August 26, 2008

Hungarian Plum Dumplings (Szilvas gomboc)

I adore Italian prune plums and have been waiting impatiently for local ones to arrive at the farm stands. Last year I must have eaten a third of my body weight in plums. I micro-stewed them and topped them with a little brown sugar and sour cream and ate them straight up but I neglected to make plum dumplings. This is a favorite family dish that came from my great-grandmother Mary Westermeyer, who is my father's maternal grandmother.

Mary came over from Hungary in April 22nd 1914 when she was 17 years old passing through Ellis Island. There her surname changed from Schorsch to Scharsch. She settled in Cincinnati and a year later married her first husband, Joseph Hoffman. He shortly passed away in the Spanish flu pandemic. In 1921, she married my great-grandfather Anthony Westermeyer. She gave birth to a gaggle of kids, 10 surviving to adulthood. My grandmother Margaret was one of their middle children. They lived in Cincinnati then moved just over the border into Kentucky. My father remembers his parents making these together and I remember him making them with my mother helping. Alex noticed me making these and wanted to help. He cut out the plum pits and took dough and made several dumplings by himself. He also ate quite a few sugar cubes straight up! And the family tradition goes on...

Mary Westermeyer My grandmother Margaret, with a dog on a hill!

The dumpling dough is reminiscent of soft gnocchi dough. The bread crumbs and pan frying give a crispy contrast. Inside the tart plum's juices meld with the cube of sugar to create a delightful sauce that tempers the plum. I prefer to leave taste of the plums alone but try adding spices or liquors to see what suits your taste. I do recommend getting the sugar cubes. It's going to make your life easier since granulated sugar will try and fall out of the plum while you are covering it in dough. Additionally, I think there is some magic in how the cubed sugar dissolves that makes it better. You can use the rest of the sugar cubes to impress your friends when they come over and have a cuppa. Who gets to say these days, "Would you like one lump or two?" I found unrefined sugar cubes that added a molasses flavor that I loved. The recipe has several stages but all the steps are easy. The dough is forgiving and even the few that leak a little when you boil or fry them somehow survive and are still great. The hardest part is waiting for them to cool after you fry them. The hot, syrupy juices inside are like napalm, so watch out!

Note: I'm hoping to give these a try in a smaller batch with a substitute for the egg so that I can make them more often and have a vegan version of the recipe. I'll update the post after I try it.

Hungarian Plum Dumplings (Szilvas gomboc)
Makes ~18 dumplings

1 1/2 - 2 dozen Italian prune plums (this will vary with the size of the plums)
4 or 5 medium sized potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 egg, beaten
4 cups of flour, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
bread crumbs
butter (I use Earth Balance)
sugar cubes or 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar for each plum
cinnamon, or rum or orange liquor (optional)

-Cook the potatoes in salted water until soft. Drain them well and allow them to give off a lot of steam. Mash potatoes while they are still warm and add the flour and salt. Make a well and add the egg. Mix or knead the dough gently until everything is blended.
-Wash the plums and pit them, cutting on only one side to the pit so that they create something like an open clamshell. Form a circle of dough about 4 inches in diameter, or enough to cover your size of plum. Place a sugar cube (or the spoon of sugar and some cinnamon or liquor, if desired) into the center of a plum and fold the dough around the plum to form dumpling. Make sure to pinch the edges tight to seal. You may think that the dough is sticky enough that it doesn't need to be pinched but those will be the leaky ones. Roll the sealed ball gently in your palms to form a nice sphere.
-Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and cook a few dumplings at a time for about 10 minutes. Remove the dumplings with a slotted spoon and drain well but before the surface of the dumplings dries off roll them in breadcrumbs.
-Melt some butter (more is better) in a large skillet over medium heat. Place the dumplings in the skillet and turn them carefully until bread crumbs are brown all over.
-Serve warm, sprinkled with leftover crumbs from skillet.

