One of the most beloved foods in Germany that tourists go home talking about is Spätzle, the famous German egg noodles from the Baden-Württemberg region of southwest Germany.
This area is also known as Schwabenland, or Swabia in English. I grew up in Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Württemberg. It is both a bustling city of industry as well as one of great beauty and impressive history.
Stuttgart is Germany’s 6th largest city with a population of over 600,000. Stuttgart is the proud home of Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Bosch, and the first VW Beetle prototype. Stuttgart is also one of Germany’s largest wine-growing cities, and wine-making in Stuttgart dates back to 1108 A.D. where a Catholic monastery started making it. Stuttgart is home to some of the greatest philosophers and literary giants, including Friedrich Schiller, and is also home to several large universities. Stuttgart’s castle, Altes Schloss (“old castle”) dates back to 950 A.D.. And of course Stuttgart is also home to VfB Stuttgart, one of Germany’s soccer teams.
Baden-Württemberg is home to the famous Black Forest and its cuckoo clocks, the Swabian Alb, numerous rivers, Lake Constance, and Mainau island – a unique and beautiful island with a castle in the middle of Lake Constance that sits above natural warm springs and features tropical growth, including orange and banana trees. Other famous cities in Baden-Württemberg include Heidelberg, Baden-Baden, Tübingen, Ulm, Karlsruhe, and Mannheim. The list of places to go and things to see is limitless. Needless to say, there was never a dull moment growing up there and I never took for granted the beauty of the surroundings and the richness of the culture. I get homesick whenever I think about it.
Now, back to the food! Swabia is home to some of Germany’s best food. Some, including myself, would argue it’s home tothe best food in all of Germany (and that’s saying a lot because every region of Germany has some amazing, amazing food). Swabia is known for its soups, sauces, meats and wursts, and its salads, to name a few. Maultaschen, a unique kind of Swabian ravioli, is another popular and beloved dish and one that I’ll definitely need to feature on The Daring Gourmet at some point.
Today we’re featuring Spätzle. A Swabian specialty, it is also enjoyed in Austria, Switzerland and Hungary. It is a special type of egg noodle that is enjoyed with sauces and gravies as well as incorporated into a variety of different dishes. One example is Käsespätzle (a cheese spätzle casserole with crispy fried onions) and something that I will feature in the future on The Daring Gourmet.
A couple of additional facts from Wikipedia: “The total estimated annual commercial production of spätzle in Germany is approximately 40,000 tons. Literally translated, Spätzle means “little sparrow”. Before the invention and use of mechanical devices to make these noodles, they were shaped by hand or with a spoon and the results resembled Spatzen (meaning little sparrows).”
So without further ado, let’s get to Spätzle makin’!
Note: This spaetzle recipe uses a stand mixer to knead the dough. This is actually the first time I’ve made it that way. I’ve always done it by hand (you “knead” it by vigorously whipping it in a bowl with a spoon – over and over and over for around 20 minutes. Now you know why we have that stereotype of stout, muscular German women!) I decided to to try it with a stand mixer instead and it turned every bit as well (but shhhhh, I’m not allowed to admit that the old-fashioned way isn’t necessarily superior).
Add the flour, salt and nutmeg the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir to combine.
Crack four eggs into a bowl and whisk to combine.
Make a well in the center of the flour and add the eggs.
Add the milk or water and with the dough hook of the stand mixer attached, knead the dough on the “2” setting for 16-20 minutes. Add more flour if the mixture is too runny, or more milk if it is too stiff.
The dough is done when “bubbles” begin to form. After 15 minutes or less of beating, use a wooden spoon and scoop and pull the dough, If bubbly holes appear, the dough is done. If not, continue kneading with the mixer for another minute or two, repeating the “test” process. See the bubble hole below?
We’d better check this out again to make sure you know what to look for.
Better take another look – give the dough another stir and pull. Two holes this time!
Okay, it’s time to make the Spätzle! Traditionally, Spätzle was made by hand using a Spätzle Brett, or Spätzle board. You would rub a slab of dough out onto a wetted board and use a pastry cutter or long sharp knife to quickly cut off strands of the dough into simmering water. Schwabian women of previous generations were highly skilled at this and could do it so fast it would make you dizzy to watch. Nowadays most Germans use a Spätzle maker (and even more just buy it ready made at the store. It’s the “convenience generation”).
