Plum dumplings are an autumn treat! Soft, pillowy potato dough surrounds a whole purple prune plum - so sweet and juicy inside. These German dumplings are rolled in buttery crumbs, then sprinkled liberally with crunchy cinnamon sugar - they're a wonderful light meal, brunch dish, snack, or dessert.
Whenever I see the first prune plums in the stores in late summer, I get all nostalgic with a craving for these delicious dumplings. I've made them once a year ever since before the kids were born, when it was just my husband and me as a young couple, and they've always been a much-awaited fall treat.
Beloved Prune Plums
'Zwetschgen' is the German name for Italian prune plums - the egg-shaped purple plums with firm greenish flesh that are only available in fall. ('Pflaumen' is the generic German name for all plums, and that's what we tended to call them.) 'Zwetschgen' are beloved by Germans and are a big part of my childhood memories. In one of the places I lived as a young child, we had a plum tree in our yard, and I remember my dad shaking the tree as the rain of purple plums plopped to the ground. We'd eat them until our bellies ached.
My mom would pit the plums and lay them out on big screens in the sun to dry into prunes. She'd freeze some of them fresh and we'd have delicious 'Pflaumenkuchen' (plum streusel cake) all year, as well as 'Pflaumensuppe' (a sweet plum soup served as a meal). The sweet and tangy flavour of these juicy, firm-fleshed plums is wonderful in cooked and baked goods. They hold their shape, and their flavour intensifies to deep, purple deliciousness when baked. To me, this is what plums are. I prefer them any day to the big round watery plum varieties that tend to be sour near their pits.
Plum dumplings originated somewhere in Eastern Europe, but they are beloved throughout southern Germany, Austria, and Central Europe as well. They were originally fried but now tend to be boiled and then coated in buttered crumbs, sometimes with ground nuts added. The dumplings can be made with a yeast dough, a quark dough (a kind of German fresh cheese), or a cooked potato dough, like the one we make here. We love the soft fluffy, yet slightly chewy potato dough, as the flavour complements the tangy plums so well.
Zwetschgen means prune plums and Knödel means dumplings, but to confuse matters further, Pflaumen also means plums and Klöße also means dumplings, so in German you might find these plum dumplings named Zwetschgenknödel, Zwetschgenklöße, Pflaumenknödel, or Pflaumenklöße! But whatever you call them, you will find them delicious.
Plum dumplings are often eaten as a light, sweet meal by themselves, or they can be served after a soup course for a more substantial meal. They are also often served as a dessert or a snack and can be a replacement for cake during the afternoon coffee hour in Germany. When served as a dessert, Plum Dumplings are also pretty delicious served with vanilla sauce, whipped cream, or ice cream.
I grew up sometimes having a sweet dish for a light lunch or supper (like the Pflaumensuppe mentioned above, or a milk-noodle soup with butter and honey, or sweet milk-rice). If that seems odd to you, think of having pancakes or waffles for dinner - a form of sweet dish for a main course, too.
How to make Plum Dumplings
There are a few steps involved, but it's not difficult. You will need to boil some whole potatoes (boiling them in their skins prevents them from absorbing too much water and becoming mushy), so they are still warm when you make the dough. You just peel and mash the hot potatoes, mix them with flour and an egg, and you'll have a nice soft dough.
Roll out the dough thickly, cut it into squares, and plop a whole prune plum onto each square (try to pick out smallish plums, as they'll be easier to cover with the dough).
Wrap the dough up around the plum and pinch it together to completely cover the plum. Roll the dumplings to make them smooth.
Then boil the dumplings in water until they float. Brown some bread crumbs in butter and roll the dumplings around in the crumbs until they're completely coated.
To eat the dumplings, cut them open, remove the prune pit, and sprinkle them liberally with cinnamon sugar.
Oh, my. What heavenly delight is this?
Crispy, buttery crumbs, soft chewy dough, and a burst of juicy, tangy plum hiding inside like a purple jewel. The cinnamon sugar is the crowning crunchy glory to turn the whole dish into a sweet spicy delight.
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Plum Dumplings (Zwetschgenknödel)
- 1 pound (454gms) potatoes (4 medium or 5 small)
- 1 teaspoon butter
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 cups (270gms) all-purpose flour for gluten-free, use a gluten-free flour blend + 2 teaspoons psyllium husk powder
- 1 large egg
- 20 Italian prune plums, small to medium in size or small apricots, chunks of apple, or chunks of banana
for the fried breadcrumbs:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 cup (100gms) fine, dry breadcrumbs, gluten-free if necessary or substitute half of the crumbs with ground hazelnuts
for the cinnamon sugar:
- 1 cup (200gms) sugar preferably natural evaporated cane sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- Boil the potatoes whole until they are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Drain the potatoes and peel them while they are still hot.
- Mash the potatoes with the butter and salt. Add the flour (or gluten-free flour + psyllium husk powder) and sugar, and mix thoroughly.
- Mix in the egg and knead for 3 to 4 minutes to form a soft, elastic dough.
- The dough should still be warm as you roll it out on a floured work surface to a thickness of about ⅓-inch/8.5mm (a rectangle of roughly 10x12.5 inches/25.5x32cm).
- Cut the dough into twenty 2½-inch squares (6.5cm).
- Place a whole plum in the center of each square. Bring up the corners of the dough over the plum so the edges butt up against each other, and pinch the edges together to join them. (If they don't stick well, add a dab of water to get the edges to stick together.) Gently roll the dumpling into a smooth ball between your palms. Make sure the dough is sealed all the way around the plum, with no gaps or thin spots - pinch or press it back together if it is.You can prepare and form all the dumplings up to this point and let them sit on a floured plate or pan, not touching each other (cover the whole plate in plastic food wrap) for a few hours or up to a whole day ahead (refrigerate them if it's more than a few hours).
- Fill a large pot with about 4 inches (10cm) of water and bring it to a boil. Drop in the dumplings, as many as will fit in a single layer, not crowded. Lower the heat slightly - the water should not come back to a boil, but stay just below (if it boils vigorously, the dumplings could fall apart). Cook until they rise to the top (about 8-10 minutes). Remove the dumplings with a slotted spoon and set them onto a plate or pan to drain. Cook the rest of the dumplings in batches, keeping the finished ones warm in a low oven.
- In a skillet, melt the butter and oil over medium heat. Fry the breadcrumbs until they are golden. Put a few dumplings at a time into the breadcrumbs and gently shake the skillet back and forth until the dumplings are completely covered in the buttered crumbs.You can keep the crumb-coated dumplings warm in a 175°F (80°C) oven - no longer than 20 minutes (or the crumbs will lose their crispness).
- Stir together the sugar and cinnamon and serve with the plum dumplings.
- To eat, cut open each dumpling, remove the prune pit, and sprinkle liberally with the cinnamon sugar.
- Makes 20 plum dumplings. If serving these for a meal, four or five dumplings per person would probably be enough. If serving them as a dessert or snack, one or two dumplings per person would be a good portion.
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