Culinary Arts

What Is Spätzle (Spaetzle) and How to Cook the Perfect German Noodles

Written by the MasterClass staff

Apr 5, 2019 • 4 min read

With just three ingredients, the hardest part of making spätzle is forming the noodles, which are short and irregularly shaped. All the hard work pays off when it comes time to serving and the crinkly noodles become the perfect vehicle for gripping sauces and gravies.

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What Is Spätzle (Spaetzle)?

Spätzle is a German egg noodle pasta with a chewy, dumpling-like texture. The short noodles are usually irregularly shaped and made from a simple batter of eggs mixed with flour (all-purpose or semolina) and milk or water. Its name derives from the word spatz (“little sparrows”) but is also thought to mean “clump” in German.It’s known as spätzli in Switzerland and nokedli in Hungary. The short noodles are traditionally made by hand and can take many shapes, such as the smaller knöpfle (“little buttons”).

Spätzle come from Swabia, a historical European region of southwestern Germany that includes the present-day regions of southern Baden-Württemberg, southwestern Bavaria, and eastern Switzerland and Alsace, France. Spätzle is also eaten in Austria, Hungary, and Trentino–Alto Adige, Italy, where spätzle under many different names provide a starchy base for different regional braises and gravies.

5 Ways to Serve Spätzle

  • The classic German noodles recipe calls for sautéeing boiled spätzle in melted butter until golden, then garnishing with fresh herbs such as parsley, dill, or chives. Peas, caramelized onions or shallots, cheese, breadcrumbs, and bacon are all typical additions.
  • In Hungary, spätzle is served as a side dish to accompany national favorites such as goulash and chicken paprikash.
  • Spätzle is perfect for soaking up the liquids of a braise, such as Chef Thomas Keller’s Perfect Red Wine Braised Short Ribs.
  • Try using spätzle as the base for a casserole, like käsespätzle, a German take on macaroni and cheese topped with fried onions.
  • Sub spätzle for egg noodles in dishes like beef stroganoff or ragù.

How to Make Spätzle Without a Spätzle Maker

A spätzle press is a handy tool that will form spätzle dough into their characteristic irregular shapes. If you don’t have one, there are a few other methods for making spätzle:

  1. The traditional method for making spätzle relies on a small wooden cutting board called a spätzlebrett (“spätzle board”). To make spätzle by hand the traditional way, dampen a small cutting board and spread spätzle dough on the edge of the board. Holding the board over a pot of boiling water, use a butter knife, offset spatula, or bench scraper to cut small pieces of dough into the hot water.
  2. Sit a colander with ¼-inch-wide holes over a pot of boiling water and push the spätzle dough through the colander using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. You can use the colander method with any heat-proof tool that has ¼-inch-wide holes, such as a potato ricer, box grater, or slotted spoon.
  3. An easy method, but one which won’t yield the iconic spätzle shape, is to drop spoonfuls of dough into boiling water. Use a metal spoon and wet the spoon between scoops to prevent sticking. This produces spätzle with a shape somewhere between gnocchi and tiny pancakes.

5 Tips for Making the Perfect Spätzle

  • The wetter the spätzle dough, the more delicate the flavor will be, but you want your spätzle to be thick enough to hold its shape. Add the milk gradually, until you have a moist dough that resembles thick pancake batter.
  • Try wetting or oiling your spätzle maker, colander, or other tools, so that the dough won’t stick to the holes.
  • Avoid making your spätzle too large, or they will fall apart while cooking.
  • Work in batches, only boiling one layer of spätzle dough at a time, to prevent clumping.
  • You can boil the spätzle the day before you plan to serve them, so that all you have to do before serving is sauté and garnish.

Classic German Spätzle Recipe

Makes
4
Prep Time
20 min
Total Time
35 min
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 6 large eggs
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, dill, tarragon, or chives
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and crack eggs into the well along with a ¼ cup of the milk. Use a fork or wooden spoon to gradually push the flour toward the center. When batter becomes dry, add more milk and continue beating until the dough resembles thick pancake batter. (A few lumps are okay.) You may not need to use all of the milk. Cover and let rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes, and up to overnight. (Refrigerate if resting more than 30 minutes.)
  2. Meanwhile, fill a large mixing bowl with ice and water and set aside. Fill a large pot halfway with salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Once the water is boiling, lower to a steady simmer. Beat the dough a few times with a wooden spoon or fork to aerate it.
  3. Working over the pot of boiling water, shape a quarter of the spätzle dough using a spätzle maker, or by spreading the dough on the edge of a small cutting board and slicing small pieces off into the simmering water.
  4. Boil the spätzle in a single layer until they float to the top of the water, about 30 seconds to 3 minutes depending on the size of the pieces. Remove using a slotted spoon and transfer to the ice bath.
  5. Return the water to boil and repeat with the remaining dough, working in three more batches. Drain spätzle in a colander, shaking to remove excess water. [Make ahead: Spätzle can be shaped and boiled up to two days ahead. Toss boiled spätzle in a small amount of oil or melted butter to prevent sticking.]
  6. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. When the butter starts to turn golden, add the drained spätzle. Season with salt and pepper and cook spätzle, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Remove from heat and garnish with herbs.