We are still enjoying what is to become one of the hottest Octobers on record here in Bavaria – it sure looks like someone up there is making up for the cold and wet summer we had right after the World Cup. Everyone is out soaking up as much sun as possible, yet I’m sure, a pretty nasty and cold winter is already lurking around the corner – to bite us when we least expect it. Another positive side effect of the non-stop sunshine: My grandfather’s orchard had a wonderful huge crop of Zwetschgen, a small oval plum of blue color with yellow flesh. Online research pointed me to another type of plum, the Damson plum. Same thing? I never (knowingly) had Damson plums before so I can’t tell for sure! Anyone?
Zwetschgen are key for one of southern Germany’s most typical and coveted cake, the Zwetschgendatschi. To me, they are the key ingredient for a fantastic sweet dumplings recipe, Zwetschgenknödel (plum dumplings). Sweet dumplings have deep roots and are well known in German, Austrian and Bohemian kitchens, the base dough can either be prepared with curd, semolina or yeast (EDIT: or potatoes – thanks for reminding me, Kaltmamsell!). Here I am again blaming it on my parentage, but growing up in the house of a Bohemian grandpa and a kitchen goddess -my grandma- I had no choice other than to become an addict to Zwetschgenknödel, plum filled steamed yeast dumplings. Well, I’m also a fan of traditional Bohemian Sauerbraten served with sliced yeast dumplings, but that’s a whole different story.
The five Zwetschgen trees in our orchard guaranteed proper supply throughout the summer months. Between July and September there was little chance you’d not see them on our kitchen table in the one or other form. We always had funny competitions about who could eat the most dumplings – while I usually dropped out after six or seven, my grandpa and my dad went far beyond.
Sadly, my beloved grandma died way too young. We found some of her favorite recipes written down on greasy memos, yet some of our all-time favorites were still missing. The years went by, but each year right about when the Zwetschgen season began I kept thinking about her delicious recipes, became nostalgic and thought about alternative ways to make her dumplings. But never had the guts.
Then, last Christmas, one of the few occasions our whole family comes together, we once again began raving about grandma’s recipes, when my mum suddenly had an idea: Why not get in touch with her nanny, who had cooked side by side with my grandma for years? Maybe she still had a copy of the recipe? I wrote a little letter to the old lady who I always admired for her out-of-this-world cakes. And not only did she send the recipe for the dumplings, but some other recipes we thought we had lost as well. Now the pressure was on: Would my attempt to make them live up to my grandma’s dumplings or would I ruin a picture perfect memory?
The recipe worked like a charm. In fact, I made them seven times over the last weeks and with the beautiful weather we’re having, local Zwetschgen are still available. However, my gut feel tells me that this weekend may be the last opportunity for this year. The recipe is straightforward and I double checked it with various other sources, from which it doesn’t differ too much. Yet, having the original -grandma approved- recipe gave me the confidence to eventually give it a shot. Contrary to many other recipes, these dumplings are not boiled in water, they are steamed, producing a fluffy and non-slobbery dumpling.
Yeast dough: Sieve the flour into a bowl and make a hollow in the center. Pour the lukewarm milk into the well and add the crumbled yeast. Carefully stir once or twice. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let the pre-dough rise for about 15 minutes, the surface will start to look bubbly.
Add the remaining ingredients (sugar, egg yolk, pinch of salt, cooled down melted butter) and knead well, either by hand or with your kitchen machine until dough can be easily removed from the bowl (non-sticky). If it still feels too sticky, add a tad more flour. Let the covered bowl rest again in a warm place for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile prepare the plums: Wash and slice them on one side to easily remove the stone, yet try not to cut them in two separate halves (see picture above) – it will make it easier to fill and shape the dumplings later on. Set aside.
You will need a clean, sanitized dishcloth. Pick an older (not your most treasured) one and boil it for 5 minutes in simmering water, to get rid of any detergent residues in the cloth. Rinse thoroughly in cold water, don’t burn your fingers. Squeeze it.
Take a big pot and fill it about 1/3 with water. Now attach the treated dishcloth to the pot with knots or needles (see picture to the right). The bottom of the cloth should not touch the water. Brush cloth with melted butter to prevent the dumplings from sticking.
Knead dough briefly and toss on a floured pastry board. Cut into ~12 equal pieces and form little discs, then place one plum on top of each, fill each with a sugar cube or half a teaspoon of cinnamon sugar (or vanilla sugar) and surround it with the dough. Form a neat little dumpling and double check that the plum is completely covered by the dough, to guarantee that the fruit juice stays inside.
Bring the pot of water to a boil (if you don’t trust your hearing, you can peak under the cloth) and carefully place a few of the dumplings inside the dishcloth – side by side, not stacked. Close the lid and let the water simmer at medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, the steam alone will cook the dumplings.
Now separate dumplings and remove with two tablespoons. Arrange on a plate, drizzle with a bit of melted or even browned butter as well as cinnamon or vanilla sugar. Warning: consume in small doses, it’s highly addictive! ;)
Recipe source: my grandma/aunt Kate
Prep time: 1 hour, cooking: about 15min.
Ingredients (yields about 12 dumplings):
1/2 cube (~20g) of fresh yeast
125ml lukewarm milk
250g all-purpose flour (type 405)
a pinch of salt
3 tbsp sugar
1 egg yolk
25g melted butter
about 12 pitted Zwetschgen (plums)
about 12 sugar cubes/extra cinnamon or vanilla sugar (for the filling & to serve)
extra melted butter (for preparing the dishcloth & to serve)