What I did on my holidays by Conor
Because I was so good I got to go to a far away place called Austria where the boys wear funny shorts and the girls have pretty hair. Mum says that there was a nice lady called Maria who used to live there but a dog bit her and she got stung by a bee so she doesn’t live there any more. There is lots of nice food in Austria. I ate lots of tacos and corn and avocado and a nice green sauce called salsa verde (but you say it like verday). I liked the food so much I bought a cookbook to bring home with me but I think I got the wrong one cos it doesn’t have any of that food in it.
When Penny announced the next International Incident Party (yes, it has been a month since the last one) was going to be dumplings, I saw this as an opportunity to try and right some of my culinary wrongs when I visited Vienna a few years ago. Sure, I spent every morning having at least a three course breakfast in the hotel, trying every possible combination of delicious local breads and cheeses and of course finishing off with a slice or two of torte, and my friend and I had two deliciously porky dinners at Siebensternbräu, but it seems like most other meals were eaten at a little authentic Mexican place we discovered and fell in love with. What’s not to like about spicy, authentic Mexican food, cold beer and mariachi bands?
Well, what’s not to like about it is that it’s not terribly Austrian, and no amount of dancing around the Mexican hat can deny that I really dropped the ball with taking advantage of the local desserts. I ate no nockerln (soufflés). I missed out on Kaiserschmarrn (Emperor’s Pancake). My first experience of eating the world famous Viennese Sachertorte was when I made it myself back in Perth using the cookbook that I brought back with me (though this had the bonus of me being able to pretend it was just like the real thing).
It was therefore an easy choice for me to decide upon which variation of the term “dumpling” I was going to run with. It wasn’t going to be “a small ball of dough cooked and served with stew”, “a Chinese dumpling filled with spiced minced pork; usually served in soup” or a “short, chubby creature”. I was going to go with “a dessert consisting of a wrapping of dough enclosing sliced apples or other fruit, boiled or baked”, and by Johann, I was going to make it from my Austrian cookbook!
Luckily for me, I had used this cookbook before and knew to read the recipe through thoroughly before getting started. I didn’t want to have another Sachertorte incident, where I discovered that when they said “stir the chocolate into the cream” they actually meant “do NOT stir the chocolate into the cream listed in the ingredients – save this to serve with the finished torte and instead stir the chocolate into the creamed butter and sugar”.
So, I will give to you the recipe as given in my cookbook, but will also give you my changes and suggestions as highlighted.
Burgenländer Marillenknödel (Apricot Dumplings) (I made Zwetschkenknödel (Plum Dumplings))
from Austrian Pastries and Desserts by Maria Wiesmüller
approx.1 lb potatoes, cooked / 450 g potatoes (I used Royal Blue, and didn’t cook them before following step 1, which tells you to cook them)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup flour
2 Tb semolina
grated rind of 1/2 lemon (next time I’ll use a whole lemon)
2 Tb butter, softened
2 egg yolks
approx. 1 lb fresh or canned apricots, pitted (I used 10 canned plums, which I removed from the juice and dried as well as I could using paper towel)
5-6 sugar cubes (I used 10 little “boondies” of brown sugar
8 Tb butter mixed with sugar and just over 1/2 cup bread crumbs (8 Tb butter mixed with sugar? I ended up using about 75g butter and around 1 Tb brown sugar)
1. Boil, peel and rice the baking potatoes. I peeled them, cut into smaller chunks, boiled until soft, then drained well and put the saucepan back onto the (turned off) hotplate briefly to get rid of any excess moisture before ricing them with my trusty spoon & sieve method.
2. Combine potatoes with salt, flour, semolina, soft butter and egg yolks (and presumably the lemon rind too, which doesn’t make an appearance in their methodology) and mix in a mixing bowl to form a smooth dough. Let stand approx. 30 minutes. (Another recipe I’ve since read says you must use this dough immediately, but I left mine for the 30 minutes while preparing the plums)
Mmmmmmmmm plum piles
3. Wash apricots and press out pits. Replace pit with half a sugar cube. I was using canned plums, which were filled with juice, and I wasn’t sure how strong the dough would be at holding up against super wet plums so I tried to dry them as much as I could using paper towel. Sadly the plums were also incredibly soft, and lost most of their shape as I did this, try as I might to be gentle. So, I just pressed my little boondies of brown sugar into the centre of the pile o’ plum and wrapped the rest around. The end result did not resemble lovely little plums with sugary centres but rather masses of soft plum with some sugar jammed in the middle. The Austrian equivalent of Donna Hay (Dönna Häy?) would not be amused.
4. Form a 2 1/2-inch-thick roll and cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Flatten each slice somewhat and place apricot in centre. Fold dough over fruit and roll to form a ball. I just grabbed little chunks of the dough, rolled them in my hands to smooth the outside then flattened them out, placing the plums in the centre, folding the dough over and then rolling to form a ball.
5. Gently drop the dumplings into 2 qt lightly salted water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes. I did not bother converting 2 qt water to something my metric brain understands but instead filled a large saucepan with enough lightly salted water to cover the dumplings. I then brought the water to the boil before gently adding the dumplings to the pan, cooking them for around 10 minutes. They were floating when I removed them.
6. Meanwhile brown the breadcrumbs in the melted butter. Remove dumplings with a slotted spoon and roll in bread crumbs. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately. Don’t you love it when recipes say “Meanwhile…”. It’s like they’re testing to see if you bothered reading ahead before getting started. I browned the butter and breadcrumbs (and mysterious sugar) in a frying pan, then removed the dumplings using a slotted spoon and place them in the frying pan, moving them around to coat them in the buttery crumbs. I then removed to a plate, dusted with icing sugar, and served.
Awaiting a dumpling craving, the little babies lie dormant
Given that it was 10:30pm by the time I finished these, and there were only two tired girls in the house, I cooked enough to photograph and then froze the rest uncooked. I’m not sure how well they’ll go being cooked after freezing but I guess I’ll find out when a dumpling craving hits. The leftover cooked ones I put in the fridge, and they were great reheated the next day.
My housemate and I were both happy with the late night result. The potato gives quite a firm yet spongy texture to the dough, the innards had a nice balance between sweetness and tartness, and the crunchy buttery crumbs added a real, hmmm, crunchy butteryness. The overall taste of the dough was really similar to pancakes cooked in butter. Delicious. My only regret is that the plums didn’t exactly look the prettiest, so it is probably a good idea to use fresh plums or apricots if you can.