Episode 3, GBBO 2016, technical challenge


Q: How many Dampfnudeln (That’s the proper German plural form of Dampfnudel, and yes, it should be capitalized.) does it take to feed a Swedish army? 

A: 1,286

That’s how the story goes, anyway, about a baker named Johanes Muck, who saved his town of Freckenfeld, in the Palatinate region of Germany, during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) by making 1,286 Dampfnudeln (with wine sauce!) to feed an invading cavalry squadron (okay, not exactly a whole army) that threatened to sack the town if they couldn’t get a decent meal.

In Johanes’ honor, his grandson erected an arch, called Dampfnudeltor — adorned with 1,286 cobblestone-like bumps representing Dampfnudeln — which still stands today, and the tiny village of Freckenfeld holds an annual Dampfnudelfest to celebrate his ingenuity.

But of course, those of you who got to watch The Great British Bake Off in its original format on BBC already knew that, thanks to the educational parts of the show where Mel or Sue travels to the region where each of the bakes originates to find out how they were developed. Somehow, those scenes were lost at sea when the show sailed the Atlantic and landed on various streaming services in the U.S.

And if you haven’t seen that episode at all, which Howard Middleton describes so vividly in this piece, you might be wondering: What is a Dampfnudel?!?

Dampfnudel, literally translated steam noodle, is really more like a dumpling than a noodle. It is steamed in a mixture of milk and melted butter (or, in some regions of Germany, butter and salt water) until the yeasted dough is cooked through and the liquid evaporates, leaving a thin, caramelized crust on the bottom of an otherwise smooth, white bun. Some are sweet, often filled with fruit or served with pouring custard or fruit sauce. Others are savory, served in soups or covered with goulash, sauerkraut, or vegetables and gravy.

For this technical challenge, Paul Hollywood provided the bakers in the Great White Tent with a pared-down version of his recipe for Dampfnudel with two sauces, a plum sauce and a vanilla crème anglaise. While Johanes Muck may have used only flour, water, yeast and salt to make his famous Dampfnudeln, Paul’s recipe makes an enriched dough with flour, sugar, yeast, milk, eggs and butter, as well as a bit of lemon zest for flavor.

Making the dough is fairly straightforward. If you’re not under the same time constraints as the GBBO contestants, allow one to two hours for the first proof. (It took two hours for my dough to double in size.) After the dough has risen once, you simply knock the air out, divide it into 12 pieces and form them into little balls. 

To make the poaching liquid, heat milk, butter and sugar in a large frying pan with a lid until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and place the dough balls in the liquid, making sure they have room to grow. Let them sit in the warm liquid for 15 minutes before covering them and placing the pan back on the heat, leaving the dumplings to cook for 25-30 minutes. It helps to have a glass lid so you can keep an eye on them without lifting the lid, which could cause the dumplings to deflate. 

Once they are fully cooked (They should feel firm to the touch and reach an internal temperature of 190°F.), you can remove the lid and let the remaining liquid evaporate. When the gentle bubbling sound of the liquid turns to more of a sizzle, you know they are starting to brown on the bottom. This is where you have to be careful not to let them burn. When the bottom of the dumplings are golden-brown and caramelized, remove the pan from the heat.

For the sauce, I was fortunate to find plums in March in the still-frigid Midwest. Having traveled all the way from Chile, they were a bit bruised, but still tasted sweet and plum-y. After chopping them and adding some turbinado sugar and fresh orange juice (I used a blood orange to give the yellow plums a rosier color.), I cooked them down, mashing the plums as they simmered. Once they were soft and jammy, I removed them from the heat, blended them with an immersion blender and ran them through a sieve to make a smooth sauce. 

Crème anglaise is basically a thin pouring custard. To make it, whisk egg yolks with a little flour, sugar and vanilla. Warm a mixture of milk and cream on the stove, and gradually add the warm milk to the egg yolks to temper them. Then pour the whole thing back into the pan and stir it continuously over very low heat until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. 

The Dampfnudeln are best served while they are still warm. I sprinkled mine with a little freshly grated nutmeg, then topped it generously with plum sauce, pouring the crème anglaise into the bottom of the bowl so the warm dumpling could soak up its creamy goodness. 

These steamed sweet rolls are just what comfort food should taste like — soft and warm, not too sweet, but very filling. They go down a treat on a cold, early spring day.

