30 January 2010

Semmelknödel. Bavarian bread dumplings.

When I was 12 years old, my family moved to Bavaria. Before that I only knew Semmelknödel as a side for special occasions, eg the roast turkey on Christmas. But it was the pre-packaged stuff that came in individual plastic bubbles and that only tasted good when you spooned a LOT of gravy on top. But in Bavaria, those bread dumplings are served with almost any kind of roast that comes with a dark sauce. Most commonly: roast pork with dark stout sauce. And the vegetarian version: with mushroom sauce - more on that next week. Other great combinations are pot roast and goulash (that's my favorite combination). After a while, my mom got to know some people better and one lady showed her how simple those bread dumplings are.

This is the best part: When you have leftover dumplings, cut them into thin slices and fry them in butter until they are brown and crusty on both sides. Serve either with herb butter, sour cream or - according to my husband - ketchup. That's why I never half the recipe although we're only 2 eaters.

Side for 4 persons

10 day-old rolls or 1 pound stale white bread/soft pretzels, finely sliced
1 small onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon butter
250-500 ml / 1-2 cups hot milk
3 eggs
salt and pepper
fresh parsley

In Bavaria, you can buy packages of so-called "Knödelbrot", ie finely sliced and a bit dry rolls, with the recipe printed on the foil. In my opinion, that somehow contradicts the spirit of using leftovers, so I collect white bread, cut it into 3 mm thick slices and freeze them in a big ziploc-bag. Everything goes in there: French baguette, regular rolls, those toast ends that nobody likes, pretzels with the salt scraped off.

When you're ready to make the dumplings, pour them into the biggest bowl you have.

While the bread slices thaw, very finely chop an onion and let it sauté with the butter for a couple minutes. You want them soft, but not brown.You can use a pan on the stovetop or zap them in the microwave. Just fill the onions into a glass bowl, put the butter on top and close with a lid or a little plate. Let it run for 2-3 minutes and be careful not to burn your fingers.

Also, bring the milk to nearly a boil. 

Now is the time to bring it all together. Crack the eggs open, put the onions on top and season with parsley, salt and pepper. Then slowly drizzle the hot milk onto the bread, making sure that every bread bit gets its share of milk. Leave it alone for at least 20 minutes.

How do you know how much milk to take? That depends totally on how dry the bread is. If it is still flexible, 1 cup may be enough, but if the bread slices snap and break, you'll need much more milk to soften them.

Here's the fun part: Mash it all down with your hands. I wouldn't know what you should do if you don't like to get your hands dirty, but you will have a hard time rolling the dumplings later on. So, don't think about it and plunge right in.

Mash the bread until you have a somewhat homogeneous mass, but there's no need to overwork. It's absolutely OK if there are some big dry chunks left.

To roll the dumplings, first wet your hands, then scoop out a handful of the mass. Press it together to squeeze out a bit of air and then roll it into a ball, making sure that the surface has no holes. Holes are bad. Holes let the water in, making them all soggy.
Wash and moisten your hands after every dumpling, or your fingers will be terribly sticky and looking fuzzy.You should get around 8 dumplings out of this amount of bread.

Fill your biggest pot 3/4 full with water and an heavy pinch of salt and bring it to a boil. Then turn down the heat to medium. Carefully place the dumplings into the water, examining every one and re-rolling it. Let them simmer for 20 minutes with the lid half on. Fish them out with a slotted spoon and place them in a warmed serving dish.

Serve with your favorite stew or sauce. Or let them cool and fry them with some knobs of butter. Either way: simple and delicious.


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