I tasted food such as I never dreamed

I tasted food such as I never dreamed

My single trip to Europe is far in the past but still vivid in memory. In Germany and the Austrian alps, I tasted food and beer such as I never dreamed, and it was a revelation.

As I’ve written here before, the chase to duplicate those flavors came up largely short, as ingredients here just aren’t the same. The exception is 21st-century beer; with so many breweries all over the country, real beer in America can stand up to anything abroad.

In the aftermath of my trip, the beer scenario was as bleak as it ever was following prohibition and the shuttering of local, careful brewers.

A couple of cookbooks in my collection offer up some really great, authentic German recipes, so much so the measurements are vague or, just as confusing for me, metric.

Two are in English, one in German. I’ve made dishes from the former several times with acceptable results, but unless you are able to source beef or pork that has been fed on whatever grows on the hillside farms of Bavaria, acceptable is as good as it gets.

One thing I have continued to try to get right over the years is potato dumplings. They should be simple enough to make as they’re mashed potatoes and binders rolled into balls and simmered, but getting them right is not easy. It has just been this year that I’ve been able to come up with something that meets the satisfactory bar.

My mistakes in experimenting have distilled to two main faults: too much bread crumbs in the mixture and water at a too rapid boil. Finding the right things to mash into the potatoes is a key trick.

The dumplings get a nifty prize in the middle in the form of a cube of bread fried in melted butter until browned and crisp. It’s added flavor of course, but as the center of the dumpling is an already cooked piece of absorbent bread, the dumplings don’t need much cooking time, which keeps them from falling apart in the liquid.

One of the variants I have, from the cookbooks based on the menu at Luchow’s famous German restaurant, which occupied New York City’s theater district for more than 100 years, adds a variant of grated onion and minced parsley. It also omits any kind of flour, bread crumb or starch binder.

The same is so in my copy of German Traditional Cooking from 1982. No crumbs or starches, but it does include nutmeg, a must.

Use a potato ricer or plain masher, but I do not recommend using a food processor or stand mixer as the potatoes tend to get way too gummy.

These are starchy and filling. You will probably want just two dumplings, a bit larger than a golf ball, per person. This recipe should yield about 10-12. You may have to try this a couple of times to get it right, adjusting ingredients as necessary.


2 1/2 pounds medium-sized potatoes, russet is fine
2 slices plain white bread, crusts removed, in 3/4-inch cubes
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup potato starch or cornstarch
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon plain breadcrumbs
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
A large pot of boiling, salted water or broth

Boil the potatoes until tender, about 30 minutes, then drain and allow to cool in the pot, covered.

Meanwhile, fry the bread cubes in the butter, turning carefully, until crisp. Allow to cool and set aside.

Peel the cooled potatoes and mash roughly. Add the starch, flour, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, salt and eggs. Mix up thoroughly using your hands until well combined. Add a little flour if unworkably wet or a tiny bit of water if too dry. The mix will be very sticky. Refrigerate for an hour, or overnight, until chilled.

Bring several quarts of water or stock to a low simmer. Using wet or floured hands, form the mixture into balls. Press a bread cube into the center of each, then reform the potatoes around them into balls again. Once all are ready, lower the dumplings in batches into the hot liquid with a spoon. Cook gently, uncovered, for 15 minutes, then drain individually with a slotted spoon and serve.

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