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Little White Lab Rat Is Your Sweet Little Honey Dumpling

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 25, 2012

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:

Honey Dumplings

Syrup

1 c. water
1/2 c. sugar
1 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. butter

Dumplings

1 c. white flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp. butter
1 egg
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.

-oOo-

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!



9 Comments »

  1. Cool! Another historical recipe! I’ll have to try it, maybe for Family Home Evening tonight.

    My mother didn’t make dumplings often, but when she did, she was always adamant about leaving the lid on the pot. Due to that, it was a bit of a surprise to find that German dumplings (called Knödel where I served my mission, and called other things elsewhere in Germany) are cooked in boiling water without the lid on. So, that’s how I currently make dumplings, when I make dumplings, but I’ll make these honey dumplings with the pot securely covered. : )

    Comment by Amy T — June 25, 2012 @ 7:40 am

  2. My mother was rather fond of cream of mushroom soup over toast for breakfast.

    We were not taught the indelicate military name for this concoction, but the acronym was SOS.

    Comment by Vader — June 25, 2012 @ 7:41 am

  3. I’ll have to try this one. I have a 4-generation-ago dumpling recipe that assumes I know a lot of things. This filled in some details for me. I’ve been baking it all in a cake pan. I’ll try steaming them like this now. I’ll bet this is the way it was meant to be done.

    Comment by Carol — June 25, 2012 @ 8:32 am

  4. If the recipe calls it dumpling, it almost certainly was intended to be boiled or steamed instead of baked — baking probably made it turn out like biscuits, no? which were probably good anyway.

    Amy’s the queen of historical recipes. I’ll bet nobody else has tried the orange gelatin baskets, right?

    And Vader, you’re just begging for it: Your mama wears army boots.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 25, 2012 @ 8:42 am

  5. In her defense, I do not recall my mother ever using dehydrated chicken noodle soup as an MSG substitute. Her MSG substitute of choice was dehydrated onion soup, which seems vaguely more sophisticated. And, while our Jello had various fruit and, occasionally, cottage cheese or grated carrot embedded in it, my mother never embedded meat, poultry, or seafood in Jello. Seafood would have been outside our budget anyway.

    I feel a James Lileks link coming on. Gallery of Regrettable Food, anyone?

    It took me a long time to ever learn to like pizza, because my earliest experience of it was Chef Boy-Ar-Dee. That should be ample explanation.

    My father was quite fond of oyster stew. Not knowing better, and believing anything my dad liked must be good, I acquired the taste as well. Best prepared with milk, a squirt of Worcestershire sauce, and a dash of red pepper. Yes, we had access to Worcestershire sauce, even if we hadn’t a clue how to pronounce it.

    Comment by Vader — June 25, 2012 @ 9:20 am

  6. My mother, who tended toward standard meat and potatoes and lots of vegetables fare that everyone loved, once made the shrimp in jello concoction. I don’t know where she found the recipe. It tarnished her reputation for some time, but didn’t discourage anyone from coming to dinner.

    Thanks for the tip about cooking dumplings with the lid on. “Doughy globs” or “soup thickener” exactly describe my experience with chicken and dumplings.

    Comment by charlene — June 25, 2012 @ 2:02 pm

  7. This is our family recipe:

    Vinegar Dumplings

    Make light baking powder biscuits, then bake in sauce of:

    2 c. water
    1 1/2 c. sugar
    1/2 c. vinegar

    Put in a dripper; sprinkle 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon over biscuits and 1 tablespoon butter (not melted) over each biscuit.

    Dip for dumplings:

    1/2 c. sugar
    1 c. water
    1 T. butter
    2 T. vinegar

    Caramelize sugar; pour in water and vinegar. Add butter; thicken with 1 tablespoon flour or corn starch. Pour over hot dumplings and serve.

    I had to call my aunt to ask what a dripper was. She bakes them instead of steams them, but they do get gooey sticky on the bottom and crusty on top.

    I don’t use 1 T. butter on each one, but maybe I make too many small ones and I should make four bigger ones.

    I had to experiment a lot to make sense of this recipe. Now I want to steam it. Do I just put it in a pot with the boiling sauce on the stove top? How big do I make them? I’d love tips.

    These are really good. I use apple cider vinegar, and some people swear I put apples in it.

    Comment by Carol — June 26, 2012 @ 4:51 pm

  8. That’s an interesting combination of butter and vinegar — I can’t image its flavor and am going to have to try this!

    Yes, put the sauce in a cooking pot and bring it to a boil before you put the dumplings in.

    This is more than twice the amount of liquid in the honey dumpling recipe. In my three-quart pot, the liquid was only about a half inch deep. The four dumplings made with the 1 cup of flour virtually filled the pot — not packed tight, but there was certainly no room for one more dumpling. They were maybe twice the size of a golf ball raw, and much expanded when cooked.

    I don’t know about Amy’s German dumplings or other varieties, but the kinds I’ve made only work well if they’re a single layer deep, leaving room to expand as the baking powder works. Since your biscuit recipe isn’t included, I can’t guess how much you make at a time. I wouldn’t have wanted my dumplings to be any bigger than the four I got from the one-cup-of-flour recipe — is your recipe comparable?

    If you make a larger biscuit recipe, you could probably steam them in a stewpot or some similar larger pot than I used — the liquid wouldn’t be as deep (but my half-inch of liquid worked fine, and the fact that your aunt uses a dripper — what, 9×13? — suggests that the liquid doesn’t need to be very deep in your recipe, either), and you could put more biscuits in the larger pan and still have them only one layer deep.

    I’m going to try your recipe, maybe tonight but definitely this week.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 26, 2012 @ 5:29 pm

  9. It doesn’t say the size of the biscuit recipe. The one I use has 4 cups of flour and fills the 9×13 and then some, but I was just guessing. I rolled and cut the dough 1/2 inch thick.

    So, I’ll make a smaller batch of biscuit dough, roll them into raquet balls and boil/steam them in my 5-quart pot.

    And, I’ll try the honey dumplings too.

    This seems to me an invention of some pioneer woman in the middle of winter, when she wants to make a special dessert but doesn’t have any fruit to make a pie or apple dumpling or anything. If tart apples and tart cherries go in dessert, then tart vinegar should work too. Genius.

    Comment by Carol — June 26, 2012 @ 5:43 pm

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