Friday, October 06, 2006

Happy Birthday, Tom!

Ok, so my friend Tom's birthday was a couple of weeks ago, and I missed it. But in my defense, I didn't know when it was until after the fact, and by then, I was already knee-deep in my preparations for Miss Vicky's affair. I figured that it was too late, but then at Pub Trivia last week, Tom said something that cut me to the quick. When I had the quizmaster lead the whole bar in a round of "Happy Birthday to You" for Vicky, he said, "My birthday was last week, and no one cared that much about me!" Now, you must understand that Tom is a cynical old curmudgeon but with a heart of gold, and that he wasn't being serious. All he really wanted to do was to get home to see his favorite t.v. show, "Eureka," so he was just vexed that we were taking extra time to sing to the birthday girl. Still, you cannot joke about birthdays around me! He might as well have said, "Gina, you are unkind to animals." In short, he got me right where I live. :-(

So I set about to rectify the situation. First of all, I did some sleuthing and found out Tom's favorite dessert. His national heritage is Slovenian, and his wife, June, told me that he ADORES plum dumplings, although she is only obligated to make them once a year because they are so labor-intensive. I was not at all familiar with this dessert, so I had to do some internet research. I guess I was thinking of dumplings cooked in a fruit puree such as blueberry or blackberry. But these are potato dumplings in which a whole fresh plum filled with cinnamon sugar is embedded. And not just any old plum, either--it has to be the small Italian prune plums, which are not that easy to find, let me tell you! And then the dumplings are boiled and served with a buttery, sweetened breadcrumb topping. I never did find a specifically Slovenian recipe, but it would seem that most Slavic and Germanic cultures have some version of the same thing. What I ended up making was an amalgamation of a Hungarian and a Serbian recipe that were almost identical.

My first batch turned out alright, despite using the wrong kind of potato for the dumpling. I used a waxy white potato, and you really want to use a starchy, Russet-type to make a smoother, lighter dough. So I decided to make a second batch with the right kind of potato, plus, I had read that the dumplings can also be made with apricots (as pictured), so I wanted to try that. And though all the recipes that I found called for fresh apricots to be used, I wondered why you couldn't use reconstituted dried apricots in the off-season? Well, not only can you do it, my official taster/roommate declared that she actually liked the dried apricot version better than the traditional plum dumpling! It certainly seems like the kind of thing to have in your fall and winter repertoire, because this dish is extremely hearty--a real stick-to-your-ribs affair. June told me that she and Tom eat these for a meal when she makes them, not just for dessert. They will certainly fill you up, that's for sure. They are just delicious, and I hope that Belated Birthday Boy, Tom agrees. (I haven't had a report back yet because they are saving the dumplings for the weekend when Tom's brother is coming for a visit, and apparently, he hasn't had plum dumplings for years and years!) So HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TOM...better late than never!

Hungarian/Serbian/Slovenian Plum Dumplings

4-5 large potatoes (russet, starchy type), peeled and cut into large cubes/chunks
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons salt, divided
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder (optional, but makes a lighter dough)

3-4 cups flour (enough to make a soft, smooth dough)

32 Italian prune plums, washed, dried well, split, and pitted*
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon (to taste)

2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
½ cup butter
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon (again, to taste)

Fill a large saucepan with the chunks of potato and cover with water by an inch or two. Bring to a boil and throw in a couple of pinches of salt. Boil the potatoes until very tender and then drain. Add the potatoes to the bowl of a stand mixer and “mash” with the paddle attachment until fairly smooth. Add the two tablespoons of butter and the salt and mix in well. Let cool until almost room temperature (it can be warmish, but not hot). Add the eggs and mix again. Add the baking powder if you're using it, and the flour, cup by cup, just until you have a dough that is soft, smooth, and not too sticky to work with.

Flour your bench liberally, and roll out dough to about ½-inch thick**. (I like to divide the recipe in quarters before doing this—makes it a more manageable task, I think.) Your ultimate goal is 32 dumplings, maybe three or four inches square, so I cut each quarter into eight equal pieces. For each dumpling, take one plum, fill the cavity where the pit was with at least half but up to a full teaspoon of the cinnamon sugar. Close the plum, then place it in the center of a dumpling square. Fold the ends over the plum, and then pinch the edges to seal. Roll the dumpling around in your hands to smooth it out and even out the dough covering on the plum. Set aside on a pan liberally coated with flour, and don’t let any of the dumplings touch each other. Proceed making the rest of the dumplings—you might want to call a friend in to help. ;-)

Get a large pot of water boiling, and boil the dumplings in batches (no more than eight at a time, I’d say) for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, toast the breadcrumbs in the butter until golden brown. Mix in the cinnamon and sugar. When the dumplings are done, roll each one in the sweetened breadcrumb mixture and serve hot. Three or four per person is plenty for a meal, while two would probably be enough for dessert.

These dumplings freeze beautifully. Just make sure they aren’t touching each other when you freeze them, and then just boil them for an extra four minutes or so past the regular cooking time when you’re ready to serve them.

*These dumplings can be made with fresh apricots, too, or with reconstituted dried apricots (or, if you must, canned apricots). To reconstitute dried apricots, place them in a saucepan, and cover with double the amount of orange juice. Bring the fruit to a boil, and then simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the apricots are tender. Drain, pat dry, and cool before filling with cinnamon sugar and encasing each apricot in dumpling dough.

**The second time I made these, I decided not to roll the dough, but just divide it into 32 roughly equal pieces, and then press each out into a circle with my fingertips. Then I added the sugar-filled fruits, encased them in the dough, pressed the seams together, and then rolled the dumplings in my hands to make them more even. It was much easier to do it this way, I must say!


Anonymous said...

my mom has made these wonderful "fraum" knelein for years ! ... i tried your version and they were simply delicious ..just like my mom's who hails from gottscheer austria. thank you!

JoyBugaloo said...

You do not know how happy your comment has made me today! I had never heard of this dessert--never seen it or tasted it--so I had no idea if I got it right. To hear that they were like your Austrian mother's...well, that's better than if I had won an Oscar!

Thanks for your kind post and good feedback. --Gina

P.S. Just out of curiosity, did you make the plum or the apricot?