Jumping to Conclusions: Rabbit-Year Carrot Cake Dumplings

My brain likes to play free-word association games: usually at my expense, but sometimes with amusing results. An embarrassing example: a store window features a tall poster with massive read letters reading HUGE SALE. I see HUG SALE, and for a split second with Care Bear-like awe I wonder how many? before the rest of my mind catches up and realizes the totally awkward nature of that scenario (and me being wary of strangers baring “free hugs” signs). See, wasn’t that a totally ridiculous thing to own up to?

Now, for a more fruitful cerebral collision: reading an invite to a casual vegan Chinese New Year’s celebration, the host requests we bring something tasty–either Chinese or bunny themed–to honor this new Year of the Rabbit. To paraphrase: “bring a carrot cake, or dumplings”. Dessert-minded me immediately reads “carrot cake dumplings”. I then realize there’s no way he would make such a specific food request. A careful re-read of the invite confirms, but moments, hours and days later I can’t shake it. I have never seen, made or eaten one, but I’m craving hard these imaginary carrot cake dumplings.

Fast forward to the morning of the party. It’s 7:30 am on a Sunday and most of the country is dreaming of all things Superbowl, but I’m busy inventing a test-run (or perhaps crash) of this crazy dessert with hopes of serving it to the nice people who invited me to their party. Asian dumplings are simple once you’re in the rhythm, but the only thing I’m in are my pajamas. There’s a lot to do, but thanks to my obsession the dough was made last night; it warms on the counter as I fold together a sweet, spicy filling of carrot cake inspired mush.

The dumpling dough, the only thing having time to relax this morning, is easy going like a Lionel Richie song. Soon there are two dozen little pouches of rabbit-friendly sweets steaming on the stove; I note to myself I really should get a bamboo steamer, my much banged up steel steamer basket that’s served as midwife to hundreds of tamales is a tight fit for a few dumplings. But soon, by Watership Down, I have chewy Shanghai-like dumplings stuffed with a melange of brown sugar, carrots, pineapple, coconut and even an appropriately Asian hint of star anise and black pepper from the benefit of Chinese five spice powder. It’s a dumpling, and it’s somehow carrot cakey at the same time; soon after the party guests approve and I’ve finally had a taste of accidental dream dumplings.

The carrot cake dumplings proved to be a happy experiment after all, and I’ll continue to fine tune this recipe, but for now enjoy and give homemade dessert dumplings a go; they would make a fresh addition to a springtime dim sum or brunch menu. And may your Year of the Rabbit have you jumping to interesting, unexpected and delicious conclusions!

Carrot Cake Dumplings
makes 24 smallish dumplings

Coconut flour adds body and great coconut flavor to the filling. If you can’t locate any (it’s popular with the gluten free baking set), use more breadcrumbs. Like all steamed dumplings there are best served piping hot straight from the steamer, but these re-steam up beautifully. Serve with wedges of orange or scoops of dairy-free coconut vanilla ice cream.

Filling:
2 cups firmly packed finely grated carrots (about ½ lb whole carrots)
8 ounce can crushed pineapple, well drained of juices
⅔ cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup dark raisins
3 tablespoons shredded coconut
2 tablespoons coconut flour
2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts
½ teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¾ cup or more soft, freshly made breadcrumbs, firmly packed

Prepare dumpling dough wrappers and set up steamer according to manufacture’s directions.
In a mixing bowl combine grated carrots, pineapple, brown sugar, raisins, coconut flour if using, shredded coconut, walnuts, five spice powder, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and sea salt. I like to use may hands to really knead together the ingredients. After everything is mixed knead in breadcrumbs; filling should resemble a very moist dough. If dough seems too wet, knead in a few big pinches of breadcrumbs.
To assemble a dumpling place a wrapper in your non-dominate hand (for me that’s my left) and place a heaping tablespoons of filling in the center. With your other hand take a generous pinch of dough from the edge of the circle and pull it away from the center; do it again right next to your first pinch, then pinch the two points together bending the dough toward the filling. Repeat this grab, pinch, and bend technique, taking care to pinch all of the ends together to form a big fat point. Work around the entire circle this way until you have something that resembles a little pleated, peaked pouch of dough. Grab and pinch any ungathered ends of the dough and give the whole thing a firm pinch and a twist to seal the top of the dumpling. Don’t sweat it if your dumplings are not perfectly shaped: all dough adventures take practice to be perfect. Just relax and enjoy the act of pinching something cute that won’t pinch back.
Steam dumplings fro 18-20 minutes, until wrappers are firm. Serve immediately, or keep tightly covered if serving within 10 minutes of steaming to help it keep hot. Cooked dumplings can be stored in the refrigerator for several days and re-steamed.

Dessert Dumpling Dough
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 to 1 ¼ cups cold water

In a mixing bowl stir together flour, sugar and salt. Form a well in the center and pour in vegetable oil and 1 cup cold water. Using your fingers or a wooden spoon stir together to moisten flour. Keep stirring to form a soft dour, adding a little more water at a time if necessary. Gather up the dough and knead in the bowl; the dough should no longer stick to the sides of the bowl but not be overly dry. Lightly flour a work surface, turn out the dough and knead for 3-5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Tightly wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest for an hour before using; or store in the refrigerator overnight: let dough warm on counter for 20 minutes prior to using.
To make dumpling wrappers, on a lightly floured surface use your palms to roll dough into a log less than 2 inches thick. With a sharp knife cut in half, cover and set aside one piece of dough and roll the other half about 12 inches long. Cut in half again, line up both halves and slice both pieces so that you have 12 pieces of dough total. Pat each piece of dough into a thin circle. With a lightly floured rolling pin (I prefer a thin, “solid state” French style rolling pin), roll a piece of dough into a thin circle about 4 inches wide, lightly flouring and turning the dough frequently to help get a nice evenly shaped circle. You can layer the rolled out dough circles to help keep them moist, just be sure they have a little bit of flour on them to keep from sticking. Rolled out dough circles should be used soon, but they can also be stored by layering between sheets of waxed or parchment paper and then tightly sealed in a zip top bag.

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