Cut the plums on only one side so that they create something like an open clamshell.
Place the sugar filled plum on a 4 inch disk of dough.
Cup the dough around the plum and pinch the seam well. Dumplings ready to be boiled
A finished Hungarian Plum Dumpling (Szilvas gomboc)

The Cincinnati Chili cupcakes I made for my dad
Photos of Alex making dumplings
More photos of Mary and my grandma Margaret
Mary's Ellis Island Passenger Records
The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, the boat Mary came to America on


Ning said...

I've never had dumplings with fruits, so this is really interesting! Can we use other kinds of fruits?

shellyfish said...

I loved this post! Reminds me a little of my family history, only swap Croatia for Hungary! These dumplings look & sound great - let us know how replacing the egg goes!

For the xylitol, I use it often in baked goods, but I usually only replace 1/4 to 1/3 of the orig. dry sweetner (too much changes the taste & can give you a tummy ache). For example if I'm making chocolate chip cookies and it calls for 1 C sugar, I'll do half and half, or maybe 1/3 xylitol, 1/3 brown & 1/3 normal. I have noticed that it does burn a little easier, so I try to keep my eye on things! Hope this helps!

Clumbsy Cookie said...

Wow! What a beautiful family story, really enjoyed reading it! I have 2 Hungarian friends and actually been to Hungary myself. Unfortunatly I hadn't had the change to taste those, but my friends were allways talking about them. Maybe when one of them comes to visit I should surprise them with these!

VeggieGirl said...

I love making dishes/treats that bring back nostalgia :0) Such scrumptious-looking dumplings; and lovely photographs!

Maggie said...

Ning: Other stone fruits are often used, apricots, peaches, etc. I'm not sure if the dough can handle something with a lot of water in it like a strawberry.

shellyfish: Thanks for the xylitol tips. I really want to see if the egg isn't necessary. I'll let you know how it goes.

Clumbsy Cookie: Thanks! I hope you get a chance to make these.

Rebecca (Foodie With Family) said...

Maggie- That looks absolutely amazing. I've only been privileged enough to eat apple dumplings, but this is officially on my list.

Thank you!

maybelle's mom said...

Wow, you look like your grandmother. And, Cincinnati? Hence the chilli. My husbands family came through Ellis Island to Cincinnati, but there are Italians.

Jo said...

Your grandmother's story sounds a bit like my own grandmother who migrated from Hong Kong to Malaysia. By the way the dumplings looks yummy. I guess any nectarine fruit could work just as well.

Laurie said...

Oh Maggie this looks wonderful!
Growing up we had two plum tree's in our back yard. They bore fruit profusely! We had plum jam, tartlets and pudding the year round. :)
I wish though I had watched my mom more carefully because I never learned how to preserve fruits. My next goal! :) Wonderful post too!
Ciao :)

Adam said...

Maggie, thanks for sharing your story with us. I love it when old recipes are passed down throughout the generations, they are always so unique.

These are kind like pierogi, but I like the crispy bread crumb outside, and you but a whole plum inside. They look beautiful :)

Jen (Modern Beet) said...

Maggie, these look so lovely! My mom has a plum tree in her backyard, so I'm definitely going to send this recipe on to her!

I've also never seen raw sugar cubes -- they definitely seem worth searching out

Mae Travels said...

Your story makes the recipe all the more wonderful. Really a beautiful combination. I think I've seen versions of this recipe in various books on Hungarian cooking, like "A Taste of the Past" by Koerner.

Stacey Snacks said...

I love that photo of your grandmother and the dog on the hill.
I love old photographs!

Joelen said...

Maggie - this looks awesome! I don't like plums so much but I may have to try this because it looks great!

Jo said...

oh my those look reallly good :) MMM!

Maria said...

Wow, these dumplings look like a real treat! YUM!

Jackie said...

What an interesting family history you have.

My Mother who was English made them but without the the sugar in the middle and used a regular suet dumpling pastry. I of course can't make that now due to the suet so glad to have your recipe and will try it with an egg substitute to make it vegan.

