Ukrainian Cheese Dumplings
Gombovtsi is a popular type of stuffed dumplings in the Transcarpathia region of Ukraine. The “dough” can be based on 1) fresh cheese, 2) cooked potatoes, or 3) wheat flour. The first two kinds are usually cooked by simmering, and the third one — by steaming. This version — with fresh cheese — is my favorite.
My mom used to make similar dumplings, but not stuffed. I knew this dish as Lazy Cheese Dumplings, and it was my comfort food, often for breakfast. My mom served them with some sour cream and sugar. I have to admit that stuffed cheese dumplings with crunchy caramelized breadcrumbs on top are even better!
Homemade Fresh Cheese
It is more difficult to find high-quality fresh cheese (aka Tvorog) far from home. Period. Most products available at ethnic stores are too dry or too wet, too tart or not tart enough, too salty or too sweet, etc. The best solution is to make Tvorog at home.
For 600 g of Tvorog, combine half a gallon of whole milk, 8 oz of Bulgarian whole milk yogurt, and make yogurt, if you have any yogurt-making appliance. It takes 8 hours. A more convenient alternative is to buy the same amount of kefir. You want a good tasting, made with whole milk kefir. I highly recommend the Wallaby brand.
Preheat oven to 300F and place a pot with either kefir or your homemade yogurt inside for 1 to 1.5 hours, until soured milk lightly coagulates. Strain it using fine cheesecloth by hanging it first, then place some weight on top to remove even more moisture (whey) from the cheese.
Note I recommend using whole milk products. Low-fat milk products will produce less cheese and it will be less creamy and fluffy. Tvorog made with high-fat milk products (like half-n-half or heavy whipping cream) will fall apart during the cooking. So, whole milk.
Whole Egg or Just Egg Yolk
You only need 50 g of semolina (durum) for 300 g of cheese. It’s not a mistake. And you need to give semolina enough time to hydrate — the best is to let the dough rest overnight, refrigerated. To control the level of moisture in the dough, you can use just an egg yolk for a softer cheese or a whole egg for the cheese that is too dry.
Watch My Hands! Shaping
The dough for Gombovtsi is exceptionally wet. When I teach making them, my clients can’t believe there is a way to shape dumplings with it. The key is to lightly moisten the working surface, the measuring scoop, and your hands. And you need to make sure your hands are clean and wet before you start shaping the next dumpling. That’s it.
Do not add more flour! It will make your dumplings rubbery.
Do not coat your shaped dumplings with flour! This outer layer will turn into a mess during the boiling.