Oh, the glorious dumpling. Is there any other culinary marvel as delicious, as adorable, as appropriately named, as internationally recognized, and as beloved as the dumpling? Such a humble little thing, and yet so fervently adored, from Italy to China, from Germany to Japan.
I think I've mentioned before that tomatoes are my desert island food, the one thing I'd happily eat every day from here to eternity, but if a questionnaire would ever allow for a second item on that list, it'd have to be the dumpling. Pork-stuffed, tomato-sauced, chicken-stew-topped, and finally - and most stunningly - fruit-filled.
Most people think of dumplings as savory bites, pan-fried like gyoza, or tossed in a butter sauce, like gnocchi, bursting with soup like the Chinese soup dumpling or even scraped off a board into a pot of boiling water, like Spätzle (not actually a noodle! yes, a dumpling). But from the marvelous culinary archives of the Austro-Hungarian Empire comes forth what I believe to be the crown jewel of dumplings: the sweet one stuffed with fruit, rolled in toasted, buttered breadcrumbs and served, dusted with a fine shower of confectioner's sugar, to a table of hungry eaters who will adore you, in one fell swoop, after dining like such royalty.
The Austrian fruit dumpling is encased in delicate quark-enriched dough flavored with fresh lemon peel and vanilla. Would you like to know what my personal idea of heaven smells like? Make this dough and take a long, deep breath before you stir in the flour. Quark is a German fresh cheese that looks a little like ricotta, but tastes really nothing like it: it's far more sour. The Vermont Butter & Cheese Company makes quark and you can poke around your cheese stores or specialty grocers to find other brands. Otherwise, here's a guide to making your own (I haven't tried this myself).
The dough is rather soft and delicate - handle it as little as possible. As long as you keep your counters and hands well-floured, you should be fine. After you form the gorgeous dough into a log and cut it into equal pieces, you flatten those pieces until they're large enough to encase a sugar-stuffed apricot and gently press and poke until you've closed up the dough all around the apricot. Then you plop these little balls into a pot of boiling water where they'll bob and float until they're done. You roll the drained dumplings in butter-toasted breadcrumbs and then shower them liberally with confectioner's sugar.
And then, oh then, to eat them. What you'll find is a delicious outer cover of tender, tasty dumpling and a perfectly cooked apricot, sweet and tart at the same time, fairly bursting with juice, on the inside. The buttery, crispy breadcrumb coating and the soft fillip of powdered sugar finesse each bite.
In Austria, these are served as part of a light meal, not as dessert, so we ate the dumplings (two per person is just fine) for dinner, then followed up with salad. (We used to have rice pudding with sour cherries for lunch at school in Berlin, too, so who knows.) But I don't think it really matters when you eat these gems. Just make sure you do.
I know. You have to search for an odd German cheese. You have to strain it and then make a dough. You have to be all careful with it. And then you have to not only boil the dumplings, but make a further coating for them. There's a reason it took me 31 years to make my own. But you know what? I'm a lazy git. And I've learned my lesson. Don't wait as long as I did. This is the king of dumplings, the leader of them all!
(And the recipe, from Nicky's gorgeous blog, delicious days, really is a cinch. It worked perfectly and doubles very easily. I translated from the metric for American readers below.)
More photos here.
Marillenknödel (Apricot Dumplings)
1/2 pound fresh quark cheese
1 teaspoon of fresh lemon zest
6 small apricots
6 sugar cubes or 3 teaspoons of Demerara sugar
4 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup semolina flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
A pinch of salt
Scant 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for forming
1/3 cup plain, unseasoned breadcrumbs
1. Place the quark in a fine mesh sieve and let drain for an hour into the sink. If you don't have an hour, 15 to 30 minutes are fine. Wash the apricots and dry them, then cut them open along their seams (only halfway!) and remove their pits. Fill with either a sugar cube or half a teaspoon of Demerara sugar.
2. Bring a large pot of water to boil, add a generous pinch of salt, and reduce the temperature until the water bubbles just very lightly.
3. In a big bowl cream together the strained quark, lemon zest, 2 tablespoons of soft butter, egg yolk, semolina, sugar, vanilla, and salt using a wooden spoon. When it's well-combined and fluffy, fold in the flour. Don't over-mix. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and with well-floured hands, form the dough gently into a thick log.
4. Cut the log into into 6 equally sized pieces. With floured hands, gently pat each piece into a small disc, then place a sugar-filled apricot in the middle of the dough and gently wrap the dough around the apricot. Form a neat little dumpling (re-flour your hands as necessary) and double check that the apricots are completely covered by the dough. There will be seams, but try to make sure they are as closed as possible.
5. Carefully slip the dumplings into the water and watch to make sure none got stuck to the bottom of the pot, stirring, if needed. Let them simmer at low heat for 12 to 14 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a pan over medium heat and toast the breadcrumbs in the butter for a few minutes. Remove the dumplings with a skimmer, then roll them in the pan with the buttered breadcrumbs until evenly covered. Pile the dumplings on a serving plate and dust generously with powdered sugar. Serve hot.