Czech Cheese Dumplings

photo taken by Gigi Tagliapietra, on September 21, 2006, CC licensing

Czech and other Central European cooks rely on a quark-type curd cheese for many cheese recipes, including these dumplings. While that cheese is not readily available in the United States and Canada, this combination of farmer and cream cheeses mixed with a little butter makes a good substitute.

For the dumplings:
 15 ounces farmer cheese (two 7.5 ounce packages)
 ¼ cup (2 ounces) cream cheese, softened
 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
 2 large eggs
 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, according to taste
 ½ teaspoon salt
 ¼ cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
 ¼ to 1/3 cup farina or semolina flour

For the topping:
 1 ½ cups challah crumbs
 1 teaspoon granulated white or brown sugar (optional)
 6 to 8 tablespoons unsalted butter

Optional accompaniments: melted butter, cinnamon sugar, sour cream, plum or apricot compote

Packaged farmer cheese contains a lot of liquid. To remove it, after unwrapping the cheese, drain off the water and pat the cheese dry with paper towels. Crumble the cheese into a large bowl. Add the cream cheese and the butter and beat, using an electric mixer at low speed. Continue beating while adding the eggs, one at a time, the vanilla extract, sugar, and salt. Mix until smooth and thoroughly incorporated. Stir together the flour and ¼ cup farina and add to the bowl. Knead the mixture with your hands until you have a smooth dough.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours, so the flour and farina can fully absorb the moisture in the dough.
When you are ready to cook the dumplings, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.

Meanwhile, prepare the topping. Saute the challah crumbs and the sugar, if using, in the butter until golden. Transfer to a large, shallow baking dish and keep warm in a low oven.

When the water is boiling, make a test dumpling to check the consistency of the dough: roll a teaspoon of the dough into a ball and drop it into the boiling water. If it is too soft, knead another 1 to 3 tablespoons farina into the dough.

Form the dough into 1 ½-inch balls and drop them gently one at a time into the boiling water. Stir carefully to prevent the dumplings from sticking. Let the water return to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until the dumplings fluff up and rise to the surface, about 5 minutes. Check one to see if it is cooked through; if not, simmer a few more minutes.

Lift the dumplings out, using a slotted spoon, and roll them in the buttered crumbs in the baking dish. Serve, if you'd like, drizzled with additional melted butter, dusted with cinnamon sugar, and accompanied by sour cream and compote.

Cook's Note: You can also serve this as a savory dish. Omit all sugar and add grated onion, pepper, and additional salt to the dough. Serve with caramelized onions, sauteed bread crumbs, sour cream, and crumbled farmer or sheep's milk cheese.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

Sephardic or Askhenazi