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How to Make Light and Tender Dumplings

Athlyn loves "all things bread" and shares her tips and recipes for homemade bread, quick breads, and all varieties in between.

How to Make Fluffy Dumplings

When even the dog won't eat 'em, you know that your dumplings have somehow morphed into awful, heavy dough lumps instead of the wonderful, steamed bread morsels they should be.

Some cooks find, to their alarm, that no matter how carefully they prepare them, their dumplings morph into heavy "hockey pucks." No amount of sticking to the recipe, tweaking the heat settings, or obediently "not peeking" seems to make a difference. Dumpling-making should be an easy undertaking, but it can be one that is fraught with difficulty.

Steamed dumplings as they should be. These have puffed up wonderfully while cooking and are ready to be sampled.

Steamed dumplings as they should be. These have puffed up wonderfully while cooking and are ready to be sampled.

The Secret to Fluffy Dumplings

There seem to be a whole set of "rules" about how to make dumplings, and in my experience, none of them are relevant to producing fluffy and tender dumplings. I make light dumplings all the time. I'm not overly careful about measurement, and I lift the lid and peek because when they get near the end of cooking time, I like to cut a slit in one and stick my finger inside to make sure the middles aren't raw.

Why Are My Dumplings Hard and Doughy?

So what do I do that is so different and critical to making wonderful tender dumplings? It involves one ingredient and is something I learned while dining with a friend who produced fabulous dumplings. She taught me what she did that made the difference. Once a person gets this right, making dumplings is easy.

The trick for making light and tender dumplings is to always use soft margarine or butter, simply replacing the lard portion with either of these. When you do, you will produce a light dumpling dough that puffs up as it's supposed to.

Traditional dumpling recipes call for lard or shortening. While these fats may be suitable for biscuits, they are not the best choice for dumplings. This is the make-or-break factor. And this was my grandmother's Waterloo. She faithfully stuck to using either lard or shortening, never suspecting that the fat was the culprit.

How Do You Know When Dumplings Are Done?

As I've mentioned previously, I cut a slit in one and peek to make sure the middles aren't raw. If the middle is significantly darker than the outside, the dumpling is not done!

I also make sure my heat is on the low side because I've found that when you put a lid on a pot, ingredients heat up and tend to stick to the bottom and burn. Many claim that ingredients have to be boiling in order to steam dumplings; this is not the case.

Chicken and dumplings are a favorite comfort food in the Americas, dropped into a tasty broth. Their velvety texture and mild flavor combine well with chicken.

Chicken and dumplings are a favorite comfort food in the Americas, dropped into a tasty broth. Their velvety texture and mild flavor combine well with chicken.

A Quick and Easy Meal

Dumplings take just minutes to throw together and they truly are the perfect accompaniment for soups and stews and they help to round out a meal. They have an unmistakable flavor that goes so well in savory broths.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt, to taste
  • 4 tablespoons soft butter or margarine
  • 1 cup milk

Instructions

  1. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
  2. Cut in butter or soft margarine that's been kept at room temperature. Use either a pastry cutter, a tablespoon, or your fingers to mix it into the flour mixture.
  3. Stir milk lightly with a wooden spoon and adjust the liquid amount to make sure that you have a moist dumpling dough.
  4. Drop by teaspoonfuls into a gently simmering pot and cover with a lid.
  5. Check after about 10–15 minutes by making a slit in a dumpling and looking inside to ensure that no raw dough is hiding in the middle. Continue checking until dumplings are cooked to your preference.

A Close Second to Biscuit Dough

You'll notice when looking at the ingredients that this is basic biscuit dough. It is, but as touched on, when making dumplings to achieve the difference in texture you have to use the right type of fat. You may also opt to add just a little more liquid so that your dough is on the moist side. Unlike biscuits that are baked in the oven, dumplings are steamed and cooked in hot liquid, so they cook in a different fashion and have a different taste and consistency.

Borscht with dumplings: The subtle flavor of dumplings enhances the taste and adds texture to a flavorful soup.

Borscht with dumplings: The subtle flavor of dumplings enhances the taste and adds texture to a flavorful soup.

Did You Know?

Dumplings are like drop biscuits, except they are steamed in a pot instead of baked in the oven.

Cooking Tips

Steamed dumplings should have a fluffy inner consistency and a velvety outside texture. Here are some tips to help achieve that.

  • Make sure your soup or stew is on a gentle simmer. The liquid does not have to be boiling to cook tender dumplings. Remember that pot temperature rises once you put the lid on and you don't want the contents to stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.
  • Drop dumpling dough into the liquid by teaspoonfuls. There's no need to worry about shaping perfect dumplings because they will puff up as they cook. Cover your pot with a lid so that the dumplings can steam and cook in the middle.
  • Check your dumplings after about 10 minutes. The old rule of thumb was "no peeking" but this makes no difference to the finished result. Use a knife to cut a slit in a dumpling and check inside. Cook until the dumplings are no longer raw in the middle. They should be slightly moist and light. Just as bad as undercooking is overcooking. Do not overcook your dumplings. They may disintegrate if left to cook too long.

Dumpling Variations

Like a little sweet with your meat? Get creative and combine salty and sweet flavors.

Raisin Dumplings

Add the following ingredients to the above recipe:

  • 1/2 cup of raisins
  • 1 teaspoon chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon chopped pecans

Sweet Drop Dumplings

For a spicy, sweet flavor, add:

  • 1/4 cup of raisins
  • 1/4 cup of apples
  • Dash of cinnamon

Sweet Dumplings for Chicken or Turkey Dishes

Add peaches or mangoes to your recipe:

  • 1/4 cup of raisins
  • 1/4 cup of chopped peaches or mangoes

Best Dumplings Ever

You are now set to make light and tender dumplings every time. A few simple ingredients and a little know-how are all it takes to produce excellent results. Happy eating and please leave your comments if you've enjoyed these tips or tried this recipe.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can you use self-rising flour for dumplings?

Answer: Yes, this might be worth a shot to cut down on prep time.

Question: My dumplings turned out too thick. What do I add to make them juicier without losing seasoning?

Answer: Depending on the meat you started with and your broth base, you could try adding either chicken or beef broth, so that you don't lose the flavorful taste.

© 2013 Athlyn Green