It's late summer and I've been feeling a certain nostalgia for all the fruit that grows in my mom's garden on the other side of the ocean. Fortunately, I have figured out how to make PLUM DUMPLINGS with American ingredients, and plums are now everywhere. If you are looking for an unusual dessert to serve, read on, and please don't judge by the ingredient list only; the result tastes a lot better than the sum of its parts.
Plum (or fruit in general) filled dumplings are not unique to Czech cuisine; they are also made in Austria, parts of Germany, and I believe Hungary too. Also, there are many different recipes for the dough: potato, yeast-raised, cheese, and variations. My family prefers cheese dough, which is very easy to make, light, and slightly tangy.
So, here's the recipe.
You will need:
1/2 lb fromage blanc OR mascarpone soured with a bit of lemon juice PLUS
approx. 1/4 lb mascarpone or f.b. for serving
1/2 lb Wondra flour plus a bit more for fine-tuning
(NOT all-purpose flour; Wondra should be available in better supermarkets, either in a blue tube or in a box; it's coarser-grained than APF; you could also use about 1/2 APF and 1/2 semolina flour, but then you'd have to experiment a little with the texture)
approx. 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
about 10 firm but not hard Italian plums (the elongated kind)
powdered sugar for serving
1/2 stick butter, browned, for serving
Mix all ingredients until combined and make dough. Add additional flour as needed, the resulting dough should be moderately stiff and just a *teeny* bit sticky. Let dough rest in the fridge for 20 minutes or more.
Put a big pot of water on the boil. Mix the granulated sugar with the cinnamon and place in a small bowl. Wash the plums and halve them, removing pits. Now take the dough out of the fridge and roll out to a rectangle about 1/4" thick (it's elastic). With a pizza cutter or pastry wheel (is it called that?) divide the dough into approx. 2" squares. Take each plum half, dip the pit side in the cinnamon sugar, and place on the dough square. (If the plums are ripe and sweet, skip this step altogether.) Pinch the four corners together and roll the dumpling between your palms a few times until the fruit is enclosed completely; make sure there are no holes or very thin, transparent spots. (Don't obsess about perfect appearance, though.)
Once the water is boiling, put the dumplings in (somehow - I use a slotted spoon for this) and cook for approximately 6-7 minutes; after they rise to the surface, give them another two minutes or so; they will have expanded slightly and look white and opaque, rather than yellowish. Remove the dumplings with a slotted spoon, being careful to drain them properly, and arrange them on plates (no more than 2, max. 3 for a dessert serving, but we Czechs actually eat them as a main course, in which case up to 8 are consumed by an enthusiastic eater). Top them with a small mound of powdered sugar (note there is almost no sugar in the recipe itself); pour on a teaspoonful or so of the browned, melted butter; sprinkle with cinnamon if desired, and place a dollop of mascarpone or fromage blanc on the side (if you skip this, it will still be good, but that sour/tangy note is really what makes this dish so absolutely delicious). If you're feeling fancy, garnish with a teeny sprig of mint. Eat while still hot.
(The dumplings are full of delicious plum juices, so using your vintage white linens may not be the best idea here.)
You can also make these with great success with any firm, flavorful stone fruit; apricots are excellent, too, as are un-stoned sour cherries; ordinary cherries are a bit boring, though. For berries, though, I would recommend a slightly different recipe, where the dumplings are small and unfilledm and the mashed berries go on top as a sauce.
If you want to go all-out with Central European flavors, serve this with a spritzer made with elderflower (NOT elderberry) syrup. It's the most lyrical, floral, summery, clean taste there is. The syrup, as I found out to my great delight, is available from Dean and Deluca for $11 per 1/2 liter bottle, from www.germandeli.com, and from www.farawayfoods.com. If you have never tried it, just do it, please. It's hard to describe how incredible the flavor is - the essence of summer.