A Typical Austrian Dish
Guests from abroad always enjoy typical Austrian dishes. One of my favourites to serve are Marillenknödel, which are dumplings filled with apricots. Marillenknödel are not merely food, but they represent social, cultural, historical and geographical aspects of Austria.
The expression Marillenknödel is linguistically interesting insofar as the term Marille is only known in Austria. All other German speaking countries use the expression Aprikose instead. Having overcome these first comprehension problems, most guests are quite surprised as they would usually expect dumplings to be served as a savoury dish, together with roast pork and Sauerkraut, but not as a dessert.
As to the cultural background of the Marillenknödel, I must briefly refer to Austrian history: In the imperial era Bohemia, which today belongs to the Czech Republic, was part of Austria. Since it was a poor country, many of its inhabitants went to Vienna to find work. Bohemian food was very much appreciated so that women easily found employment as cooks. Sweet dishes such as Guglhupf, Germknödel, Topfenstrudel, Powidltascherln and, of course, Marillenknödel belonged to their most famous specialities. Although originally food of the poor, Bohemian dishes very soon became an indispensable part of the Austrian cuisine and even kings are said to have loved them.
Apricots are very delicate fruits which need a mild climate. In Austria the beautiful Wachau, a romantic valley along the river Danube where outstanding wine is cultivated, provides ideal conditions for their growth. In spring, which is the blossoming season of apricot trees, the valley turns white with its flowers and in July there are various festivals throughout the region celebrating the harvest of apricots. One of the most delightful events is the Marillenkirtag in Spitz, which offers all kinds of apricot products, from Mariandl Marillenschnaps to Marillenmarmelade. Its undisputed highlight is a Marillenknödelautomat, a small wooden hut where Marillenknödel are sold. The customer buys a chip, which when thrown into a slot opens a drawer containing a wonderful Marillenknödel. Of course, there are “human cooks” inside the “machine” who prepare and serve the dumpling.
How to prepare Marillenknödel
- 10 small apricots
- 10 cubes of sugar
- 1 cup of curd cheese
- 1 large egg
- at least 5 tablespoons of flour
- 3 - 4 tablespoons of semolina
- 5 tablespoons of butter (or more if needed)
- 5 tablespoons of sugar
- 2 cups of breadcrumbs
- powdered sugar
- Mix the quark with the egg in a wide bowl and add three or four tablespoons of semolina and a pinch of salt. Wait for about 20 minutes to allow the semolina to soak. Then add as much flour as is necessary to make the dough smooth. In order to form fine dumplings later on, it is very important that the dough is not sticky. Again wait for about 10 minutes.
- In the meantime cut the apricots into two halves. Remove the pips and replace them with a sugar cube. Then put the halves of the apricots together again.
- Pour water and some salt into a big pot and bring it to a boil.
- Now form the dumplings: divide the dough into ten equal pieces, which you mould into flat, round disks. Flouring your hands will prevent the dough from sticking onto them. #Now wrap each apricot with one disk of dough. Then roll the dumpling between your hands. Make sure that there are no holes in the dough and that the dough sticks to the apricots. Try to form evenly round dumplings. Don’t worry if this does not work out perfectly the first time you prepare dumplings. The breadcrumbs and the sugar, which the dumplings will be covered with later on, will conceal any irregularities.
- Now, carefully put the dumplings into the boiling water. The water usually ceases to boil for a short while after the dumplings have been placed into the pot. Wait until it boils again and then reduce heat. Let the dumplings boil slowly until they start rising to the surface of the water. Now cover the pot and wait for about another 4 minutes. The dumplings will gain size during this period.
- In the meantime heat butter in a pan, add breadcrumbs with sugar and a bit of ground cinnamon. Fry the breadcrumbs until they turn light brown. Then roll the dumplings in the breadcrumbs until they are covered all over.
- Serve the Marillenknödel together with the remaining breadcrumbs and coat them with much powdered sugar.