Basics, Dumplings, Sides, Vegetarian

German Bread Dumplings (‘Semmelknödel’)

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Last Updated on 8 months by Tim

We Germans are a nation of gravy lovers. That’s especially true for the Southern parts. The people here love to have gravy with every dish.

And when I say gravy, I mean gravy. Not these super-far reduced French sauces which get served in tiny proportions. In Germany, there’s a lot of gravy on the table.

The gravy is most often the star of the dish so that the Germans came up with quite a few clever ways to soak up every last drop of it.

I’ve already introduced you to spätzle, pancakes, potato noodles, and potato pancakes. These ones are mostly found and beloved in the Swabia region of Germany.

Today, we’re going farther east. I’m going to teach you how to make Bavarian bread dumplings.

Bread dumplings are to Bavarians what spätzle are to Swabians. And as much as I love my spätzle, I got to admit that there’s no better side dish for roast meats and stews than these bread dumplings. They’re the perfect gravy sponge for soaking up all the savory meat juices.

The Building Blocks of German Cusine Series
This article is part of my basics series, which will introduce you to key ingredients and preparation methods. You can find all these articles in the ‘Basics’ category of this blog. Listed below are the articles that have yet been published in this series:

Use the right kind of bread

Originally these bread dumplings were a way to use up leftover bread rolls. As you might know, Germany has a huge bread culture and for most people up until today breakfast and dinner is ‘bread time’.

For breakfast, most people enjoy their bread rolls the sweet way topped with butter and jam. In the evening, it’s more common to eat them with savory toppings such as thinly sliced ham or cheese.

Of course, if you’re having two meals consisting of bread a day there will always be plenty of leftovers. Especially the white wheat bread rolls dry out very quickly. After 2-3 days they’re hard as a rock.

German-style bread rolls

Germany was not always a rich country. Especially the Bavarian region was very poor so absolutely nothing went to waste.

If you want to make my bread dumpling recipe the ‘super authentic’ way use white bread rolls that have been sitting around on your counter for a few days.

In case you don’t have any stale bread rolls lying around your house that’s no problem either. I use fresh bread rolls to make these dumplings most of the time.

The only difference between using stale and fresh bread rolls is the amount of milk the bread rolls are soaked in. Stale bread will soak up a lot more milk than fresh and moist bread rolls.

The seasonings that go into German bread dumplings

It’s important to stick to the resting times I suggest in my recipe and to use hot milk for soaking. You want your bread roll cubes to fully hydrate so they get soft and mushy.

The minced onions for the filling should always be sweated in butter before adding them to the bread roll cubes. You don’t want your bread dumplings to have a sharp oniony taste to them.

One of the mistakes many home cooks in Germany make is that they add too many eggs to the dumpling dough. This will result in a hard and doughy texture whereas a good bread dumpling should always be light and fluffy. The egg’s task is to bind the ingredients together so please stick to my recipe and don’t throw in any extra eggs that you might’ve lying around.

The dumpling batter

The dumpling dough should always only be lightly mixed by hand without applying too much force. The only time you are allowed to apply a little force is when forming the dumplings.

The two ways of forming bread dumplings

The dough will be quite sticky so keep a small bowl of water next to your working surface when forming them. Lightly wet your hands and roll the dumplings between the palm of your hands to form a ball.

The size of your dumplings is completely up to you. Some people prefer bigger bread dumplings which are roughly the size of a tennis ball. Others, myself included, prefer smaller dumplings which are about the size of a golf ball.

While rolling the dumplings, make sure that the surface area of the dumpling is completely smooth without any holes. If water leaks inside your dumplings while cooking they will swell and turn out watery. They might even fall apart.

Another foolproof method of forming your dumplings is to make one big dumpling that gets wrapped in foil. That way there’s no risk that it might fall apart during poaching. This method is often used by restaurants as it is easier to prepare a large batch of bread dumplings that way.

Loose bread dumpling

You simply spread all your dumpling batter onside a sheet of plastic wrap. Roll the dough into a big sausage and seal the edges tightly. Then cover with a second sheet of aluminum foil and seal tightly again.

Bread dumpling wrapped in foil

These big bread dumplings are called ‘Serviettenknödel’ which literally translates to kitchen towel dumpling. That’s because in the old days’ kitchen towel was used to wrap up the dumpling. You can still make them the traditional way, however, using plastic wrap and aluminum foil will yield better results.

The two reasons your dumplings might fall apart

There are two main reasons why bread dumplings might fall apart while cooking.

It might be that your dough consistency is too watery. It’s totally normal for the dough to be sticky. The best way to check the consistency is to cook one test dumpling ahead of all the other ones. If it falls apart while poaching, add a tablespoon of all-purpose flour or breadcrumbs to your dumpling dough. Cook another test dumpling and keep adding flour or breadcrumbs until the test dumpling doesn’t fall apart anymore.

The other reason is that your poaching liquid is heavily boiling instead of lightly simmering. Please keep an eye on it. You want to gently poach these dumplings and not boil them until they fall apart.

This is especially important if you’re making one big dumpling roll. It’s best to let the water come to a light simmer, then add in your wrapped dumpling and turn off the heat. Cover the pot with a lid and let the dumpling roll gently steep for 30 minutes.

How I season my poaching liquid

The seasonings I put into my poaching liquid are completely optional but highly recommended. Especially the lovage. I know that it might be hard for you to source lovage but it adds a wonderful scent to these bread dumplings.

Onion stud with a clove and bay leaf

If you’re making one big dumpling roll rather than individual balls you don’t need to season your poaching liquid as the sealed dumpling cannot soak up any flavorings from the poaching liquid.

The bread dumpling balls will first fall to the bottom of the pot and then slowly float to the surface after a few minutes of cooking time. It’s best to leave them in the poaching liquid for about 15-20 minutes. The dumpling roll is best poached for about 30 minutes. Once done, make sure to let it rest inside the foil for 10 minutes before slicing it.

How to tell if your dumpling batter needs some more milk

In case the dumplings don’t sink to the bottom at first, relax. They will still come out fine even if they float on the surface all the time. However, this is an indication that you can add more milk to your dumpling batter and that you might want to shape the dumplings a little bit tighter to have fewer air bubbles.

It’s very hard for me to give an exact quantity for the amount of milk you should use in your dumpling batter. The water content in bread varies immensely depending on the variety of bread and how long it has been sitting around on your counter. Once you have some experience with making bread dumplings you will be able to judge the amount of milk the dough needs by eyesight and feel.

In case your other dishes aren’t ready when your bread dumplings are, you can also leave them to steep a little longer in the hot water to keep them warm. Or you simply take them out and reheat them in the hot poaching liquid shortly before serving.

Serve these bread dumplings with anything saucy like stews or roasts.

6 Comments

  1. These looks soooo good. And I’ve never in my life liked dumplings. I’ve always had sad, bland, heavy doughy dumplings (blech). These look flavorful! My husband loves dumplings so I may need to give these a try. Do you think they’d work OK with a whole wheat roll? I’m supposed to stick with whole wheat breads.

    • Yes, whole wheat bread would work but it makes the dumplings a bit more dense and they will taste ‘healthier’. Kind of like whole wheat noodles. Besides white bread rolls people like to make them with pretzels as well although they aren’t made of whole wheat flour. It’s best to chose an airy and mild whole wheat bread because the main flavor of the dumplings comes from the parsley, onions, and nutmeg.

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