Little White Lab Rat has to be tough to survive the culinary experiments to which he submits himself in the interest of you, his readers. Little White Lab Rat protested mightily at the cloying baby-talk title topping this post … but there it is anyway, typed in while Little White Lab Rat was occupied with a weightier matter: preening the last of the honey-flavored syrup from his astonishingly sensitive whiskers.
The earliest recipes published in the Church magazines frequently call for packaged commercial products: powdered gelatin, soda crackers used to thicken sauces, graham crackers, canned goods (canned oysters seem to have been widely used). But post-World War II, these relatively simple packaged items become vastly outnumbered by a flood of complex commercial foods touted for their ease of use and time-saving qualities: Add cream-of-something soup to anything needing sauce; add dehydrated chicken noodle soup mix to anything needing savor; crush potato chips for casserole toppings; set just about anything – including canned shrimp – in gelatin. The recipes in the magazines become something less like cooking and something more like stirring together any number of canned and boxed products and calling it supper.
That’s why I was surprised to find a dessert recipe in a menu addressed to student wives in January 1969 that actually called for traditional cooking skills. The rest of the menu was what you’d expect – a meat sauce flavored with a package of chicken noodle soup mix, to be served over rice; fruit cocktail set in strawberry jello as a salad – but the desert was honest-to-gosh old-fashioned from-scratch traditional cooking: dumplings! It did venture into the commercial packaged goods territory by suggesting “any of the dairy imitation products” as a topping, but the first suggested topping was good old-fashioned whipped cream.
The recipe as printed:
1 c. water
1/2 c. sugar
1 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. butter
1 c. white flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp. butter
milk as needed to make soft dough [this ended up being about 3 or 4 tbsp.]
Sift flour and baking powder. Add beaten egg and melted butter. Add milk until dough can be formed into 4 medium-sized balls. Boil in syrup for 20 minutes. Serve with whipped cream or any of the dairy imitation products.
The dumpling part was a little surprising to me – I’ve never used egg in dumplings, either sweet or savory, and doughs using baking powder usually call for “cutting in” the fat (using a pastry cutter – one of those gadgets with loops of wire or narrow metal blades falling in a U-shape from the handle – or else by use of a pair of table knives criss-crossing in a cutting motion until the flour is crumbly with little bits of fat scattered throughout) – but Little White Lab Rat always tries to follow a recipe once as written, before trying variations, and I have to admit that using an egg and melted butter this way worked just fine.
The recipe takes it for granted that cooks know how to make dumplings. I think student wives and modern first-time-dumpling-makers probably could benefit from some tips:
1. Any quick dough using baking powder or baking soda as a leaven (biscuits, pancakes, dumplings) needs to be handled as little as possible. Stir by hand (never a mixer) only until the dough comes together. Don’t overmix, don’t knead, or you’ll end up with a tougher product than otherwise.
2. Have your liquid boiling before you drop your dumplings in. If dumplings sit in soup or syrup while the liquid comes to a boil, they tend to dissolve and you end up with liquid thickened by all that flour, rather than dumplings in sauce.
3. Dumplings cook by steam. Cover with a tight-fitting lid as soon as you put the dumplings in liquid. Resist every temptation to lift the lid and see how they are doing. They’re doing just fine. Don’t release the steam until the dough has had time to get fluffy and bake in the steam, or else you’ll end up with doughy globs instead of fluffy dumplings. The 20 minutes mentioned in this recipe was perfect timing in this case.
I can’t eat whipped cream these days so I sampled these dumplings plain. Whipped cream would make a very nice addition, but these dumplings were just fine on their own: Fluffy, with the single tablespoon of honey giving a really nice honey flavor (not just sweetness). The bottoms of the dumplings that had sat in the boiling syrup were kind of like the sticky part of “sticky buns”; the tops were light and fluffy. There was very little syrup left, and I drizzled what little there was over the tops.
A single one of these sweet, rich dumplings would make an adequate serving, although I suppose that since this menu was directed to student wives it was intended that two dumplings make a serving. It’s very sweet, though, so I recommend serving one at a time with the other held in reserve for seconds, if wanted.
I like dumplings, and this is a recipe I’ll use again. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any particular variations I might make: Honey flavor is the star, so I wouldn’t add any spices to the dumpling, or any other flavorings to the syrup.
And it’s certainly easy enough, with little at risk in the way of wasted food, that no novice to dumpling-making should hesitate to try it. Real cooking! Real ingredients! Cook like your great-grandmother did!