At this month's event, "IMBB 7 - You're just the cutest little dumpling", I really feel at home. Being Austrian, I have grown up on dumplings, in their various shapes and formats. They're served as main courses, side dishes or as desserts, they can be savoury or sweet, filled or not... so how could I have chosen just one! I needed to give you a sample of what Austria has to offer in this field.
The principle of dumplings is fairly simple and they're wide-spread for a good reason: Austria used to be a farming nation and dumplings tend to be made purely out of a farm's own produce, so there was no need to buy anything: potatoes and flour for the dough, eggs and butter added if you're lavish, and filled with left-over meats, bacon or fruits from the garden... whatever you have on hand, really.
One of my favourites are spinach dumplings, one of the few varieties which are not filled. Instead, you take white bread (great for using a loaf which has gone stale), soak it in milk, work in some blanched spinach and season generously with nutmeg. Some people add fried bacon bits to the dough, but I prefer a vegetarian version. They're best served with a simple blue cheese sauce. These can actually also be prepared as finger food to pass around at a party: just make smaller dumplings (ca. 2-3 cm in diameter), cook them for less time (no more than 5 minutes) and pass them around on toothpicks with the sauce to dip in!
There's one important rule which you need to observe when cooking dumplings. The water in which you cook them should always be simmering, never cook them at a rolling boil or you might end up with nothing but dough and filling on the bottom of the pan, certainly not in dumpling shape.
Next up is a filled variety: Speckknödel, made from a versatile potato dough which can be used for savoury fillings like this one, but also works a treat envelopping whole fruits (like apricots or plums, stone removed and replaced with a sugar cube). The sweet variety is cooked in water, then rolled in a breadcrumb and butter mix. The version we have here uses very lean, cured bacon as a filling, nothing else added. They're then baked in the oven for 30 minutes before adding an egg and cream mixture. This is traditionally served wih a white cabbage salad or sauerkraut.
Another dumpling technique is to steam them - usually using a yeast-based dough, filled with Powidl, a dark roast plum jam... as for Germknödel. This results in really fluffy dough balls which are topped with poppyseeds and icing sugar.
Other sweet examples for dumplings are Topfenknödel (see picture on top of this post), made of sweet curd and brioche crumbs, the cooked in water and rolled in a sweet butter and crumb mixture. I serve this on a compote of rhubarb and strawberries - a refreshing treat in late spring when these fruits are at their best!
Spinach dumplings with blue cheese sauce (Spinatknödel)
For the dumplings:
400 g white bread (crust removed and finely diced)
250 ml milk
500 g young leaf spinach
150 g parmesan cheese (finely grated)
160 g breadcrumbs
freshly ground nutmeg
For the blue cheese sauce:
150 g dolcelatte (or other blue cheese)
284 ml double cream
Soak the white bread in the milk for about 10 minutes, then squish in your hands to remove any excess liquid. Blanch the spinach by pouring boiling water over it and leaving to stand for 2 minutes. Drain and, when cool enough to handle, express all water out of it, so the leaves are fairly dry. Set aside.
Combine the bread and spinach in a mixing bowl and work through it with a hand-held mixer. Add the eggs, breadcrumbs and parmesan, season and knead with the mixer or your bare hands until smooth. Leave to stand for 15 minutes.
In the meantime, prepare the cheese sauce by combining the cream and cheese in a bowl and heating it up until well combined. Season with white pepper and keep warm.
Form dumplings a bit bigger than golf balls, this works best when your hands are slightly wet. Prepare salt water in a large pot (the dumplings will need space to roam) and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat until the water is only simmering. Add the dumplings, moving them about every once in a while (very carefully) so they don't stick to the bottom of the pot, and cook until they rise to the surface - this should take about 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and serve with the blue cheese sauce.
If you intend to serve this as finger food, your dumplings should be about 2-3 cm in diameter and you'll only need to cook them for about 3-5 minutes - they will tell you when they're done by rising to the top. Serve with toothpicks and a bowl of the sauce to dip them in.
Speckknödel (bacon dumplings with white cabbage)
500 g floury potatoes (peeled)
ca. 150 g flour
1 small egg
200 g lean (!) cured bacon
200 g crème fraîche
2 tbsp corn starch
For the cabbage salad:
1 large white cabbage
1 tbsp caraway seeds
200 g lean bacon (cut in tiny cubes)
100 ml white wine or apple cider vinegar
For the dumplings, cook the potatoes (without peeling or cutting them) until tender. Peel and mash with a fork or potato ricer (don't be tempted to use an electric whisk, or you'll end up with a glue-like mass that is impossible to work). When the potatoes have cooled down just enough to be able to handle them with your bare hands, add the egg and flour, season with salt and knead into a smooth dough.
Divide the mixture into 12 equal portions, flatten them in your hands and put a ball of bacon bits in the middle. Roll the dumplings with floury hands, making sure that the bacon is well envelopped and the dough closes tightly around them. Sit the dumplings in a greased, oven-proof dish and bake in the oven for ca. 25 minutes at 200 C.
