Making Czech fruit dumplings

My second Airbnb “experience” was vastly different than the one about making the notebook — something I’ll explain later —, but both were equally unique looks into Czech culture and a very non-touristy thing to do. And that’s the main point after all.

Our hostess was Tereza, a Czech woman who lives in Prague but loves to travel and explore cultures, especially through food.

Gemilyn mixes the dough. I should have captured her kneading ability — clearly a pro.

The two guests — Gemilyn, a young filipino working on a diploma in pastry at a school in Paris, and I met Tereza at a nearby farmers’ market where we picked up eggs and more strawberries — wonderfully ripe this time of year — and then headed to Tereza’s apartment.

On the walk and while we cooked, Tereza told us about the area, shared tips about restaurants (yes, even a new vegetarian one — a buffet) and generally explained the background of what we were making. I hadn’t realized, for instance, how many kinds of dumplings — Knedlíky — there were. They come with yeast and without, stuffed with sweet (fruit or jam), topped with butter and sugar (if the fruit isn’t completely ripe) or savory (ham, bacon). Some even are made with potatoes.

Ours were the no-yeast, fruit-filled variety and were simple to make. Just egg, melted butter, baking soda, a pinch of salt and flour. Two challenges here: The flour is almost granular and while Gemilyn, with her French baking background, had seen this before, I don’t know that Giant Eagle of Heinen’s carries THAT! Tereza compared it to bread flour, so I suppose I could try that.

The process was amazingly easy with few potential pitfalls. (I’ll share the actual recipe when Tereza sends me the digital copy.) Mix ingredients except the fruit and knead, adding more flour if necessary, until it’s no longer sticky.

Here comes the explanation of how this different from making the notebook. With that, I was painfully aware of my limitations — X-acto knives and paper cutters are not my friends. Drawing straight lines isn’t in my wheelhouse, and glue? The stuff I get all over me, the item being stuck and everything nearby?! No way. So I felt fairly insecure with some of the skills needed for making the book. The result was fine and I really did love the process, but I think Vaclav felt sorry for me so often used my book for demo — meaning he started the next step so I just had to be careful not the mess it up from that point on.

When I found out a student at a French pastry school was the other participant in this experience…..well, I could only imagine what that comparison would be. But, thanks to Tereza’s careful instructions and my general confidence in the kitchen, I held my own. True, Gemilyn had the idea to put a strawberry IN the apricot IN the dumpling, which I tried as well. True, she sliced the leftover strawberries and had a lovely presentation on her plate (see below). But the taste? I think we were both on par.

So once the dough is no longer sticky — and, yes, I had Tereza verify the stickiness of mine — we made small, flat circles, fit a strawberry in each, folded up the sides and then smoothed it to be sure no holes were evident, a sure way to lose the strawberry during the cooking process. Then they boil gently 10 minutes and come out of the pot carefully.

To serve, the dumplings get some melted butter on the top, a sprinkle of powdered or brown sugar and maybe some poppy seeds plus some cheese — sort of a cross between crumbled feta and cottage cheese — not as salty as the former and not as soft and creamy as the latter.

The results, we agreed, were amazing with little real skill needed. Clearly I am a bit more comfortable staying in the kitchen where X-acto knives aren’t required — plus you can take home all the leftovers and have tonight’s dessert and tomorrow’s breakfast as well.

And here’s the recipe from Tereza:

50 g melted butter
250 g soft cottage cheese (tvaroh, kwark)
1 egg
pinch of salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
200 – 250 g flour
strawberries, plums, apricots, apples, blueberries…..
1.Prepare fruit. Clean it, cut it if too big, get rid of anything not edible.
2. Take a big pot full of water with pinch of salt and bring it to boil.
3. Prepare the dough. Mix together butter, cottage cheese, egg, salt, baking powder and flour. Work it with your hands into nice and soft dough. If it´s too sticky keep adding more flour.
4. Take a piece of dough, roll it into round shape, put the piece of fruit in the middle and close the dough. Make sure it´s really closed, otherwise water will get in while boiling.
5. If it´s too sticky, sprinkle a bit of flour over the dumpling.
6. Once the water is boiling, put the dumplings in, all together. Boil for about 8 – 10 minutes. Once they are ready, they will come up.
7. Arrange them on a plate with the sauce, fruit, sprinkle with more sugar, poppy seeds, grated gingerbread etc.

P.S. Thanks to son Jeff Bowen for this “experience” as a birthday gift. It was unique and, if I make the family dumplings, others can benefit as well.