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!