around it and seal making it into a closed ball of dough.

Fry the breadcrumbs in the butter with a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar until just crisp.

Bring a large pan of water to a simmer. Lower as many dumplings in as fit without crowding. Bring back to a gentle simmer and cook for 10-12 minutes until the dumplings have floated to the surface and are white puffy and firm.. Remove, rinse quickly under cold water, then toss in the breadcrumbs to give a coating.

Serve sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.

Any tips on achieving the perfect dumpling are welcome. My six-year old would happlily eat them again, once I get up courage for another attempt!

Here is the WTSIM dumpling round-up, if you would like to see the huge variety of successful recipes contributed.


  1. brave, brave woman! trying something completely new, especially when you haven;t even TRIED it before, is a real challenge - and I think you mastered it... edible lumps of dough and fruit, smothered in butter and breadcrumbs - what more do you want!
    I'd agree with your youngest, I find the potato dough doesn't really go that well with fruit, so I always use it with meat fillings only. For fruit, I prefer choux pastry or curd pastry, despite potato being the more traditional.
    If I can make suggestions, I would say that there was too much dough rlative to your fruit filling - it is very difficult to wrap just a thin layer around a loose filling like yours which is why we tend to go for a full fruit like plum or apricot. Many people don't even cut it up, but leave the stone inside to make it easier.
    Thanks for trying, though, and sharing your experience. I'm sure it'll be easier next time, in case you're not deterred! Otherwise, let's have a dumpling fest here next time you're in London ;-)

  2. I was gonna write a whole post regarding the traditional hungarian way, but it is exactly what the passionate cook wrote. I think I usually use half the dough (not potato) and twice the fruit; canned plums work nicely because of the already stewed/sweetened aspect.

    Good job, they look delicious.

  3. Oh, I feel your pain! I had also never made filled dumplings but set off in blissful ignorance to try my hand at cherry dumplings. The batter in my case was so runny that it woudl just slip amoeba-like back into the bowl rather than envelop the filling, so I added more flour in a panic. Apparently this is a one-way ticket to stodgy dumplings! Still, they turned out OK, partly (I think) because what can go wrong with a cherry in the middle and because the butter and sugar drizzled over them post-boiling added some flavour. All kudos to you though for your labours! Next WTSIM is easier at least.


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!