Maggie said...

Thanks to everyone for stopping by!

VeggieGirl: It was fun looking through all the old photos my dad had to give me.

Rebecca: I really want to make baked apple dumplings in the fall. I'm looking for a recipe to try.

maybelle's mom: I think I may have her smile and we share the same anem as well. I'm really a Margaret too.

Jo: I've definitely seen these made with apricots and I think any stone fruit would work.

Laurie: Thanks! Plum and quince top my list of fruit trees to plant when we move.

Adam: Thanks! These have a lot in common with pierogi.

Jen (Modern Beet): I'm so jealous of your mom's tree! The raw cubes were really good if you can find them.

Mae Travels: I'll have to look for that book.

Stacey Snacks: If you didn't see it there is one with her and a cow that's even better on my Flickr set.

Joelen: This is perfect if you shy away from plums because of their tartness.

Jo and Maria: Thanks! I hope you get the chance to make some.

Nikki Miller-Ka said...

This is SO wonderful. I've never seen anything like them. They're beautiful. They're cute. maybe even sexy!

Maggie said...

Nikki: I told my husband my Freudian thoughts about the last image :)

Marija said...

Oh my! They look exactly like Serbian Knedle! I'm bookmarking this to try the recipe out.

¡ L I Z ! said...

Its remarkable that the dumpling is not only a recipe, is more like a family treasury full of memories. I been searching them in a past days, because my father in law remember them because his mother made it.

Sally said...

Oh my you have made me re-live some wonderful memories of these dumplings!!
My mum had a friend that was Hungarian, and she used to make them for us when my family and I visited as a child. I was only around 6 or 7 when I first had them. They were a special treat when we visited 'Auntie'!
I would often go and stay with her as a child in January when the 'season was right" and the plums were at their best and make a huge batch for all our families and friends. I of course was allowed to take home my share of cooking these beauties. I now have a family of my own and make them for them when 'the season is right'..... Which I might say isnt often enough. Thank you for reminding me of a wonderful memory and making my mouth water for these yummy, cant stop at one family favourite!

Odete said...

I made it for the first time last Saturday to please my hungarian husband. I was very insecure about that once I'm brazilian and not familiar with it. According to him those came out good and he was happy because it was his favorit treat as a child.
Yours looks great!

Monica said...

I love these! My Austrian mom used to make Marillenknudel (the apricot version of these) for me when I was little and I have dreamt about them since!

Jessica@Foodmayhem said...

I've never seen anything like this and they look so fantastic.

Maggie said...

L I Z: I'm glad you found my recipe.

Sally: What a great way to remember your 'Auntie"!

Odete: Thanks! I'm sure your husband appreciated his.

Monica: I'll have to try the apricot ones soon.

Jessica@Foodmayhem: Thanks! I hope you can try them.

Odete said...

I just made the same dumplings for my dear husband - hungarian - It was my first try and came out delicious. Yours looks great too.

Luscious Verde said...

hi! my family is originally from cinci and i am so excited that you are sharing this recipe. it brings back so many good memories. thanks!

Anonymous said...


If you do not eat them all can you store them in the refigerator?

Thank you.

Maggie said...

Yes, you can store extras in the fridge.

You can stop after you make the balls but before you boil them. Then you boil the refrigerated balls for a little longer and fry them per the directions.

If you fry them you can store them in the fridge and then warm them in the microwave for ~30 seconds and then re-fry them to crisp the breadcrumbs. Either way works.

Gabi @ Mamaliga said...


I grew up on these as a kid in western Romania!
Of course my grandmother (who was Hungarian of course) would make them very often as soon as our fruit trees started producing fruits (early summer).

Now - the best of all I loved the apricot version. Although she would not add the sugar in the middle of the fruit.

Also she would use one a half of the fruit per gomboc.

All to say - I learned how to make these as early as 12 year old but I miss them since!

