Germknödel are a traditional German/Austrian yeast dumpling, filled with plum butter or jam and topped with poppy seeds and sugar. You could think of it as a steamed sweet bread, and it makes a wonderfully comforting, warming treat.
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While I visited Germany and Austria a lot when I was a child, I didn't have dumplings all that much. Which, if you know German cooking, you'll know is a pretty common feature. My mum wasn't much of a fan, I think mainly due to some earlier less-good experiences, and so tended to steer us away from them. But sweet ones were an exception.
On the whole, dumplings are usually savory in Germany, much as they are in a lot of places. While some are filled, many are more bready balls, for want of a better description. And true, they can be a bit heavy. However, you will also find some sweet dumplings, like these, which while still on the heavier side, are a welcome indulgence.
Where are Germknödel from?
The exact origins of Germknödel are a little unclear. Some say they originate in Southern Austria, others say they are originally from Bohemia, and brought to Austria through Viennese cafes. They are certainly something that has been around some time and is now popular in Austria, as well as particularly Southern Germany.
It's often said that they were originally seen more as a Lenten dish, much like Kaiserschmarrn, since there's no meat. It was large and hearty enough to be a main course. These days, it's typically considered a dessert.
You'll find them especially popular in many Austrian ski resorts as a filling dessert perfect during colder weather. You'll also find variations on these in neighboring Czech Republic and Slovakia.
What's the difference between Germknödel and Dampfnudel?
Germknödel and Dampfnudel are relatively similar as they are both a gently sweet, yeast dough dumpling. However, they have a couple of key differences.
Germknödel are always filled, typically with powidl, a slightly spiced plum butter. Sometimes the filling is other jams, fruit or cheese. Dampfnudel can be filled but are often simply the dough with toppings and/or sauce on the side.
The other main difference is how you cook them. You typically cook Dampfnudel in an enriched milk mixture so that they in part steam but also develop a slight crust on the bottom.
Germknödel, meanwhile, are cooked with water. This can either be by boiling them in salted water or steaming them, which is both easier and these days more common.
Making the dumpling dough
The main dough is relatively simple, being essentially an enriched bread dough. While traditionally you might use fresh yeast, these days it's less easy to find and you can make them just as easily with instant or active dry yeast. Here I use instant as it is more flexible in how you add it, but both will work (just remember to bloom if using active dry).
The dough uses milk for a little more flavor, is gently sweetened with a bit of sugar and enriched with egg. You can add a little vanilla for some additional flavor, though it works well either way.
The dough will be pretty soft and you need to give it a good knead to become smooth. Just take care not to add too much extra flour as you work with it as this will make the dough more dense. You give the dough one main rise, then a shorter proof after you add the filling.
A fruity filling (and alternatives)
As mentioned, the traditional filling is powidl, a kind of plum butter which is similar to a jam, but very smooth and typically less sweet. Since it can be hard to find outside the region, you can also use a plum jam instead, or other similar dark fruit jams such as blackberry or cherry.
I recommend using a jam that's both smooth and relatively thick for best results. Here I used my homemade plum jam and strained it to remove the skins. I think my Concord grape jam would also be pretty good as an alternative.
The fruity filling works so well with the bread-like dough, but as mentioned, you can find other fillings that can be fun to experiment with. Instead of jam, you could use berries like blueberry or raspberry. Or you could use a sweetened cheese curd cheese, or even chocolate for something that bit more different.
Top tip: don't overfill the dumplings
While it can be tempting to add lots of yummy goodness into the dumplings, don't. You need to make sure the filling is well sealed inside the dough. Put the filling in the middle of the stretched out dough, keeping it away from the edges. Then pinch the dough together over the filling.
Remember, the dumplings expand as they cook as well. So if they are not sealed well, the filling can leak out, especially with the extra pressure of them expanding. And with more filling, that's more likely.
How to cook Germknödel
As mentioned above, you can either cook these in water or steam them. Personally, I prefer steaming as it's easier and a little gentler on the dumpling.
If you have a steamer basket, then you can probably cook a couple at once. But if not, you can use a sieve/strainer over a pot.