As I already mentioned, there are a few different kinds of Spätzle makers out there and you can find them easily online. The one below is mine that I bought in Germany and it’s awesome. This kind is more pricey but will also last a lifetime.
Let’s zoom on that baby. The original, sturdy Spätzle maker.
Let’s Talk Spätzle Makers
You can purchase this Original Kull Spätzle Maker, Made in Germany online. This particular model is dishwasher safe. And there is another Kull spätzle maker, same model, but it’s highly polished and thus not dishwasher safe. Just a matter of personal preference. You can use either as a potato ricer, too. Again, it’s pricey, but it’s the one I recommend because it’s built like a tank and will last a lifetime – and it will become a family heirloom you can pass on to your children and grandchildren!
Another option is the German Küchenprofi Spätzle Lid & Scraper. I’ve used this one as well with good results and it’s much cheaper. It produces different shape of noodle – a shorter, stubbier one. Again, simply personal preference. You see both kinds of Spätzle in Germany.
Lastly, there’s the Küchenprofi Spätzle Plane with Pusher, which is my least favorite as it can be a little clumsy, messy, and more difficult to work with.
If you don’t want to buy a Spätzle maker, you can alternatively use a colander or steamer with large holes.
You would need a sturdy object with a straight edge, like this wooden spoon.
You would place some of the dough in the steamer over the simmering water and scrape the dough through the holes. I will say that this option can be a bit challenging and lead to some frustration.
Again, there are several kinds of Spätzle makers, but I’m going to use the one below. Place it over a pot of lightly salted simmering water and scoop some dough into it.
Press the Spätzle maker down to squeeze the Spätzle noodles out into the simmering water. Simmer the Spätzle for about 2-3 minutes or until they float to the top.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the Spätzle to a colander and then immediately put them in a bowl of very cold water. This helps them firm up to the desired consistency.
Drain the Spätzle again and toss with a little oil or melted butter to keep them from sticking. Spätzle will keep in the fridge for at least a couple of days and then heated to serve. Melt some butter in a pan and toss the Spätzle in it to warm through.
Or serve them with Traditional German Schnitzel.
Another very traditional and popular recipe using Spätzle is a personal favorite, Käsespätzle.
- 4 cups all-purpose flour (you can also use whole wheat flour)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
- 4 large eggs
- 1 1/4 cup milk or water (milk produces a richer Spaetzle (add more flour if the dough is too runny, add more milk or water if it's too stiff)
- Add the flour, salt and nutmeg to the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir to combine. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and whisk them. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour the eggs in it. Add the milk. Attach a dough hook to the stand mixer and "knead" the dough for 16-20 minutes, or until bubbles appear (see pictured instructions for details). After 15 minutes or less of beating, use a wooden spoon to scoop and pull the dough. If bubbles/holes appear, the dough is done.
- Bring at least 2 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Using a Spätzle maker of your choice, press the noodles into the simmering water and cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until the noodles float to the top. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the noodles to a colander, and then dump the noodles in a large bowl of ice water. Drain the noodles again and toss with a little vegetable oil or melted butter.
- They can be stored in the fridge for at least a couple of days and then heated to serve.
- To heat, melt some butter in a large skillet and toss the Spätzle in it to heat through.
- Serving recommendation: Serve with Daring Gourmet Hunter's Pork Chops (see website for recipe).
Traditionally Spätzle batter is quite thick because it was cut into noodles using the board & knife method. Even if using a Spätzle press or other method, thicker batter yields a better consistency. If you're using the Spätzle press yes, it will require some muscle strength - you don't want the batter to be so runny that it squishes right through with ease. That said, if you're straining way too hard to press the batter through, go ahead and add a bit more liquid to thin it out.
Stuttgart Schlossplatz Nacht courtesy Fannadian, Burg Hohenzollern courtesy A. Kneisel, Rathaus in Grötzingen courtesy Sandra Haumacher, View of Baden-Baden (modified/cropped) courtesy kirillll, Heidelberg Castle with Old Bridge in foreground courtesy Keith Knapp via CC BY-SA 3.0 licensing