You inspire me Maggie!


Jess said...

Wow! These look great! A very very special recipe :)

Len said...

Oh my grandma made these too! (I grew up in Serbia.) They are terrific, just make sure they're not too hot.

Thank you for sharing this recipe, because now I can make them for myself. And, it feels great to see that it's a simple recipe. Nothing to be intimidated by! (I love Gnocci too, which my other grandma used to make. Potato dough is the best, isn't it?)

A. Ruth Blue said...

Just made these this afternoon (here in Connecticut). Scrumptious. I did have just one dumpling crack open while boiling, but only one out of 18.
I used the small plums used for prunes, and I used the big plums that are almost the size of apples.
For bread crumbs, all I had available in the house were those Japanese panko crumbs and they taste great mixed with some cinnamon sugar, fried onto the dumplings.
Thanks for your photos of the process too- great photos.

2ndmamma Denver said...

My family is of Hungarian ancestry,
also. I try to make the Gombocs every year when it is plum season. I use what is called Italian plums-they are small and more an oval shaped plum than the larger, rounder variety. Your potato dough recipe is very much like mine- I use buttered and sugared bread crumbs for the plum dumplings to be covered in..and also use graham cracker crumbs mixed in with the breadcrumbs to give a different taste. It works! They are eaten as fast as I can cok them. They are easy to freeze, too even with the crumbs on top. I warm them in a bit of butter and offer vanilla ice cream as a side treat.

Anonymous said...

I think the only different step that our family has is that instead of mashing the potatoes, we also sieve or push them through a ricer to get a very smooth and consistent dough.

It's too bad these plums have such a short season! Has anyone ever tried freezing them?

Maggie said...

I'm so glad that people are still finding this recipe!

Yes Anonymous, I agree that using a ricer or sieve is better and will make a smoother dough. I'm generally just lazy and don't want to wash the ricer :) I have been freezing plums for a few years now and they freeze nicely. I just wash, pit them and then spread them on a cookie sheet in one layer. Then after they are frozen solid I transfer them to a zip top bag. If you use them for dumplings then you should defrost them and drain off any extra liquid before using them. I haven't ever tried freezing finished dumplings (like 2ndmamma Denver) but would love to try that. Maybe the farmer's market will still have some plums this weekend!

Denise said...

Hello there, I stumbled onto your site after trying to find out if anyone has ever frozen plums and then used them in what I grew up calling 'knoodle' heritage is Switzerland, although my grandmother was raised by a relative in Hungry then changed to Checoslovia sp? although I don't know if it was the other way around--country wise or not. Anyway, I make these every year. Have never taken out the pit nor used sugar cubes (obviously--not if you don't remove the pit!) and we always used a layer of buttered bread crumbs, a generous sprinkling of sugar a good dusting of cinnamon and another layer of dumplings etc.etc. until the bowl was full. Leftover dough was used minus fruit and they were fought after! I'm so glad to see that people still make them-and although this goes by different names, it is delicious and looked forward to every year!

Ildy said...

Hi Maggie,

I'm very glad to see a Hungarian recipe on a site of Michigan:) I hope you like it. So, you're a bit of Hungarian? That's great:)
Your blog is very good!

Ildy from Hungary

Anonymous said...

I miss szilvas gomboc the most, besides my family. I am from Romania, but Hungarian and here for the past 10 years and I never made those. My grandma used to make a ton of them, the nudli too, we used to be a big family of 8. I think I miss the atmosphere the most. It brings tears only to read about it. But I think if I manage to find the plums,I will try my luck this year.

Mary Ann H. said...

I am curious..Has anyone tried this recipe with canned plums? I would like to make them but in December in Ohio plums are out of season.

Anonymous said...

These were great. Thank you for the recipe. My Hungarian grandmother made these in the fall. By the way, if you make a vegan version, remember that typical sugar is not vegan! You need organic sugar. Thank you again.