Friday, January 12, 2007

Hungarian Plum Dumplings (Szilvás Gombóc)

Adapted from The Hungarian Cookbook by Susan Derecsksey

My friend Walter's mother Gizi was born in Budapest. She was very beautiful and a good cook, a fearsome combination. She taught me how to make her family's favorite chicken paprikash in person, and most, but not all, of her favorite recipes are written down. 

There were dishes Walter talked about that I had never heard of and had no idea how to make. Then one day Nach Waxman pulled The Hungarian Cookbook by Susan Derecksey from a shelf at Kitchen Arts & Letters and put it into my hands, opening up the world of Hungarian home cooking to me. In its pages I found the recipes I did not have, but Walter talked about and craved, none more than what he calls "gum-boats."

[A] szlivás gombóc is a potato dumpling with a pitted purple plum inside it, and a melted sugar cube inside that. To the initiate, the moment of revelation comes even before the first bite, namely when he jabs his fork into the dumpling, and hot plum juice squirts out. From then on, it is a riot of sensations, gluey versus chewy, sweet versus bland-a unique item in anyone's repertoire.   Susan Derecsksey, Page 204 The Hungarian Cookbook

Once a year, when the Italian prune plums make their first appearance at the farm stand, I make these on a day I call Plum Sunday. I divide this recipe by 3, which makes enough dumplings to feed two greedy people.

Hungarian Plum Dumplings
Adapted from The Hungarian Cookbook by Susan Derecskey

Serves 6

For the Dumplings

Can be divided by 2 or 3

6 medium russet potatoes (about 1½ to 2 pounds)
18 purple plums (Italian prune plums available in the fall)
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons salt
3 eggs, beaten
5 tablespoons butter, at room temperature, divided
18 small sugar cubes

To Finish

*Even if I am dividing the recipe to feed fewer than 6 people, I never decrease the amount of butter for this step, and I only decrease the amount of breadcrumbs to ½ cup.

3 tablespoons butter
¾ cup plain dry bread crumbs
Ground cinnamon
Cinnamon sugar

The night before or early on the morning of the day you plan to make the dumplings, peel the potatoes, and steam them until they can be pierced easily with a cake tester. Put them through a food mill or ricer (I use a ricer), then spread them on a sheet pan, and let them stand overnight or all day in a cool place to dry them out. I throw a flour sack towel over them while they are drying out.

When ready to make the dumplings, put the potatoes into a mixing bowl, and mix in the flour and salt. Drop the beaten eggs into the bowl, and work the dough together with your floured hands. Beat in 5 tablespoons of butter, a tablespoonful at a time, then using your hands continue to work the dough until it is smooth. After resting for 20 minutes, roll it out ¼ inch thick on a floured board. Depending on how large the plums are, cut the dough into squares 4 by 4 inches or 3 inches by 3 inches.

Cut the unpeeled plums in half, and pit them.

To form the dumplings, take half a plum, put a sugar cube into the center of it, sprinkle on a little cinnamon, and put the other half of the plum over the sugar cube, re-forming a whole plum. Place the re-formed plum in the middle of a square of dough, pinch the dumpling closed, turning it into a round-ish ball. Place it, pinched side up, on a floured plate.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, and drop the dumplings one-by-one into it. Do not cover the pot. After a minute, give the dumplings a stir with a wooden spoon to keep them from sticking to the bottom. Once the dumplings rise to the surface, let them cook about 10 to 12 minutes. You don't want to overcook the dumplings, so just like when cooking ravioli, taste one. The plum should be hot and the dough firm, but not gummy, when done.

*See note above. While the dumplings are cooking in the pot, brown the breadcrumbs in the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter. As the dumplings are ready, lift them carefully out of the water with a slotted spoon, roll them in the browned breadcrumbs, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Serve immediately.

Dumplings before being boiled


  1. How often do you make these? You'd have to be able to get ripe plums, too. The ones I usually see could be used as hurling balls. Sounds delicious.

  2. I make these once a year in September when the prune plums are available, and I call the day Plum Sunday.

  3. I am shocked.
    You see, I am in fact hungarian, and I grew up eating szilvas gomboc, but it is the first time I see something as complicated as this thingie... We usually just put the pitted plums in whole, sprinked with cinnamon sugar, and didn't let the potatoes rest for the night, either. My grandmother used to make small, 1.5 inch long, 1/3 inch thick rolls from the same dough (these are called "nudli"), and give them coated in the same breadcrumbs next to the gomboc. You should try sometime :-)

  4. I'm Hungarian too, though we do rice the potatoes, we don't dry it out and then save on the eggs, because the potatoes are wet enough to make the dough moist. In traditional homes, we don't use butter for anything but the finest pastries and for spreading on our bread... we would use lard. Also, we've used apricots in place of gomboc and most recently I used mango chunks. You'd probably be able to use any fruit. And in really dire times, we just use preserves, which gets tricky because if your warm hands work the dough too much, it's more likely to seep through the cracks... Fun FUN FUN

  5. sorry, I mean that we use apricots in place of plums!!

  6. My grandmother used to make them using either prune or apricot preserves. I am going to try it that way.

  7. Hmmmmmm, szilvas gomboc! Ahhhh, the memories of Sundays past. My mom spent hours preparing these tasty dumplings and hours cleaning up after the mess!! Making & enjoying these dumplings creates memories generations will cherish. So do try to make them at least once.

    I'm struggling to make this recipe using some plums I happen to have growing - on what I thought was an ornamental plum tree - in my yard. For the second year in a row, it is bearing lots of tasty - small sized semi-tart and very juicy plums! Unfortunately, my plums are not freestone - which adds another time consuming and messy element to preparing this recipe - but my children and I love this treat so much, I'll go for it one more time!!

    Regarding the dumplings made with jelly or preserves or even lekvar (prune butter) . . . I remember those too - but we called those 'BARÁTFÜLE' (monks ears?)

    Mom also used the leftover dough to make GauL's referenced "nudli" too!


  8. It took me years to find this recipe in a book titled 'Hungarian Cookery Book' by Ka'roly Gundel.
    I would love this dish that my 'nudgmama' cooked for me. Little did I know all the love that went into making it when I finally got the recipe.
    I have made it a few time since and I can only appreciate all the work that my grandmother did when preparing this dish. May she cook in peace as she will always be loved.

  9. These are also called Gumbucs (pronounced Goom-boots). We're Hungarian ancestry, and we make them once a year when the Italian prune plums are in season (August), and call it the Gumbucs Festival - and hang up purple ballons.

  10. This recipe was my favorite as a child, however it was lost along with other for a while. does anyone know a recipe for a dish called (vuh-dash)?

  11. Wow... didnt expect to find this recipe. My grandmother was Austrian \ German and made these when we were younger. It was a special once a year treat. Have some ripe prune plums at home now... will make this tonight.

  12. My mom would put them into a baking pan after rolling them in the buttered bread crumbs and bake them for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. They were absolutely delish!

  13. Making these for my Hungarian husband on Father's day.... Using plums with pits - but them come out nicely with a grapefruit knife...we will the hole with cin/sugar. Grandpa taught us how to make these - our kids love them too. Fun/delicious tradition

  14. I attempt these once a year for my husband of Hungarian roots, but he always complains that they are not juicy enough, what am I doing wrong?

    1. The prune plums need to be quite riper so they are's got to do with the plum.


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