I can’t remember the first time I tasted a Hungarian szilvás gomboc. I must have been only five or six years old, perhaps watching wide-eyed as my nagymama sliced open the thick breadcrumb-dusted potato dumpling to reveal the sticky purple plum inside and sprinkled it with cinnamon-sugar. I don’t know if I loved or hated it at first bite, whether I needed time to acquire the taste. I don’t know how many my mom let me eat, though now I can practically inhale five or six of them if I don’t stop myself in time.
While I don’t remember that pivotal moment of discovery—I now rank plum dumplings as one of my top five favorite foods—there is one thing I will never forget: the first time I tried to make plum dumplings on my own. (Okay, maybe I had a little help from my mom and my boyfriend.) It’s a daylong process that requires more utensils, bowls, and pots than most people go through in a week, but it’s entirely worth it. If you close your eyes at the first sweet, juicy bite, you can almost believe you’re dining in a cafe in the heart of Budapest.
~10 medium-size Idaho or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
~40 ripe Italian plums
~Cinnamon-sugar mixture (1 part cinnamon, 2 parts sugar)
~4 cups all-purpose flour
~4 tbsp. softened butter or margarine
*This recipe makes about about 40 dumplings. I make that many so I can freeze some to eat when the plums are no longer in season. To cook only 20 dumplings, halve the ingredients listed above.
**You’ll also need a large work surface (or I’m just messy), an 8-quart pot, a heavy-duty rolling pin, a cookie sheet (or just a flat surface that you don’t mind getting a bit wet and sticky), and a large skillet.
~In an 8-quart pot, cook potatoes in boiling water until soft enough to poke through with a fork, about 35 to 45 minutes. Set potatoes aside to cool.
~Pit Italian plums without fully breaking the fruit in two. Press the insides of plum into cinnamon-sugar mixture to lightly coat.
~In a large bowl, mash cooled potatoes, then add eggs and knead potato and egg mixture with your hands. Press in flour, 1 cup at a time, until thoroughly combined and a sticky dough has formed. Some potato lumps are fine.
~Meanwhile, boil water in an 8-quart saucepan.
~Roll out dough on floured surface until it is about 1/4-inch thick.
~Cut out a small square of dough, about 4 inches on each side, though this will really depend on the size of each plum. Place plum in the center of dough square and pull up corners to wrap dough into a ball. Rip off any excess dough. Pinch edges of dumpling closed, and if necessary, dab with water to seal. (Do not try to roll dumpling in your hands as if making a meatball; this will only cause the edges to separate.)
~When five dumplings are complete, lower each one into boiling water. Using a slotted spoon, remove dumplings when they float to the surface and place them on cookie sheet or cutting board.
~When all dumplings have been removed from pot, melt 1 tbsp. butter in skillet on medium-high heat. Cover bottom of pan with breadcrumbs and stir, adding remaining 2 tbsp. butter as necessary.
~As breadcrumbs start to brown, add dumplings to pan in small batches and coat with breadcrumbs. Remove from pan after 1 or 2 minutes. Repeat with remaining dumplings. (If the breadcrumbs start to burn, remove from pan and begin again with a fresh layer.)
~Enjoy at least one of your dumplings while still piping hot!