Dampfnudel is a traditional dish that likely originated in the southern part of Germany. It soon spread to France and other surrounding countries, where it remains popular to this day. The first written record of this dish can be found in a German cookbook from the early 19th century. Dampfnudel can be described as a noodle or bread, and is often considered a combination of the two, depending on how and where it is made. It can serve as both main dish or dessert, and may be sweet or savory, depending on the recipe.
Most dampfnudel recipes consist of yeast, flour, sugar, and water. Some may also include milk and butter, which adds a richness to the dish. Once these ingredients are mixed together, they are formed into tight balls of dough and placed close together in an iron pan. The pan is covered with a lid and placed in the oven to cook. The lid is required to create the soft, noodle-like texture associated with this dish.
Traditionally, cooks steam dampfnudel dough as it bakes. In Bavarian regions, cooks add a small amount of milk and melted butter to the pan before cooking. In Germany's Rhineland region, this milk and butter is replaced with salt and water, or salted water mixed with melted fat. As the dough cooks, the liquid steams the noodles. By the time the dish is done, all the liquid will have evaporated from the dish.
When they are done, the dampfnudel typically have a brown, caramelized bottom and sides. The center and top of the dough remains soft and fluffy, and retains a light coloring. A typical diner will consume one to two dampfnudel as a main dish, or a single unit as a dessert.
Depending on whether the dish is served as a meal or a dessert, dampfnudel may have a sweet flavor. As a main dish, this dough is typically served with vegetables or sauerkraut. It can also be used as side to dip in stews or soup, and may even be steamed in chicken broth when served in this manner. Some chefs may even fill or stuff the dampfnudel.
As a dessert, this dish is typically topped with a sweet vanilla sauce, or served with a rich custard. It can also be eaten with stewed fruit. Often, an unsweetened dampfnudel is used to complement a much sweeter sauce or custard.