A food scientist's 'formula' for extraordinarily soft, magnificently delicious dumplings and mouthwatering chicken
By Shirley Corriher
This method struck me as so odd that I wondered if there were other such dumpling recipes out there that I had simply not run into. So I researched the hundreds of different variations of dumplings from around the world and found none made with boiling water like pate a choux. The German soft dumplings, spaetzle, have similar ingredients but are not prepared with boiling water.
I couldn't wait to make these dumplings. To my dismay, the dumplings did not explode and puff like a cream puff. I should have known that that would never happen. You have to have high heat to produce a great blast of steam trapped in the strong egg dough wrapper for the puff of a cream puff. Since the temperature of the boiling chicken stock where the dumplings are cooked does not get any higher than 212 F, this is not enough heat to make the eggs in the dough "explode" as in cream puffs.
Neither were these dumplings sensationally light, but they were amazingly soft -- extraordinarily soft! -- and totally delicious. In spite of being made with a national brand all-purpose flour and not a low-protein Southern soft winter wheat flour, these dumplings were incredibly soft. Even though the dough had two eggs, these dumplings were like deep-plush velvet. And sturdy. They did not have the "falling-apart" nature that you can get with biscuit-type dumplings made with leaveners. They were different from any dumplings that I had experienced and wonderfully delicious. I highly recommend that you try the recipe for A Different Dumpling below.
While I was researching dumplings, I came upon a warm memory from my childhood: Uncle Wiggily and the Apple Dumpling. The elegant rabbit gentleman's housekeeper, the muskrat lady Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy, prepared two marvelous apple dumplings -- one for Uncle Wiggily and one for Grandfather Goosey Gander. When Uncle Wiggily was on his journey to deliver the hot apple dumpling, he came upon a shabby house with no glass in the windows and in a sad state of disrepair. He heard sobbing from inside -- little voices saying they were so cold and so hungry. He climbed out of his automobile and looked in the window. A mother squirrel and her two children were shivering, huddled together. He immediately gave them the hot apple dumpling. They thought he was a magic Fairy Godfather. He rushed to the store and got what he needed to fix their home and a whole pantry full of food. He repaired their home and stuffed the pantry so they would never be cold and hungry again.
So, I couldn't write about dumplings without including a recipe for apple dumplings. The recipe below is easy with purchased dough, but, of course, you can make your own as Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy did. A piping hot apple dumpling with ice cream is a heavenly treat!
A DIFFERENT DUMPLING
Adapted from the recipe Doris's Chicken and Dumplings in Joseph Dabney's "The Food, Folklore, and Art of Lowcountry Cooking" (Cumberland House, 2010). These extraordinarily soft and magnificently delicious dumplings are cooked in a double chicken stock and are wonderful.
2. Put the hot dough in a food processor or a medium mixing bowl. Process for 2 seconds, or stir, spreading dough to cool as you stir. If using a processor, open the lid to let the steam out. Let cool about 2 minutes. With the processor running, add 1 egg. As soon as it is well beaten in, add the other egg with the processor running, and process to blend in well. Or, beat each egg in by hand.
3. The dough needs to be firm enough to hold its shape. Spoon out a blob of dough onto the counter. If it spreads out, knead in more flour a little at a time until you get a dough that will hold its shape.
4. Pull off a piece of dough, place it on a lightly floured counter or piece of wax paper. Roll the dough into a thin layer (between 1/16 and 1/8-inch) and cut into small (about 1-inch wide and 2-inches long) serving-size strips. Repeat the process until you've cut all the dough into dumplings.
5. Dumplings can be made ahead and frozen. Doris Tate says: "I like to make the dumplings up ahead of time and freeze them. After cutting them, I just leave them on wax paper and place them in a Tupperware container. I keep adding layers of dumplings on wax paper until the container is full. They can keep for months in the freezer."
DELICIOUS CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS
2. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Cover, leave at a simmer for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat. Allow to stand for an hour. Lift out the chicken, cool, debone, and set aside. You can use part of the chicken for something like chicken salad, but you will need a generous amount to add later to the dumplings.
3. Add the instant chicken bouillon or bouillon cubes to the broth in the pot and bring it to a boil. Layer a handful of dumplings into the pot and sprinkle with pepper. Doris says: "When you put the dumplings in the boiling broth, just dump them in by the handful. I used to take my time and lay one dumpling at a time into the pot. I have found that to be totally unnecessary."
4. Once the pot returns to a boil, add another batch of dumplings.
5. Continue this process until your pot is adequately full. When the last layer of dumplings comes to a boil, cover, turn down to a simmer, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Put in the deboned chicken, stir, cover, and cut off the heat. Taste and add salt or pepper as needed. Because of the bouillon, you may not need any salt.
DELICIOUS APPLE DUMPLINGS
This recipe was inspired by one on the website The Pioneer Woman Cooks. She said that the recipe came from a friend who had received it by e-mail from a friend known only as "Donna," My version is considerably different, but I got the crescent rolls from "Donna." The crisp crust and soft, wet lower half of the dumplings create a wonderful contrast.
2. Arrange a cooling or draining rack over half of the pan with the melted butter. Using a fork, dip each apple slice into the melted butter and then place on the draining rack so that butter drips back into the pan.
3. Unroll the crescent rolls as you need them. Roll each drained apple up in a crescent roll. Place each apple crescent roll in the prepared pan next to each other until all the apple slices are prepared.
4. Add the brown sugar, white sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and 1/2 cup water to the melted butter. Heat, stirring gently until most of the sugar has dissolved. Pour this mixture over the crescent rolls and apples, making sure to get some on each roll. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup water around the edges of the pan. Place in the preheated oven. Bake until very brown and crisp on top, about 30 minutes.
5. Serve hot, spooning some of the juices on top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream beside the dumplings.
(Food scientist Shirley O. Corriher is author of "CookWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking," William Morrow, 1997.)
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