Originally posted July 23, 2015. Revised and updated September 21, 2016.
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This recipe is a traditional dish of Southern German cuisine. The thing that sets these dumplings apart from all others is in the preparation, and the fact that the dumpling is simultaneously steamed and roasted in a pot with the lid closed.
Because of this, the bottom becomes crunchy while the surface stays soft.
The German term for the dish is Dampfnudel, which would be translated as a literal combination of “steam” and “noodle.”
When you take a look at the ingredients, you will notice that there is no similarity to Italian pasta dough, and the name does not derive from the Italian language.
One assumes that “noodle” is meant to be a variation of dumpling (Knoedel) in German. The prefix “steam” refers to the process of cooking until the liquid has boiled away.
This yeast dumpling is enjoyed in both sweet and savory variations in different local areas. The people of Rhineland-Palatinate eat it as a main meal with sweeteners such as vanilla sauce or preserved fruit.
A savory alternative is to have it together with a soup, salad, or a stew like goulash. The sweetened version uses milk for boiling the dough, while the savory alternative employs salted water for the cooking process.
Just swap out the vanilla, maple syrup, and milk if you prefer this method, and season your dough accordingly.
You can also fill your dumplings. Try apricots and pay homage to Austrian Marillenknoedel, or add some plum jam (get the recipe here) and dust with poppy seeds to make something like traditional Germknoedel.
Of course, there are other possibilities like applesauce or pureed berries. A scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream or vanilla sauce really compliments the sweet variety of these dumplings. For a fun German-themed baking afternoon, make it alongside delicious homemade pretzels.
To achieve a nice and crunchy bottom, you will need a heavy pot with a nonstick coating so that you can take the dumplings out properly, without breaking or tearing them apart.
A cast iron Dutch oven with a lid is a good choice for this recipe as well.
Cooking by the Numbers…
Step 1 – Activate Yeast
These directions are for the sweet version of Dampfnudeln.
First, scrape the pulp from your vanilla pod, and set it aside for later – you’ll need it to prepare the liquid that your dumplings are steamed in. Combine it with the flour, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Make a small well in the center of the flour mixture.
Pour 3 tablespoons of warm milk into a small bowl, and crumble in your yeast. Stir to combine until the yeast is fully dissolved, then pour it carefully into that well that you created. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel, and set in a warm place for about 15-20 minutes.
Step 2 – Mix and Knead
When your yeast mixture is bubbling, cut about 5 tablespoons of butter into smaller pieces, and scatter them over the flour mixture. Add the egg and ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon of milk to the well, and gradually mix in the rest of the flour. Then knead to form a soft dough.
Cover again and let rise for about 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
Step 3 – Shape
Knead the dough again for a few minutes, then divide it into 12 equally sized pieces with a bench scraper, and shape them into smooth balls.
Place them on a floured countertop or baking sheet and cover with a kitchen towel. Let rest for 30 minutes.
Step 4 – Prepare Steaming Liquid
Now it’s time to prepare the liquid that you will cook your dumplings in.
In a Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid, combine the remaining cup of milk, 3 tablespoons butter, and the maple syrup. For the best flavor, I like to use a darker variety of pure maple syrup. Add the vanilla bean and place on the stove over low heat.
Let the liquid warm up just enough so that the butter begins to melt, and then remove the pot from the heat.
Step 5 – Steam and Serve
Place your balls of dough in the pot in a single layer. It’s alright if they’re touching each other – they’ll expand as they cook.
Place back on the stove, put the lid on top, and bring just to a boil over high heat. As soon as the liquid begins to boil, turn the heat down to low.
Let the dumplings steam for about 30 minutes, without taking off the lid to peek! You’ll know the dumplings are ready to eat when you hear a chirping and crackling sound coming from the pot, indicating that all of the liquid has evaporated away, and a nice caramelized crust is forming on the bottom of your dumplings.
Serve right away, with homemade vanilla sauce or your favorite toppings.
Photos by Nina-Kristin Isensee, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.
*Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Nina-Kristin Isensee
Nina lives in Iserlohn, Germany and holds an MA in Art History (Medieval and Renaissance Studies). She is currently working as a freelance writer in various fields. She enjoys travel, photography, cooking, and baking. Nina tries to cook from scratch every day when she has the time and enjoys trying out new spices and ingredients, as well as surprising her family with new cake creations.