There's a war on out there for the soul of the soup dumpling. No, not the kind with soup inside. The kind that sits in, or maybe floats on top of soup. But to start at the beginning...
Yesterday, as I was making fresh pasta for dinner (very satisfying, served with a super-hearty tomato and vegetable soup), I got lazy on my last piece of dough and decided to roll it into a very long thin log and cut it into tiny pillow shapes instead of the fettuccine shape I'd made the rest of the dough into. The pillows, about 1 cm on each side, proved impossible to cook thoroughly - the starch on the outside of the pasta hydrated, gelated, and swelled, keeping the interiors from hydrating. I wasn't surprised. I had been hoping to find a super easy gnocchi substitute in these pillow-shaped pastas, and when they failed, I had one of those moments where my mind runs in a bunch of different directions at once to try to solve a problem. One track was to make a dough with very hot water, to try to hydrate the flour before it is even shaped. Another idea was to make a leavened batter and drop it into the hot water to cook. Yep, dumplings. The other ideas were probably stupid, because I've already forgotten them.
Unsurprisingly, I'm not the first person to think of making leavened dumplings and cooking them in hot water or broth. In fact, Chicken and Dumplings is I guess pretty classic Americana, though I never ate it growing up. Too bad; I was missing out on a great culinary feud. This war is between supporters of two different shapes of soup dumplings: the sliders, or slicks, and the floaters. According to this book, the war is not based on lineage, not geography. Alton Brown agrees, and indicates that the two styles of dumplings have different roots in the Old World and are a epicurean manifestation of the Norman-Saxon conflict.
For now I've got to cuddle up to the floater camp because this whole jaunt is all about learning how to make light, fluffy leavened dumplings, not flat noodles. Alton's floaters are choux pastry, which is interesting and definitely worth exploring, but I'm looking to make a chemically leavened dumpling, not just the mechanically-leavened sort. According to that Appalachian Home Cooking book, you can get the fluffy sort of dumpling by gently simmering biscuit dough, but that's not exact enough information for me. This article has a recipe for something that sounds similar. From a whole different track and indeed a different part of the world comes the Czech/Sloval parená knedľa, basically a steamed yeast bread that is then sliced into 'dumplings.'
In the end, however, I want a super light, fluffy dumpling if possible, at least for the first try. Based on my experience with pancakes, light and fluffy means either baking soda to go along with the baking powder, or whipped egg whites. Naturally, there are plenty of recipes for buttermilk and baking soda dumplings like this one. Googling "egg white dumplings" returned this recipe and story of not-quite-success, which I think is worth a shot and some modification. Onwards to the tests!