Germknödel – Austrian Yeast Dumplings with Plums, Poppy Seeds & Vanilla Custard
by eat in my kitchen
Somewhere in the snowy mountains in northern Italy, is a tiny village that you can only reach through a dangerously narrow road. Winding up higher and higher, dark fir trees on one side and deep gorges on the other, it makes you pray with gratitude once you get to the village safely. I used to spend a lot of time there, skiing and walking through the woods, through knee-deep snow until I reached one of the cosy wooden huts that are luckily spread all over to offer the frozen wanderer a bit of warmth, rest, and food. The culinary treasures of this region – in South Tyrol – are outstanding and one of the best things you can give your body when the temperatures are freezing.
One of these treats actually originated in Austria but crossed the border and became a staple in the local cooking: wonderfully fluffy Germknödel. It’s a yeast dough dumpling, usually filled with plum butter (thick and sticky plum jam) and topped with melted butter, poppy seeds, and icing sugar. It’s one of those dishes that you can easily eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I used to enjoy it so often on the terrace of a very old hut, it had a breathtaking view over icy-white mountains, often framed in a sparkling blue sky. The chef used to serve it with thick vanilla custard instead of the melted butter and that’s what I do in my kitchen as well. I also replace the plum jam with whole plums for a bit more fruitiness. The only difficult task I had to solve, was to decide how I would steam the dumplings (I don’t have a steam cooker in my kitchen). You could also blanch them in water but the results aren’t as nice. A quick phone call with my mother and my problem was solved. I did it the way my granny Lisa used to cook dumplings: on a cotton tea towel tightened with clothespins over a wide pot filled with simmering water – old-fashioned, cheap, and my Knödel were perfect. I could have steamed them one after the other to give them a pretty round shape, but I was impatient. I cooked all at once, up against each other, and broke their fluffiness apart when they were done. Warm, tender, and fragrant, you don’t want to eat anything else ever again.
Makes 4 large dumplings
For the dumplings
plain flour 270g / 2 cups plus 1 heaping tablespoon
granulated sugar 25g / 2 tablespoons
ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon, plus more for the plums
fast-acting yeast, scant 2 teaspoons
fine sea salt 1/4 teaspoon
milk, at room temperature, 120ml / 1/2 cup
butter, melted and cooled, 40g / 3 tablespoons
organic egg 1
preserved plums, cut in half, 2
For the topping
ground poppy seeds 2-3 tablespoons
For the vanilla custard
whole milk 500 ml / 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons
organic egg yolks 4
granulated sugar 100 g / 1/2 cup
cornstarch 30 g / 1/4 cup
fine sea salt 1/8 teaspoon
vanilla pod, split lengthwise, 1
To steam the dumplings, you need a large, wide pot (mine is 24cm / 9 1/2″ wide), a cotton or linen tea towel plus 4 clothespins to fix the towel, and a metal (or heat-resistant) bowl, large enough to cover the pot as a domed lid.
For the dumplings, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, yeast, and salt in a large bowl.
Whisk together the milk, butter, and the egg – the mixture should be lukewarm. Add to the dry mixture and mix with the dough hooks of an electric mixer for a few minutes or until well combined. Continue kneading with your hands for a few minutes until you have a soft and silky dough ball. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with a tea towel, and let rise in a warm place, or preferably in a 35°C / 100°F warm oven, for about 70 minutes or until doubled in size.
Punch the dough down, take it out of the bowl, and knead for about 30 seconds. Divide the dough into 4 equal portions and use your hands to form each one into a 10cm / 4″ disc. Lay 1 plum half in the middle of each dough disc and sprinkle with a little cinnamon. Fold the dough up and use your fingers to squeeze the dough together to close the dumplings and seal the plums tightly inside. Roll into balls with your hands and transfer the dumplings to a lightly floured baking dish or baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place for about 20 minutes until puffy.
While the dumplings are rising, fill about 1/3 of the pot with water and bring to the boil. Take the pot off the heat and lay a cotton or linen tea towel over the pot (mind the hot steam). Fix the towel with clothespins at the handles so that the towel can hang in the pot without touching the water. Lay the dumplings – 4 at once or in batches, if you want to have round shaped single dumplings – onto the towel, they shouldn’t touch the water. Cover with a tight fitting metal bowl (upside down) and transfer the pot back to the heat. Turn the heat down to a low simmer (medium to medium-low) and steam the dumplings for 20 minutes without lifting the top (!).
While the dumplings are cooking, make the custard: In a small bowl, whisk 4 tablespoons of the milk with the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt until well combined. In a medium saucepan, bring the remaining milk and the vanilla pod to the boil. Take the vanilla out and scrape the seeds from the pod into the milk. Whisking constantly, add the egg yolk mixture to the hot milk and bring to a boil. Take the saucepan off the heat; continue whisking for 2 minutes and set aside.
After 20 minutes take the pot off the heat and the top off the dumplings – mind the hot steam. Carefully transfer the towel with the dumplings to a table, wait for about 2 minutes then use a knife to peel the dumplings off the towel. If you cooked all of them at once, break them into 4 pieces. Serve immediately with the warm vanilla custard, sprinkled with poppy seeds.