Czech Plum Dumplings

I’ve never been a big fan of fresh plums.  I have always wanted to like them, little orbs of summer that they are, and occasionally would try one or two from the fruit drawer in the fridge where my mom stored them.  Like the peaches we got, they always disappointed, but we also knew that the produce that made its way to our local grocery stores was also the most lackluster.  But even now, when I’m able to grab a few from a farmer’s market (so, as tree-ripened and as sweet as one could hope for), I never have any desire to eat them raw.  Cooked, roasted, baked, simmered, or jammed, however, they’re, at least for me, perfectly irresistible.

Czech Plum Dumplings (2 of 11)

Over ten years ago now (ugh) when I lived in the Czech Republic, I soon learned that plums were such an important fruit there that different words existed for the different varieties–to a Czech’s mind, then, an Italian prune plum and a sugar plum are perhaps as different as a peach and a nectarine.  And that late-summer-to-early-fall Italian prune plum is the key component to a whole range of delicious things:  from slivovice (plum brandy) to povidla (plum butter) to plum dumplings.  I’ve made the first two from that list, and have long been meaning to make the final entry.

Czech Plum Dumplings (11 of 11)

I’ve made them before, in fact, but not on my own.  The village I lived in for one year as an English teacher had previously housed a Czech language school for foreigners.  During the old communist days, students came from the so-called “nonaligned” countries to study at Czech universities–usually technical subjects like engineering–but needed an intensive crash course in Czech before they started.  Hence they lived in language school’s dorms for a year before they were off to Prague, Brno, or other Czech university towns.  Today the institute runs preparatory courses (for Czech students) to prepare them for their college entrance exams.  If I remember correctly, you sit for an exam in the program of your choice–medical, legal, general studies.  If you don’t get in, you can come to this program and spend another year preparing to retake the exams.  (Yeah, no pressure). Anyway, “Cestina pro cizince” (Czech for foreigners) is no more, but one of the program’s teachers, Alena, still live in the town–and lucky for me, she took me on for lessons.  Not bad to have “CSL” (“Czech as a second langauge?) teacher with twenty years of experience introducing you to the insanity that is Czech grammar. Since I was there in the evenings, Alena also took it upon herself to make sure I had a good grounding in Czech food.  She was one of those people who can whip up any number of things from scratch (of course she was!) and while I sadly must admit I haven’t retained all that much, I do remember making these dumplings with her.  A big bowl of blue-purple oval fruits, tvaroh (Czech “farmer’s cheese”, also known as quark), milk, flour, and butter.

Czech Plum Dumplings (1 of 11)

Czech Plum Dumplings (3 of 11)

First we mixed and kneaded the soft pillowy dough–me and Alena by hand, today me and little H with the stand mixer–

Czech Plum Dumplings (4 of 11)

An assembly line was set up, and we wrapped each fruit in its own little package–

Czech Plum Dumplings (6 of 11)

moistened the edges to create a seal–

Czech Plum Dumplings (7 of 11)

and set them aside while we waited for the water to boil.

Czech Plum Dumplings (8 of 11)

We slipped them into  boiling water to poach, and a few minutes later, carefully fished them out, hot and slippery.

Czech Plum Dumplings (10 of 11)

Drizzled with butter, powdered sugar, and poppy seeds.  My favorite type of lesson about culture–via the stomach.

Czech Plum Dumplings (11 of 11)

Note:  you’ll notice that it took me a while to get this post up as these plums, even if early fall fruits, are no longer in season. However, you can use other fruits so you don’t have to wait until next September.

Czech Plum Dumplings
Recipe Type: breakfast, dessert
Cuisine: Czech
Serves: 4-6
  • 2T butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup “pot cheese” (farmer’s cheese, quark, tvaroh, tvarog).
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 cups cake flour or a combination of cake and regular flour. (I used 240g cake and 30g regular flour).
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 – 1 1/2 pounds fruit (prunes, apricots, cherries, apples or other firm fruit; I used 16 plums)
  • melted butter, poppy seeds, additional quark, and powdered sugar for serving
  1. Cream butter, egg and cheese together. It’s OK if it’s a bit lumpy. Add the salt, flour, and milk to make a medium firm dough. Depending on the firmness of your cheese, you may have to add more milk. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.
  2. Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil while you make the dumplings.
  3. Break off pieces and form into balls–you’ll want 16 or so. Let rest 15 minutes to allow the gluten to relax. On a floured surface, roll dough out into rounds and place a pierced fruit in the center. Dab the edges of the dough to create an adhesive edge, wrap around the fruit, and pinch together, sealing the edges well. Set aside on a floured surface, sealed side down, while you make the other dumplings.
  4. Gently slip into boiling water one at a time but as quickly as possible. Cook for 5-8 minutes turning once. Remove with a skimmer or slotted spoon.
  5. To serve, tear open a dumpling with two forks, and drizzle with melted butter, more cheese, poppy seeds, and powdered sugar