You can find Paul’s original recipe here, but I have adapted it for American bakers below.

Paul Hollywood’s Dampfnudeln

Credit: BBC.co.uk
(Adapted for American bakers)

For the dumplings:

  • 3 2/3 c. bread flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1/3 c. + 2 T. superfine (baker’s) sugar
  • 2 t. fast-action or instant yeast
  • 5 fl. oz. (5/8 c.) whole milk, warmed
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 5 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • Zest of 1 lemon

    For the plum sauce:

    • 4 ripe plums, pitted and roughly chopped
    • Juice of 1 medium orange
    • 3½ T. demerara sugar (I used turbinado.)
    • 1 pinch ground cinnamon

    For the pouring custard:

    • 5 fl. oz. (5/8 c.) whole milk
    • 5 fl. oz. (5/8 c.) heavy whipping cream
    • 3 large egg yolks
    • ½ t. vanilla bean paste
    • 2 t. all-purpose flour
    • 3½ T. superfine (baker’s) sugar

    For the poaching liquid:

    • 2 T. unsalted butter
    • 5 fl. oz. (5/8 c.) whole milk
    • 2 T. + 2 t. superfine (baker’s) sugar


    1. To make the Dampfnudeln, first put the flour into a large mixing bowl, then add the sugar to one side of the bowl and yeast to the other. Add milk, eggs and butter, and stir the mixture with your fingers until you have a rough dough and have picked up all the flour from the sides of the bowl.
    2. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 to 10 minutes. Work through the initial wet stage until the dough starts to form a soft, smooth skin. Scatter the lemon zest on top of the dough and knead until evenly incorporated. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a clean dish towel, and let rise until doubled in size, at least one hour.
    3. Meanwhile, make the plum sauce: Put the plums and orange juice into a large saucepan. Sprinkle with the sugar and cook over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil for 10 minutes, squashing the plums against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat and stir in the cinnamon. Leave to cool slightly, then blend to a thick sauce. If desired, pour through a sieve for a smoother sauce. Set aside.
    4. To make the pouring custard, whisk the egg yolks, vanilla paste, flour and sugar together in a large bowl until pale and fluffy. In a heavy-based saucepan, heat the milk and cream over medium heat until it is just below the boiling point (between 200°F and 210°F), then remove from heat.
    5. Gradually pour the warmed milk over the egg yolk mixture, whisking continuously. Then pour the mixture back into the pan and cook over a very low heat for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring continuously until custard is smooth and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and set aside. Cover the surface of the sauce with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming.
    6. When the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Fold it in on itself repeatedly until all the air is knocked out of it. Then divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each into a ball.
    7. To make the poaching liquid, heat the butter, milk and sugar in a large sauté pan with a tight-fitting lid (preferably glass) over medium heat for 5 minutes or until the sugar dissolves. Remove pan from heat and, taking care not to burn yourself, place the dough balls in the poaching liquid, making sure they are all are sitting on the base of pan with room to rise. Let stand, uncovered, for 15 minutes until doubled in size.
    8. Return pan to stove and cook over a low heat, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes. Do not lift the lid for the first 20 minutes or so, or they will deflate. Toward the end of the cooking time, lift the lid just enough to check on them, and add a little milk if the liquid runs dry too soon. (If they rise so much that they are pressing against the lid, you can remove the lid toward the end and tent them with a piece of greased aluminum foil for the remainder of the cooking time.)
    9. When fully cooked, the Dampnudeln should feel firm to the touch and reach an internal temperature of 190°F. (You can check it by sticking an instant-read thermometer into the center.) Remove the lid and let the remaining liquid evaporate; this should take about 5 to 10 minutes. When the gentle bubbling sound of the liquid turns to more of a sizzle, you’ll know they are starting to brown on the bottom. (Be careful not to let them burn!) Use an offset spatula to lift one up enough to see if it is browned. When the bottom of the dumplings are golden-brown and caramelized, remove pan from the heat.
    10. Meanwhile, gently reheat the plum sauce and pouring custard. After removing the Dampfnudeln from the heat, carefully lift them from the pan. Serve immediately with the warm sauces. Any leftover dumplings can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. To serve, reheat individually with the sauces in the microwave for 30 seconds.

    Up next: Yorkshire Puddings

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