Dumplings are essentially a soft biscuit dough that can be cooked on top of a stew or other hot liquid, such as a fruit sauce. Some recipes call for shaping and rolling the dough out and cutting it into pieces, while others call for spooning the dough onto the hot liquid. In either case, the pot should be covered so that the dough is completely surrounded by heat during cooking.
Dumplings call for the same basic ingredients as biscuits, which include flour, baking powder, milk, fat and salt. They can also be made using all-purpose baking mix by following directions on the package. Once the ingredients have been blended, the dough can be dropped in soft mounds on top the cooking liquid or rolled out and cut into strips that are stirred gently into the liquid. The baking powder in the mix causes dumplings to rise during cooking, a reaction that is most evident when the batter is dropped rather than rolled.
Covered or Uncovered
Most dumpling recipes call for cooking them in a tightly covered pot, because they actually cook in the steam created by the boiling stew or fruit. If left uncovered, this steam evaporates and the tops of dropped dumplings often turn out soggy and undercooked. Rolled dumplings that look like large noodles can be left uncovered, because they are stirred completely into the liquid as they cook. Some recipes also call for cooking the dumplings for part of the time uncovered and finishing them with the lid on.
Shaping the Dough
Using the drop method involves forming loose round mounds of dough by using two soupspoons and placing them gently on top of the hot liquid. They may appear to sink at first, but as they cook, they puff up and rise to the surface. It's important to keep the pot covered the entire cooking time, which is roughly 20 minutes, since lifting the lid releases the steam necessary to the cooking process. For rolled dumplings, knead the dough gently on a lightly floured surface and roll it out as for cookies or piecrust to about 1/2-inch thick. Using a sharp floured knife, cut the dough into squares or rectangles that measure roughly 2 inches wide, and place them on top of the liquid. Leave the lid off until they start to cook, stir them gently into the stew and follow recipe directions about whether to cover the pot.
Dropped dumplings are normally used in traditional Southern dishes, such as chicken stew and dessert dishes like fruit grunts and caramel dumplings. Rolled dumplings lend themselves well to stews and thick soups, since their smaller, more compact shapes are easy to stir into the gravy or broth without dissolving or falling apart. Dropped dumplings should be eaten immediately, because they tend to get soggy if refrigerated. Rolled dumplings mixed into a stew or gravy can be refrigerated for up to two days in a tightly covered container.