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Suet and suet-free dumplings

It’s mid afternoon and the sky is dark grey. The rain hasn’t let up, and it’s cold as well as miserable. Fancy a salad, anyone? No way! Let’s have some good old British stodge. These dumplings are cheap, quick and easy to make, and add a nice touch to any casserole.


  • 150g/6 oz self raising flour
  • 75g/3 oz shredded suet
  • salt and pepper
  • cold water to mix


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Easy peasy! Bung the flour and suet into a mixing bowl, add a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper to season, add enough cold water to mix into a dough. Too much water will make it sticky and yukky to work with. If you do this by accident, add a little more flour to fix it. Using your hands form the mixture into golfball sized balls. You can make them bigger but they’re more difficult to cook through. Make them small and eat more of them without feeling guilty. Place the balls on top of your casserole or soup, cover the pot and leave for about 10 minutes. Result: lovely stodgy dough buoys! Perfect for sticking to your ribs on a cold day.

Cook’s tips

This is suitable for veggies as you can use veggie suet instead of beef suet, without any loss of flavour. I always use the veggie version on the basis of preference. Why use meat when the veggie equivalent is just as good? If you find it difficult to get veggie suet, I believe these can be made with baking margarine. I haven’t tried it but if anyone asks me to, I’ll have a go at adapting the above recipe for you.

Chopped fresh herbs, or even dried herbs, make these dumplings even tastier.

Food is fun – enjoy!

Update: April 2001

In response to a request from a reader, I had a go at making these without suet. By the way, even if you can’t buy shredded suet in packets like we do in the UK, it may be possible to get some beef suet from your local butcher. Suet is made by grating the hard white fat which surrounds the kidneys – you can always try asking for the fat and grating it yourself.

Here’s how I made suet-free dumplings. Use the same ingredients above but substitute cold hard butter for the suet (I expect you could use margarine but it wouldn’t taste so nice). Like in pastry making, the butter must be very cold. Try to make sure your hands are cold too. Cut the butter into small pieces and rub in to the flour using your fingertips. Otherwise use the method above.

The problem I encountered was that these dumplings are prone to breaking up. I overcame this by making sure the dough was a little drier than that with suet. I also let the balls stand for a little while to let them dry out further. Make them small because larger ones will break up more easily. When you pop them into the soup or casserole, put the lid on and leave them for at least 10 minutes. If you start prodding them, they’ll just break up. Urghh. I didn’t find this easy but I got there in the end. As you’d expect, they tasted buttery. All in all, this was a good substitute if you can’t get suet but, given the choice, I’d use suet every time. Good luck!

Update: December 2001

Alastair Gray in Switzerland wrote in with a useful tip:

“I noticed that you suggest using butter for dumplings. I have successfully used coconut fat (sold in solid form here in Switzerland in Migros) which produces perfect dumplings with no colour/texture/taste difference from suet. I kept it in the fridge and scraped it from the tub with a spoon to get very small fragments for the recipe.

“The next trial is to see if it works for suet puddings …”

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2 Responses to “Suet and suet-free dumplings”

  1. Wendy George

    If I haven’t got any suet, as I find it impossible to buy here in South West France, I make up pastry but instead of rolling it out I form it into small balls, drop them in to stew or casseroles for about twenty minutes and they become big fluffy dumplings!
    8 ozs self raising flour
    4 ozs margarine or butter
    Pinch of salt
    4-5 tablespoons of water
    Makes 6-8 dumplings

  2. Kay McMahon

    Hi Wendy, thanks for your comment.

    That sound like an interesting idea. It’s not really so different from the recipes with suet. After all it’s SR flour, fat, and a little water. Pretty much the same thing really.

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