Christmas is all about wonderful holiday traditions and food. For example, when my family celebrates Christmas, we dine on knedliky, which is a Czech potato dumpling that my mom grew up making. I find myself longing for those not-so-light spheres of dough every winter, and I even researched them for my nutrition food-for-fifty project in school. This is a holiday tradition that my grandmother passed to my mom, and it is now firmly rooted in my husband and my Christmas dinner traditions. My parents like to eat them with pork and caraway seeds, a very traditional way to prepare them. My grandmother has made them as the starchy side to pork chops. We have also had them with ham. My grandmother also wraps the dough around Italian plums, dark purple, football-shaped fruit that is tarter than it is sweet. My uncle likes to serve his dumplings plain and topped with vanilla ice cream. We usually do some sort of blend of the ideas, offering plain dumplings and plum-filled dumplings, ice cream, graham crackers, gravy, and butter. This way, diners can choose their own traditional preparations.
When Josh went on a gluten-free diet, I wasn’t sure that the dumplings would survive. Anyone who has cooked with gluten-free flour knows that the texture and maleability of the dough changes. I didn’t know if the dumplings would hold, or if they would stick to the countertop when we needed them. I was also afraid of creating dense, rock-hard dumplings. We hadn’t braved the recipe, fearing a loss of a family tradition.

For Christmas 2010, we figured out how to make them gluten-free!

In my culinary classes, we discussed the differences between waxy and starchy potatoes. The difference is in the moisture and starch content of the potatoes. Waxy potatoes are red potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes. They have more moisture and hold their shape when they’re cooked. Starchy potatoes, such as Russet potatoes, break apart when they’re cooked, and they are great for mashing and mixing into batters or doughs.

My mom and I had been using gold or white (a more even mix of starch and moisture content than the other types) potatoes because we thought the moisture contributed to the dough, but it turned out to fight the recipe. They didn’t grab onto the egg yolk’s creaminess, and they tended to become dense when they were boiled.

This time, we used russet potatoes and mixed in egg yolks and whole eggs. We also used the Gluten Free Pantry’s gluten-free flour blend of rice flour, potato starch, guar gum, salt, and tapioca starch to make the dough. The dumplings turned out chewy and heavy, but not unpleasantly dense. They were chewier than the gluten versions, but the density was the same. Yes! We can keep the Christmas dumpling tradition.

Traditional Prochazka Knedliky

One potato per person (4-6 medium Russets), boiled in lightly salted water and peeled.
One-half egg yolk per person (3-4 egg yolks or 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks)
3-5 cups all purpose flour
*1 tbsp baking powder, if you want a really light dumpling, but we don’t add it

Bring a large stock pot of water to a boil.
While waiting for the water, mix your potato dough. Place potatoes and egg yolks in a large mixing bowl. Stir thoroughly until the mixture is smooth. Begin stirring in the flour, one cup at a time, until the dough becomes almost too stiff to mix with a spoon. Transfer to a floured surface and knead about one more cup of flour, or until the dough is only slightly sticky and firm. Divide the dough in half and roll each half into oblong 2″ thick loaves. Cut each loaf into slices about 1 inch in width. Roll each slice into balls so that each dumpling is slightly larger than a billiards ball. Place dough balls on a clean sheet pan, spacing them apart. Allow the balls to rest until the water is boiling.
Drop 6 or 9 dumplings into the boiling water, spacing them out so they don’t stick. Let the water return to a boil. Stir with a slotted spoon to unstick it from the bottom of the pot. As the dumplings cook, they will float. Cook about 2 minutes after they begin floating, to be sure that all of the flour is cooked. (Did you know that they float because the starch granules in the flour and potoates swell when exposed to hot water?)
Remove dumplings from the water and to a thick glass baking dish. Cover and place in a slightly warm oven to keep hot. Continue cooking dumplings in batches until they are all cooked.

You can enjoy the dumplings plain, with butter, with butter and sugar, with gravy, or with our favorite graham cracker topping.

Graham Cracker Topping
2 full sheets of graham crackers
1/4 cup brown sugar

Place the crackers in a resealable bag. Press out the air and then roll a rolling pin or firm cup over the crackers, so that they get crushed finely. Pour graham crackers into a small mixing bowl and add the sugar. Stir completely until you have a crumbly homogenous mixture. Sprinkle over hot, sliced, buttered dumplings. Top with vanilla ice cream to make it especially decadent.

Leftover Dumpling Breakfast

4-6 leftover potato dumplings
2 slices ham
3 or 4 eggs

Slice the potato dumplings into 1/4″ slices. Melt butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the dumplings and saute until golden brown on all sides. Scoot the dumplings to one side. Add the ham to the skillet and saute until golden. Remove the ham and dumplings to a hot plate. Add a spot more butter to the skillet. Drop in the eggs and fry until cooked on one side. Jiggle the pan until the egg unsticks itself and then quickly flip the egg in one fluid, professional manner. (Do this over a plate so the egg lands somewhere safe just in case the fluid movement isn’t so fluid at first). Fry until the egg is cooked to your desired doneness.
Arrange the dumplings and ham on a plate. Top with leftover graham-brown-sugar sprinkles. Add the eggs. Enjoy with a cup of hot, strong coffee.