Whisk the eggs, crème fraîche and corn starch together, season with salt and nutmeg and pour over the dumplings. Continue to cook until the egg mixture has set.
While the dumplings are baking, cut the cabbage into thin strips (no more than 5 mm) and cook in salted water with the caraway seeds until tender. Drain and return to the pot. Cut the bacon into 1 cm dice and fry in a shallow pan until nicely brown. When the bacon bits are done, add them and the fat they released to the cabbage. Return the pan to the stove and add the vinegar, heat it up and add to the cabbage. Mix through and keep warm until serving.
Germknödel with Powidl & sweet poppy seeds
30 g butter (room temperature)
25 g icing sugar
1 sachet (4 g) vanilla sugar
2 egg yolks
pinch of salt
250 g white all-purpose flour
1 sachet (7 g) dried yeast
125 ml milk (warm)
200 g Powidl (for the filling)
butter for the cloth
For the topping:
100 g poppy seeds
100 g icing sugar
100 g butter
In a mixing bowl, combine the butter, icing and vanilla sugar, yolks and salt, put the bowl over simmering water and whisk until the mixture is warm (make sure it does not get too hot, the eggs must not cook!). Mix the flour and the yeast in a bowl with a fork, then add to the egg mixture. Gradually add the warm milk, combining thoroughly, then knead with a mixer/food processor to achieve a smooth and soft dough. Cut into 6 even pieces and shape them into balls. Let them rest on a floured surface, cover with a slightly moist, but not wet, kitchen towel and leave to rest for 30 minutes. When the dough has risen, flatten the dough slightly, fill with Powidl and close up the dough neatly so the filling can't escape. They should keep their dumpling shape. Put on a floured surface again (use a cutting board, for example), cover with a moist towel and put in a warm (ca 50 C) oven or an airing cupboard, where they should be left until they have doubled in size.
Prepare the pot by spreading a clean kitchen towel over it after filling it with boiling water, secure the cloth with a piece of string, brush the cloth with butter and lay the dumplings on top. Depending on the size of your pot, you may want to cook them in batches so they have enough room. Then cover the dumplings by placing another pot of the same diameter on top (upside down that is), to create a "steam room" for your dumplings. A lid is not enough, as the steam with make the cloth and dumplings rise, so they need some space to roam here! Steam them for 20 minutes.
In the meantime, grind the poppy seeds - if you haven't got a grinder, put them in a slim and tall tupperware dish and grind using a hand-held blender (without adding anything). Then combine with the icing sugar.
When the Germknödel are done, arrange on plates, pour over the melted butter and sprinkle generously with the poppy seed mixture. Serve immediately, with warm vanilla custard or creme anglaise if you wish.
Sweet curd dumplings with rhubarb-strawberry compote (Topfenknödel)
400 g virtually fat free Topfen/Quark/curd/ricotta
120 g old brioche
30 g butter (at room temperature)
1 vanilla bean
30 g caster sugar
(grated lemon and orange zest - optional)
to roll the dumplings:
50 g butter
80 g old brioche
10 g caster sugar
icing sugar to serve
for the compote:
70 g caster sugar
500 g rhubarb
250 ml orange juice
1 cinnamon stick
350 g strawberries
1-2 tsp corn flour or thickening granules
(Takes 1 hr 15 minutes to prepare, plus 2 hrs resting - but easy to prepare ahead)
Strain the curd by placing it on a clean kitchen towel and expressing as much superfluous liquid as possible. Put the brioche in a food processor and produce fine crumbs. Split open the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Mix the butter and the sugar in a large bowl, add the curd, egg, egg yolk, vanilla seeds and the crumbs. (Add the zest here, if using). Leave to rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
Prepare the crumbs for rolling the dumplings in: melt the butter in a pan, add the sugar and crumbs and fry over a medium heat until golden brown. If lumps form, be sure to separate them by simply rubbing them between your hands after cooling.
For the compote clean the rhubarb and cut into 3-4 cm sticks. Caramelise 60 g of the sugar in a pan, add the orange juice to deglaze, then add the rhubarb and cinnamon. Leave to cook over a medium heat for 8 minutes until soft. Lift the rhubarb with a slotted spoon and reserve in a bowl. Wash and dry the strawberries, cut in quarters and sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Bring the sauce to a boil and add the thickening granules or dissolve the corn flour in some water and add to the mixture. Boil enough for the sauce to thicken slightly. Remove the cinnamon stick. Pour over the rhubarb and add the strawberries.
When you're ready to serve, heat some salt water in a big pot, the dumplings will need space to roam. Wet your hands and form the dough into 12 even dumplings (balls). Add to the simmering water, turn down the heat and leave to cook for around 10 minutes until they return to the surface. Lift with a slotted spoon, roll in the crumbs mixture, dust with icing sugar and serve with the compote.