There are certain foods that are staples in every culture. In Germany, those foods include strudel, semmeln (the rolls Heidi wanted to bring back to the mountains), and potato dumplings, also known as kartoffelknoedel. These dumplings are served with roast goose and pork and they're simply expected in German cooking. My mother remembers making them as a child by grating raw potatoes and squeezing out the liquid in cheesecloth -- a lot of messy work. So I've been looking around for a recipe that isn't a pain to make. After all, we have all sorts of gadgets now that make life easier, right? So I started studying recipes. It stands to reason that there are a lot of ways to make just about anything, and that there will always be regional differences, but I didn't expect to find so many variations! Raw potatoes, potatoes cooked with the peel, cooked without the peel, made with cornstarch, or flour, or potato starch, or nutmeg.
Then, as it happened, my mom watched a popular TV cook make potato cakes. I found the recipe and it seemed very close to potato dumplings, except fried. What a nightmare! I laughed all the way through that recipe. Oof! There had to be an easier way to deal with potatoes. So here's a recipe that I like. The great news is that while there are quite a few steps, some of them can be done in advance! Yay! I'm all for anything I can do ahead of time.
German Potato Dumplings (Kartoffelknoedel)
1 1/2 pound russet potatoes
1/2 cup flour, plus extra for hands
1/8 cup cornstarch
1. Cook the potatoes in salted water with the peel on. Cool. At this point you can refrigerate them overnight if you feel like it.
2. Peel and mash the cold potatoes. Don't add anything like milk or butter. I tried ricing them and I tried mashing them with my KitchenAid mixer. Frankly, while the mixer left some lumps, they weren't noticeable when cooked, and I liked the texture better than when I riced the potatoes. Besides, it's a lot less work than ricing.
3. This is crucial. The potatoes must be refrigerated after they are mashed. Leave them in the fridge at least an hour, or go off to lunch with a friend and deal with the potatoes later.
4. Add the flour, cornstarch and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt to the potatoes and work in by hand. Add the egg and work that in by hand, too. Add more flour if you feel it's necessary.
5. Another crucial step. After all that hand blending, you'll notice that the mixture sticks to your hands and there's no way you could shape them into anything resembling balls. This is where the TV guru went wrong with those patties! Wash your hands and set out a baking sheet with flour on it. Dip your hands into the flour before handling the potato mixture. It's like magic. Just keep dipping your hands into the flour when they feel sticky, and roll the mixture into balls about 2 inches in diameter. Set each finished ball aside. If you want, you can cook them immediately, or you can refrigerate them until you're ready to cook them.
6. To cook, fill a large pot with water and add a couple teaspoons of salt. Bring to a very slow simmer. If the water is boiling too fast, the potato balls will fall apart. Ladle the dumplings into the water slowly. Don't crowd them. It's far better to cook them in batches. Cook about 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove with a ladle and serve hot.
All lovers of German Potato Dumplings can tell you that while they're great fresh, they're even better the next day when sliced and fried. Especially if you have leftover rendered fat from the Christmas goose in which to cook them!