Dampfnudel is a steamed German sweet dumpling that's almost like a sweet bread, served with a luscious vanilla custard and often fruit compote. It's hearty but wonderfully comforting and delicious.
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Much of the time I have spent over the years in Germany and Austria has been in the more mountainous regions. The Alps and Dolomites are an incredibly beautiful area, and I feel very lucky to have spent many childhood summers hiking there.
While as I've mentioned before, some of the hearty food might not be quite what many of us would want to have every day, after a busy day's hiking (or working on the farm, as was more traditionally the case), it can be the perfect fit.
I happily dug in to a plate of Wiener schnitzel, goulash or something with spaetzle. And if I was lucky, maybe Kaiserschmarrn as a treat. One thing I never had, though, was dumplings. That wasn't until many years later.
I'm not totally sure why, but my mum always said no to dumplings. I think she maybe had one on an early visit, before I remember, and it had been incredibly heavy and hard to eat. I doubt it was something she'd typically be drawn to, either. Whatever the rationale, it meant there was no way I might be choosing that to share.
So, I didn't manage to try this sweet dumpling until I went to Germany as an adult. Maybe as well, as I could appreciate it better. Though when I made this recently, both of my kids were raving about how good it was.
What is a dampfnudel?
Dampfnudeln are a yeasted, egg-rich dumpling that are steamed in a slightly creamy mixture. The result is like a moist sweet bread with a gently caramelized underside.
The name stems from "dampf" meaning "steam", and "nudel" which typically means "noodle". "Knödel" is the more typical word for dumpling in Southern Germany, though they are probably seen as a bit of a joint category of food. These are also sometimes called "germknödel".
Dumplings are popular throughout Germany and come in many different varieties, some with potato, others with meat. These sweet dumplings are popular particularly in Bavaria, but you'll find them across Germany and Austria.
The exact origin of the dish is a little unclear, as they have been around for centuries, but it is often believed to be either Bavaria or the Palatinate region in Southern Germany.
Steps to make these German sweet dumplings
As with most traditional recipes, you'll find variations in methods and ingredients. Some only leave them to rise once, others twice, for example. I've drawn on a few recipes and adapted to make a more manageable quantity for a smaller group.
It might look like a number of steps, but these are easier than you might think:
- Mix together the dough and gently knead.
- Leave the dough to rise around an hour.
- Divide the dough and form each piece into a ball, by pinching in the sides then rounding in your hand (see photo above).
- Leave to rise again, and meanwhile make the vanilla sauce.
- Warm the ingredients for the steaming liquid enough to dissolve the sugar then carefully lower the dumplings into the liquid.
- Cover and leave to steam, checking there is still a little liquid towards the end to save them burning.
- Finish with a couple minutes without the lid then serve, topped with the vanilla sauce and compote/jam, if using.
How do you serve these dumplings?
You'll typically serve these with a vanilla sauce, kind of like custard (particularly creme Anglaise), and often a plum compote or other fruit compote/jam.
You can make the vanilla sauce a few hours or the day ahead, if it suits better. Refrigerate it if you make it more than around an hour ahead. Then either serve it cold or warm it gently before using.
If you have extra vanilla sauce, it's also great with many other desserts - it's a classic alongside apple strudel, for example. It's also great served as I have often had creme Anglaise, with some fresh berries.
While you don't have to serve these with anything else, as I say a pretty common addition is plum compote or stewed plums. The fruit certainly makes a lovely contrast to the heavier dumpling and creamy sauce, so I do recommend it.
If you can't get plums, as I couldn't, then a berry jam/complote would also be good such as blackberry or currants. Here I used some cherry jam which was also really delicious.
Dampfnudel is an incredibly comforting dessert that's a simple set of flavors that's so easy to love. The soft, gently sweet bread-like dough with the creamy sauce, and especially with a touch of sweet fruit is such a great mix. Give them a try, and enjoy.
Try these other comforting desserts from around the world:
- Arroz con leche (Spanish rice pudding)
- German plum cake (pflaumenkuchen)
- Umm Ali (Egyptian bread pudding-like dessert)
- Pear clafoutis (a version of a classic French dessert where fruit is cooked in a custard-like base)
- Pus get more dessert recipes in the archives.
Dampfnudel (German sweet dumplings)
For vanilla sauce
- ½ cup milk 120ml
- ½ cup heavy cream 120ml double cream
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tbsp sugar
- ½ vanilla pod
- ½ tsp cornstarch corn flour (if needed)
For dampfnudel (dumplings)
- ½ cup milk 120ml
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter 30g
- 1 ¾ cups all purpose flour 245g plain flour
- 1 tsp instant dried yeast
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 egg
To cook dampfnudel
- 5 tbsp milk 75ml (¼ cup plus 1 tbsp)
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter 15g
- 1 tbsp sugar
To make vanilla sauce (can do ahead or while dough on 2nd rise - see step below)
- Put the milk, cream and sugar in a small pan and stir. Split open the half vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds into the cream mixture. Put the pod in as well and warn the mixture over a medium-low heat to bring the mixture almost to a simmer.
- Break up the egg yolk in a small bowl and mix in the cornstarch until smooth. Once the cream mixture is almost at a simmer, add a tablespoon of the warm cream to the egg yolk to temper it. Stir in then repeat another two times then tip all of the mixture back in to the cream.
- Continue to warm the cream gently without it boiling until it starts to thicken slightly. Remove from the heat and set aside. You can make this ahead and either warm or serve it cold. If made more than around 1 hour ahead, chill and store in the fridge (can make a day or two ahead).
To make dampfnudel
- Gently warm the milk and butter together either in a small pan or in the microwave just enough to melt the butter. If it is more than lukewarm, leave to cool slightly before using.
- Mix together the flour, yeast, salt and sugar in a bowl. Add the milk mixture and egg and mix everything so that it comes together as a ball of dough. Lightly flour a clean work surface and turn the dough out onto it.
- Gently knead the dough, adding a little extra flour if needed, for a couple minutes until it is smooth. Form it into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and leave the dough to rise around an hour.
- Gently knock back the dough and divide the dough into four. Form each piece into a ball, by pinching in the sides then rounding in your hand (see photo above).
- Place the balls of dough, join side down, in a dish or on a baking sheet, cover and leave to rise again around another hour. Meanwhile make the vanilla sauce, if not made ahead (see above).
- Once the dough has risen, warm the milk, butter and sugar for cooking the dampfnudel in a pan just a little larger than the four balls of dough over a medium-low heat.
- Once the sugar has dissolved, carefully lower the dumplings into the liquid so that they sit next to each other, flat on the bottom of the pan.
- Cover the pan and leave to steam over a low heat for around 20-25 minutes, checking there is still a little liquid towards the end to save them burning.
- Finish with a couple minutes without the lid on then serve, topped with the vanilla sauce and compote/jam, if using.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.
I've drawn on a few recipes as I developed this, particularly this recipe from The Austrian Dish.