At the risk of being labeled a neo-Luddite, I am fairly prepared to say that there is a whole damn plethora of things about modern life that irk me to the point of distraction. There is so much corporate-led, consumer-worshiped junk muddying every waking moment of modern existence, that it would be difficult to pen a list for fear of leaving some of the main culprits out. Hell, I'm sure as hell gonna give it a shot though.

Reality TV. Television was hard enough to watch even 10 years ago, but this last decade has well and truly picked up a bunch of shiny nails and whacked them home into the gaudy casket of televised broadcasting. Sadly, it was we Aussies (with the help of the Brits) that may have got the ball rolling with Sylvania Waters, and for this I am truly, deeply mortified. Thank God for Double the Fist.

Consulting a botox technician instead of a counselor. If this one needs clarifying, then it's probably already too late. A fact to which your swollen, bing cherry-coloured lips should keenly attest.

Waiting until the movie comes out. Of course, there is now a whole generation out there that never even knew it was a book. I mean hell... Who reads anyway? If you know some of these young unfortunates, for gawd sake, buy them a book.

However, of all these modern ills, the one that has stuck with me like a knitting needle in the ribs is the horror that a work colleague alerted me to about 12 years ago. "They're so cool. All you do is pour milk into the bottle and shake it up. Pour it into the pan and there you go - pancakes". I shuddered. Is there anything more useless and soul-less than shake 'n make pancake mixes? Useless because there is nothing easier than making pancakes. I mean crikey, all you do is mix a cup of flour, a cup of milk, some sugar and an egg in a bowl. There, that's it... pancakes. And soul-less because these sinister plastic bottles rob people not only of confidence ("...pancakes must be hard to make if they come in a bottle..."), but also rob them of the humble joy that making sweet simple food can provide. Don't ever underestimate the "Gee - I made it myself" factor.

This is a conundrum that I daresay never faced the good lady cooks of the Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union of Victoria. In 1904, the PWMU released its very first cookbook, jam-packed with simple yet eminently satisfying dishes such as corned beef and lemon delicious pudding. In the intervening years more than 500 000 copies of this humble tome have been sold, and last month those proud ladies released a centenary edition celebrating 100 years of doing the simple things the right way - with love. You can bet that no mention of shake 'n make pancakes sully any of its pages. And you can probably wager too that there will be a well-loved recipe for these little beauties - golden syrup dumplings.

Not many dishes represent honest-to-god working class Aussie fare like these dumplings. Their rib-stickingly sweet goodness has no pretense to grandeur whatsoever. This is food that people ate when the amount of stunningly sweet flavour required was inversely proportional to the amount of folding stuff they had in their pockets. Heady and sweet golden syrup is heated with soft brown sugar and butter to make a recklessly decadent sauce. A simple, no-fuss dough of self-raising flour, eggs and milk is rolled into small dumplings which are then simmered in the sauce til they swell up to double their original size - bursting at the seams with all the golden syrup goodness they can manage to suck up. It is the perfect mid-winter treat for those that want a huge bang for their buck. They are embarrassingly easy to make, and I daresay your local supermarket probably doesn't stock plastic bottles of the stuff that you just add milk to and shake.

Long may this be so.




Ingredients

Dumplings

Syrup

Method

Place the flour into a large mixing bowl and mix with a good pinch of salt. Add the butter cubes and using the very tips of your fingers, rub the butter into the flour until it has started to look breadcrumb-ey. Keep working the butter until it is thoroughly incorporated into the flour. Add the milk and eggs and begin to mix using only a butter knife. Now there is a genuine 100-year-old tip for you. The suggestion to use a butter knife instead of a whisk or wooden spoon is simply a measure to ensure that the cook does not overmix the dough, which will make the dumplings tough and bread-like. Gently, oh-so gently mix the ingredients together until they just combine to form a dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and set aside for 30 minutes so the gluten modified by all the mixing has a chance to settle - ensuring the result is soft and silky dumplings.

In the meantime, make the syrup. Combine all the syrup ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and stir well to combine. When you are ready to cook the dumplings, lightly flour a work bench and press the dough very gently to a flat disc roughly 2 cm (just under an inch) in height. Cut the dough into 2 cm cubes and roll each into a ball. Coat each of these liberally with flour, then lower them into the simmering syrup. The more flour you use to coat the dumplings, the thicker the syrup (and hence the final sauce) will become. Depending on the size of your saucepan, you may need to cook the dumplings in 2 batches. Turn the syrup down to the gentlest of bubbling simmers and cover the pot. Cook the dumplings for 10 minutes, then lift one out to check if they are cooked. Cut the dumpling in half - if it is even slightly moist or doughy-looking in the centre, then they will need a further 5 minutes cooking.

Lift out the dumplings to a warm dish, cover and set aside to keep warm. Increase the syrup to a boil and cook for a few minutes to thicken the sauce. Place 2 or 3 dumplings per bowl, and ladle over a generous amount of the hot sauce. Pass separately some softly whipped cream, or perhaps some of this delicious custard.

Oh, and if you want to find out more about the PWMU centenary cookbook, the tale is told here --> http://tinyurl.com/39owb

  • BlueDragon points out that a pretty traditional method of making these dumplings and sweetmeats of its ilk, is to use suet instead of butter. If you can find it, and your heart isn't giving you grief - by all means try these made with suet.

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