I didn’t realise dumplings were going to turn into a series, but I can see it’s becoming one. And that said, it should have been obvious from the first.
For most people, there are only a couple of things that come to mind when you think of German food – sausages and sauerkraut. Bread and potatoes go almost without saying.
But there is clearly another – dumplings. Germans have all different kinds and they are all fantastic. The first I went through was a fairly standard potato dumpling recipe, one made with cooked, mashed potatoes. The better, harder recipe uses the raw vegetable.
Then a week ago I went through the bread-based bone marrow dumplings.
Today is probably my favourite of all – Semmelknödel, or bread dumplings. I do this using the only recipe I have ever known, which uses bread cubes. I have since seen a recipe (in what should be a respectable cookbook) that asks you to grate the bread, but I will never do that.
One of the great things about the bread dumplings is the texture, the slight chewiness, which is gone if the bread is grated.
And there is the extra flavour you get from frying the bread cubes in butter until they brown. That gives it a great colour, and introduces all those lovely buttery, fried flavours.
These are the things that make them great. Grating it would be easier, but it’s not worth the loss of flavour.
Note: While it doesn’t have to be, the best result is if you use bread that is stale and dry. This is traditionally made with bread rolls that are so dry they are almost impossible to cut. If that sounds odd, remember that stale bread tastes better toasted than fresh bread does.
This is one of the things I love about traditional cooking – the way something fantastic comes from a determination not to waste anything – even something like stale bread.
Semmelknödel, or bread dumplings
8 medium stale bread rolls or a loaf of stale white bread (any white bread will do – but sourdough adds flavour and texture). Cut the heavier crusts off.
Cut the bread into small cubes, about 1cm is good. Fry them in butter until they are a little brown.
Place them in a bowl with 1/3 to 1/2 litre of just-warm milk. The amount of milk you need will depend on the type of bread. If you are using a standard white bread, 1/3 of a litre will be plenty, but if you use a denser bread, like a sourdough, go for 1/2 litre. Let that stand for 1-1½ hours. there should be no milk separate in the bowl when the standing time is up.
Using your hands, shape the mix into balls. You may have to work the soaked bread quite hard.
Place them carefully into big pot of boiling, salted water and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes.
Verdict: rustic perfection.