Our wistful longing for Oktoberfest is largely built around our anticipation of the meals and drinks that are served there. Munich chef Sven Christ shows us how to make Oktoberfest specialities in a normal kitchen using ingredients that are easy to come by – such as Dampfnudel.
It’s well-known that Bavarians like their main courses to be hearty – and they also enjoy the same in a sweet main course. We say main course, because dishes such as Rohrnudeln (sweet yeast dough rolls), Apfelmaultaschen (pasta dough filled with apple) and assorted Schmarren (shredded pancakes) are so lavish that they cannot merely be described as desserts or sweets. The ingredients, as you would expect, are classic Bavarian farm produce: flour, milk, fruit, eggs.
There was always plenty of those available here; for celebrations the vanilla pod – a precious imported item from the speciality store – would be taken out of its box too. Right now you can get some sense of how expensive a commodity vanilla was in the past, as the little glass jars that would have contained two pods five years ago now only have one – and at the same price.
When I finally learned to make this sauce myself, I vowed never to open a packet of instant mix ever again, not even out of laziness – the difference between packet and home-made is like day and night, black and white, BMW and Honda Civic.
After saffron, vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world, but that’s no reason to avoid using it for an authentic, custard-like vanilla sauce. When I finally learned to make this sauce myself, I vowed never to open a packet of instant mix ever again, not even out of laziness – the difference between packet and home-made is like day and night, black and white, BMW and Honda Civic. There are only a few steps needed to make it, and every single one is worth taking trouble over.
It is the yolk that makes vanilla sauce so yellow, not the vanilla pod – this revelation will surely convince you to give it a go: instead of feasting on thickener and food colouring, use strongly coloured yolk and add some vanilla... and if the thought of that is not persuasive on its own, all you need to do is taste it.
Our Oktoberfest sweet dish of choice is the Dampfnudel (a sweet, steamed bun served with vanilla sauce), just like you used to have in the coffee tent with your granny, alongside a mug of coffee with whipped cream. Your uncle would have a wheat beer with it: after all, beer and desserts are obviously a perfect combination in Bavaria, since the desserts are so hearty that they can line your stomach just as well as chicken, pork knuckle and skewered fish.
As children, we used to share the Dampfnudeln because they were as big as our heads, and because our parents were anxious to mitigate the effects of yeast – not to mention the lemonade and many other treats we enjoyed – on our tender young tummies.
Other than Oktoberfest, the only time we would have Dampfnudeln was when we went to visit granny or other elderly relatives in aprons; the dish was considered rather old-fashioned, and people didn’t want to eat such rich foods any more. I can remember a single occasion when my mother made some – my granddad must have come to eat with us, and not only invited himself, but also dictated exactly what he wanted to eat.
That day, he really fancied some Dampfnudeln. Another time I remember him coming by with a pushcart that carried a dead deer; it was so early that we hadn’t even left for school yet, and here he was with a deer, declaring that he would like venison ragout for lunch – and that’s what we had, with bread dumplings and cranberries.
The Dampfnudel, a close relative of the Bohemian dumpling, is a sweet bun made from a yeasted dough, which is cooked solely using steam. You can fill it, preferably with Zwetschgenröster (stewed plums), poppy seed or a berry compote, but the most important part – as I mentioned already – is the vanilla sauce. Serving Dampfnudel without it is simply is not an option. Don’t skimp on it: you need a ladleful per plate.
I can remember a single occasion when my mother made some – my granddad must have come to eat with us, and not only invited himself, but also dictated exactly what he wanted to eat.
If you want to go completely crazy, you can lightly caramelise some breadcrumbs in butter and sprinkle just a small spoonful on top. It’s these kinds of refinements that make Bavarian cuisine so lovely and awaken the child in me.
It is such a shame that Bavarian desserts have been denigrated to become Alpine hunting lodge fare and are seeing out their days in these places as mere snacks – yes, completely unfair! These dishes warm us in summer, autumn and winter, and it is frankly an injustice for them to be overlooked for frozen Apfelstrudel and Kaiserschmarren (shredded pancakes with raisins). Our traditional meals reflect our seasons. And we spend more time working from home than in the workshop, forests and fields these days, meaning we don’t burn as many calories as we used to – instead we can simply eat smaller portions and invite friends to share with us. Save the Dampfnudel!