Whichever way you cook, you need to watch that the dumplings don't stick, both to what you cook them in and to each other. One option, with a steamer, is to butter the steamer basket. But with a sieve, I'd suggest lining it with cheesecloth (which also works with a steamer basket, too).
The dumplings expand as they cook, so if you cook more than one at once, you want to make sure they have space. You don't want them to stick to each other, ideally.
How to serve Germknödel
These traditionally have a topping made with crushed poppy seeds and powdered sugar (icing sugar). Typically, you drizzle melted butter over the cooked dumpling before sprinkling on the poppy seed mixture.
Since Vanillesoβe, vanilla sauce, is also popular with them (and in my mind, a really good idea), I think just the sauce works perfectly well without the added butter, too. Though if you don't have time to make vanilla sauce, then just butter is good.
Can you make them ahead?
These are definitely best enjoyed right as they are made. It's also a good idea to line up the timing of the rise to ensure they don't over-proof before you cook them.
That said, I have tried to re-heat cooked dumplings and they work pretty well if you re-steam them for a few minutes. Just cook them as normal, let them cool and store in a sealed container in the fridge. Then, place in a steamer as you would to cook them but just steam for around 3 - 5 minutes to warm through.
Germknödel are such a lovely combination of gently sweet, slightly chewy dough and a sweet fruity filling. Especially served with the vanilla sauce, it's a wonderfully comforting treat. Yes, it's a little indulgent, but well worth it, particularly on a cold day.
Try these other comforting desserts:
- Panettone bread and butter pudding (also a tasty way to use some leftover panettone)
- Swedish blueberry soup (it may sound unusual, but this sweet soup is easy, comforting and delicious)
- German plum cake, Pflaumenkuchen (another delicious way with plums)
- Plus get more dessert recipes and German recipes in the archives.
Germknödel (Austrian filled sweet dumplings)
For Germknödel dough
- ½ cup milk
- 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 ¾ cups all purpose flour plain flour
- 2 teaspoon instant dried yeast
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoon sugar
- 1 egg
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract optional
- 4 tablespoon plum jam or ideally plum butter, powidl, approx
- 2 tablespoon poppy seeds
- 1 ½ tablespoon powdered sugar icing sugar
- German vanilla sauce or can use a little melted butter
To make dumplings
- 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, egg and vanilla, if using, 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 around 5 minutes until it is smooth. Try not to add too much flour, you want the dough to stay soft. Form it into a ball and place in a bowl. Cover and leave the dough to rise at warm room temperature for around 45 minutes until doubled in size.
- Gently knock back the dough and divide the dough into four. Take one piece of the dough and flatten out into roughly a circle. Place a tablespoonful of the plum butter/jam in the middle of the dough and pinch together the sides over the filling to seal the dough well. Try to avoid getting any of the jam on the dough in the join and make sure the dough is well sealed.
- Once the dough is joined up, carefully roll the dough in your hand to form a round ball and sit on a lightly floured surface. Repeat with the rest of the balls of dough and filling.
- Once all of the dumplings are formed, cover and leave to rest for around 15 minutes. Meanwhile make or re-heat the vanilla sauce, if being used to serve. Also, crush the poppy seeds in a spice grinder or grind them together with the sugar with a pestle and mortar. Mix the poppy seeds and sugar and set aside.
- Once the dough has risen, bring a pot of water to a boil. If you have a steamer basket, either rub with butter to stop the dumplings sticking or use cheesecloth to line it. If you don't have a steamer basket, you can use a sieve or strainer lined with cheesecloth.
- Place one or more dumplings in the steamer/strainer, bearing in mind they will expand and you don't want them to touch as they cook (I'd suggest just one, to be safe, or two if steamer is larger). Once the water is boiling, carefully rest the steamer or strainer over the pot and reduce the heat slightly so that the water doesn't bubble up into the 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 15 minutes until the dough has puffed up and feels gently firm to touch.
- Carefully remove from the steamer/strainer, peeling off the cheesecloth, then top with the vanilla sauce (or if you don't have, melt some butter and drizzle over), then sprinkle over the poppy seed mixture. Enjoy while warm.
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