A Lesson in Making Do and Making Spaetzle

Just for a moment, I’m going to try to think of a food more German than Spaetzle.

Spaetzle

I didn’t come up with anything.

(If you can think of anything more distinctly German, leave a comment! But for now, I’ll move on.)

What sets Spaetzle apart in my mind is the difficulty of explaining what it is. (It means “little sparrow,” and you say it “SHPAY-tsul.”) You can compare it to more familiar foods—noodles, dumplings… but it’s not. It’s Spaetzle.

Spaetzle

That’s the Käsespaetzle I ate in Munich.

Think macaroni and cheese, but several steps up the classy ladder. Big steps.

Like macaroni elevated into something you can eat in a place like this.

Herrenchiemsee

If I make Spaetzle, it’s a side dish. (I served this batch to a family of six and had leftovers) But dishes like Käsespaetzle are also popular as entrees in Germany.

Empty Spaetzle Plate

And they are good.

Anyway, because Spaetzle is such a traditional, iconic dish, making it from scratch feels incredibly legit. And somehow, managing to create those distinct, irregular shapes is almost thrilling.

The traditional way to make Spaetzle is by scooting little pieces of batter off a wooden board into boiling water.

Serious Spaetzle-makers often use a special press, though, and others recommend pushing the batter through the holes of a colander.

This was my starting place, but my colander’s holes were far too small.

So my first attempt was with a cheese grater.

Cheese Grater

It was terrible.

I gave up after making only a few little Spaetzle-blobs. And I started looking around the kitchen for something else with lots of holes.

When my five pitiful little specimens finished cooking, I fished them out of the pot—and found my perfect solution!

Giant Slotted Spoon

It’s a slotted spoon, about the size of my hand when I stretch out my fingers. I had only ever used it to flip bagels, so this discovery raised it to a much more secure position as far as dispensability—it was perfect!

So, my recommendation is that you rummage around in your kitchen and find whatever you’ve got with medium-sized holes. You might be able to stick a pencil through, but you shouldn’t be able to fit your finger.

Here’s a basic recipe to work from. (Look here for vegan or gluten free recipes)

Spaetzle

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 C (120 g) flour (I used white whole wheat)
  • 1/8 C (30 mL) milk

Mix ingredients together. If you can make the batter ahead of time, cover and refrigerate before you cook it.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.

Also, prepare a bowl of ice-cold water and keep it close to your stovetop.

When you’ve done this—and when you feel mentally prepared—spoon part of the batter into your holey object.

Spaetzle Batter in Spoon

I used a spatula to squish the batter through the holes. (The same approach would work well for a colander.)

Press Batter through with Spatula

Just scrape the batter around in a circle until it all passes through.

Then let the Spaetzle cook in the hot water.

Cooking Spaetzle

This doesn’t take long at all. In only a couple minutes, they rise to the surface, and you can scoop them out.

Removing Spaetzle

Note: If you use the same spoon to remove the Spaetzle from the pot as you do for shaping them (like I did), make sure you wash it before sticking it in the hot water. If you have batter left in the holes, it will cook almost immediately, and you won’t be able to force more batter through.

When you remove the Spaetzle from the pot, dump them in the cold water.

Cool Spaetzle

Continue cooking the remainder of your batter.

Then drain the cooled Spaetzle.

Draining Spaetzle

Grab a skillet and warm the Spaetzle up again, with some herbs and a bit of olive oil.

Spaetzle

There it is – a nice pile of perfect, wobbly little bits of Spaetzle!

If you want to go beyond the basic recipe, try making Käsespaetzle. Or find a recipe that twists the traditional into something new. I spotted these recipes for Chocolate or Red Pepper Spaetzle, but the idea I really want to experiment with is Squash Spaetzle!

If you make more than you can eat, don’t worry—Spaetzle makes great leftovers, too. I packed this very German lunch for my Dad to warm up later, complete with leftover Ungarisches Gulasch and Salzkartoffeln.

Spaetzle Leftovers

If you’re unfamiliar with German cooking, Spaetzle is a great place to start exploring. And if you have experienced German culture, it’s a great way to enjoy those memories!

Stammtisch

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