I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about traditional local recipes. The one thing that kept coming up time and again for Norfolk was dumplings, which I found quite surprising considering I grew up there and had never really come across them, let alone tried them. So my mission to make them began.
Norfolk dumplings use a raising agent instead of suet to give them a very light texture. The process for making them is more like making bread than a typical dumpling. They are then boiled instead of being cooked with a casserole, earning them their nickname of ‘Floaters’. As a food consumed mainly by poor people, they were then often served with gravy if no meat was available.
The first hurdle was tracking down an authentic recipe. I found two types of recipe – one that used yeast as the raising agent, and another that used self-raising flour, but it was very clear that the former was the more authentic, so yeast it was!
That led to hurdle number two – the recipes that I found all asked for fresh yeast, which is surprisingly hard to buy. The Food Company in Marks Tey – a fantastic shop selling a wide range local and speciality ingredients – came to the rescue!
After that making the dumplings was a relatively simple process. The recipe I used is from Galton Blackiston of Morston Hall, taken from From Norfolk Knobs to Fidget Pie: Foods from the Heart of England and East Anglia by Laura Mason and Catherine Brown – a great read if you’re interested in local foods and their origins. Anyway, here’s the recipe…
Makes 8 (enough for 4 hungry people)
450g Plain flour
1 tsp Salt
4 tbsp Chopped parsley
15g Fresh yeast
1 tsp Caster sugar
150 ml Warm water
2 tbsp Warm milk
Place the flour, salt and chopped parsley into the bowl of a food mixer and, using the mixer’s dough hook, mix thoroughly.
Combine the yeast and sugar in a bowl (I’d recommend using a jug because you’ll need to pour it out later) and mix with your fingertips so that the yeast breaks down and becomes smooth and almost liquid (this is a really strange sensation!).
Add the water and milk to the yeast, and mix this together well.
With the food mixer still running, slowly add the yeast mixture to the flour. Allow the machine to knead the dough for five to eight minutes, or until it comes away from the sides of the bowl.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and cover the dough with a clean, damp tea towel, then leave it in a warm place for about one hour or until the dough has doubled in volume.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, knead well with the palm of your hand and then form into eight dumplings.
Place the dumplings on a tray and leave them to prove again in a warm place.
Bring a large saucepan of water to a rolling boil and, once the dumplings have proved again, slip them quickly into the boiling water. Place the lid on the saucepan and boil for exactly twenty minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the dumplings from the boiling water. Serve immediately either on their own with some gravy or to accompany boiled beef, boiled bacon or a casserole.
The dumplings were light and fluffy, and perfect for absorbing the gravy from our casserole. Now to find a use for the rest of that fresh yeast!