Italian Prune Plum Galette

Puff pastry has to be one of the miracles of butter. The dough goes from razor thin to blistered, flaky, and, well, gloriously puffed in the oven, thanks to the pockets of butter that release steam to create that crisp, shattering architecture.  And baking with puff pastry lets me pretend, at least a little, that I’m an expert patissiere.

But without too much work, please. True puff pastry does take some effort, more technique and even more waiting time.  Luckily, the shortcut ”quick puff” method–which is very easy and very fast–yields excellent results.  (Maybe it’s cheating to use a food processor, but I won’t tell if you won’t).  Many variations of quick puff are out there; I use Nick Malgieri’s version (the recipe is here) and always make extra for the freezer.  (I’ve been going on and on and on about puff pastry for a while now, and there will only be more:  it’s our current chapter in the Modern Baker Challenge).  You can find raw puff pastry in the freezer case, and while some brands are very good, quality can very.  That’s the best part about making your own puff though (besides being much more economical):  you know your pastry is made with pure butter, rather than trans-fat or its only slightly less undesirable cousins.

Here’s a lovely fall dessert, made with Italian prune plums (yes, you can do more than make a knockout jam with these–and I’m doing my best to take advantage of their brief season).  Prune plums are oblong rather than round, and almost a blackish purple.  While they don’t taste much different than other plums raw, somehow through the alchemy of heat they become jam like and rich with spicy aromatics–perfect for cooling nights. Toss them with a bit of lemon zest and sugar and arrange prettily across your pastry dough, and fold the edges over.  You needn’t be too fussy though. Because it’s a galette, shaggy edges are to be desired rather than shunned, as they lend a rustic look to your final masterpiece.

Italian Prune Plum Galette
  • 3/4 to 1 pound (350-450g) Italian Prune Plums
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • 10 ounces puff pastry (about 285 grams), defrosted overnight in the fridge
Roll out puff pastry dough into a rectangle roughly 14 by 12 inches (35 x 30cm, or about the size of a cookie sheet). Gently lift onto a cookie sheet, and refrigerate while preparing the fruit. (Puff pastry, like pie dough, needs to be kept cold).

Slice the plums in half lengthwise, then slice each piece in half again. Toss gently (using your hands) with the lemon zest and the sugar in a bowl.

Remove the pastry dough from the refrigerator, and arrange the fruit slices down the center, leaving about two inches margin at each edge. Fold the edges towards the center, partially covering some of the fruit.

There will be some “syrup” left in your bowl, scrape out as much as you can and drizzle over the plums.

Bake for about 35-40 minutes at 425F (220C). (Reduce to 400F/200C if the pastry browns too quickly).

Some notes and tips:  Firm fruit retains its shape best (and thus emerges more beautifully from the oven).  As this is more of a method than a recipe,  if you don’t have Italian Prune Plums, use any other plums you have available. Or, in fact, any fruit you prefer!

A version of this post was originally published on Honest Cooking.

Italian Prune Plum Jam

How is it that I found myself buying 4 pounds of plums at from a vendor at the farmer’s market this weekend?  (I don’t really even much like plums).  But the knowledge that I’m getting my hands on something fleeting and just a bit unusual, combined with a touch of nostalgia, results in me buying pound after pound…

Now you’re trying to figure out how to politely inform me that plums are anything but exotic.  What if I tell you they are Italian Prune Plums?  (“OK,” you’re thinking:  “Italian sounds good, prune…not so much”). 

Yes, these plums, further known as quetsche in French are used to make prunes, but don’t hold that against them.  They are smaller and more oblong than the rounder, squatter plums you typically see, with a black-purple matte skin.  While, when raw, they don’t taste much different from regular plums (as I was disappointed to find) they bake up into something amazing — you’ll swear you added spices to the mix–cloves?  anise?  A little heat makes a world of difference.

And what’s the nostalgia part, then?  These plums are very popular for all sorts of uses in Eastern Europe, where I have spent a lot of time — used whole to plump up dumplings, cooked down into a plum butter used in just about everything (povidel, powidla, povidla, or lekvar, depending on what side of what border you happen to be on) and — you knew it was coming — to make plum brandy (ever heard of slivovitz or slivovice, the name deriving from sliva, the Slavic languages’ word for this type of plum?)

I have a few little digressions in respect of slivovitz:

(1)  Our grandfather claimed he had a healthy dose of it right after being born – esentially a liquid slap on the back from the midwife.

(2) Karen reminds me of when I brought a sample back from Croatia and three generations of us sat around our Grandma’s table to each taste a glass.  As Karen remembers it, we all blanched at the slightest drop on our tongue, except for our Grandma who threw it back and bustled back to her duties in the kitchen declaring, “I’ve had stronger.”

(3) The teachers I worked with in the Czech Republic offered me a small jigger to cure a stubborn flu (why yes, they kept it in the teacher’s lounge!)   I wonder if it was a home brew like Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s here!

Alcohol-soaked anecdotes aside, let me tell you about the jam, which is crazy good, and which will be made again next week if there are any more prune plums to be had!  It’s perfect on toasts, sweet but bright tasting, a brilliant magenta-fuschia with little bits of cooked down peel suspended throughout.  How can something from a pedestrian plum taste so good?

Italian Prune Plum Jam (4 of 4)I used the basic, no-pectin-added, plum recipe at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  I made one change:  because all the other recipes I looked at (which were practically the same anyway) required a 10 minute hot water bath, I went ahead and boiled the full 10 minutes in the canner (rather than the 5 minutes specified here).  Probably overkill, especially as this source is incredibly conservative.

It takes a while to pit and chop all those plums.  It also takes a while to cook the fruit into jam–and since I can at night when my boys are in bed, I was very aware of the tick-tocking of the clock.  But I had the windows open, with the crisp evening air at my side as I stirred and stirred and stirred, and it was somehow contemplative.   (I paused about every 10 minutes to snap a picture of the transformation, which I’ve included after the recipe).

My impatience did eventually rear its ugly head — my jars bubbled over a bit in the canner because I failed to let them rest for 5 minutes in the pot after procesing.  It’s important not to take the jars out too early because the jam is boiling inside the jars–if you remove them before they have a chance to come down from the boil, the literally bubble over.  After much anxious internet searching, it appears that as long as your seal isn’t compromised (which is a risk you run when it does bubble over) it’s fine.  (See what Marisa and the Minnesota extension site have to say).  Such are the perils of late-night canning!

Italian Prune Plum Jam (adapted from here)

  • 2 quarts chopped Italian prune plums (about 4 pounds)–I halved them, and chopped each half into another 8 pieces by halving again and quartering.
  • 6 cups sugar
  • 1½ cup water
  • ¼ cup lemon juice

Yield: About 8 half-pint jars (I got 6 and change–this always happens to me).

Note 1:  you can read up on canning technique here at Principles of Home
.  If you’ve never done it before, please do, as each step is important.  Note 2: since I was processing for 10 minutes, I did not sterilize the
canning jars
 as required in the original recipe).

Put a few saucers in the freezer.  Combine all ingredients; bring slowly to a boil, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves. Then, stirring constantly (or almost constantly), cook rapidly to, or almost to, the jellying point (which is 8°F above the boiling point of water, or 220°F at sea level).

I found it was helpful to use a candy thermometer but it’s not required, as there are two other tests not requiring the thermometer.  Use your frozen saucers to test by dropping a teaspoon on your frozen plate, putting into the fridge for 1 minute, and pushing with your finger.  If it wrinkles you are done.  (You probably should turn off your burner while doing this so you don’t risk overcooking your jam).  The other test is to check for “sheeting”–if the jam “sheets” off the spoon (rather than in fast droplets) you’re good to go.  Check out the details on these techniques here:   Testing Jelly Without Added Pectin.

Pour hot jam into hot, sterile jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace and removing air bubbles.  (This will also help avoid bubbling over). Wipe rims of
jars with a dampened clean paper towel; adjust two-piece metal canning lids to fingertip tight, and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.  Allow to rest 5 minutes after turning on the burner (learn from my mistakes!) and remove.  Allow to cool and check after 12-24 hours to ensure a good seal, and remove rings.

Some other prune plum ideas here:





Finished Jam (10:00)