German spaetzle are an easy way to bring a taste of Oktoberfest to your table any night of the week!
As excited as we’ve all been for the arrival of all things pumpkin spice over the past month (I christened the season with a box of Pumpkin Cheesecake Truffles from Godiva; my annual splurge), my taste buds also pine for the flavors of Oktoberfest this time of year. Crispy schnitzel, soft pretzels, delicately-spiced Weisswurst (white, veal and pork sausages) with Bavarian mustard; be still my heart! Ever the carb-lover, one of my favorite components of a good German feast has always been the spaetzle (or, spätzle). These tiny, tender dumplings pair well with a variety of meats as a side dish (they’re particularly delectable mixed with the gravy from sauerbraten), or can be served as a light dinner on their own. We like to toss them with lightly-browned butter, caramelized onions, fresh chives, and a sprinkling of toasted Panko on top for a little contrast of texture. (I made these a few weeks ago and I can’t tell you how much I wish I had leftovers right now!)
I didn’t realize until a few years ago how crazy-easy spaetzle are to make at home. For some reason, I always assumed that the dumplings I’d enjoyed so much at my favorite German restaurants were a time-consuming labor of love. Not the case! The dough (really, more like a thick batter in terms of consistency) is just a mixture of flour, eggs, milk, and water. (I’ve found in my various spaetzle-making experiments that using a combination of milk and water in the dough—as opposed to milk alone—helps to keep the dumplings light and tender in texture.) The batter mixes together within minutes and cooks just as fast (especially if you have a spaetzle maker, more on that next). Spaetzle as a weeknight dish? It’s possible, friends!
While I’m usually not someone who jumps on the single-use kitchen gadget bandwagon, I can’t deny that I love my spaetzle maker. I just hook it onto a large pot of boiling water, fill the hopper halfway with batter, and slide it against the large-holed “grater” (of sorts) as perfectly-sized spaetzle drop into the water below. If you think spaetzle are something you’re going to incorporate into your regular menu rotation, I’d definitely recommend picking one up. (As a bonus, some of the most popular models range from just $6 to $12 and are widely available both online and in brick and mortar kitchen stores.) Without a spaetzle maker, the dumplings can be made by using a rubber spatula to push spoonfuls of batter through a colander with large holes into the boiling water. In this case, for both safety and comfort, it’s best to choose a pot that will allow you to sit your colander over the pot rather than trying to hold it above the hot water. The colander method can be quite a bit messier than using a spaetzle maker, but it certainly gets the job done!
Once you have the basic dumpling recipe and technique down, there are a number of ways to customize your spaetzle according to your preferences and regional traditions. Tossing the spaetzle and caramelized onions with grated Gruyère or Emmentaler before serving will yield a richer, heartier dish (an Austrian-style “macaroni and cheese” of sorts called Käsespätzle). For something a little lighter (and most traditional), omitting the caramelized onions and simply tossing the spaetzle with melted butter and your favorite herbs is also lovely. I even had sweet spaetzle in a restaurant once (Kirschspätzle), tossed with browned butter, cinnamon, sugar, and cherries. Delicious. Oktoberfest might’ve officially come to a close for this year, but there’s always room for spaetzle on the table. German comfort food at its best!
Spaetzle with Caramelized Onions and Herbs
Feel free to substitute the herbs to your personal preferences. I love using snipped chives and parsley, but fresh tarragon, thyme, or rosemary would also be wonderful.
Inspired by "Spatzle," The Cooking of Germany (Time-Life Foods of the World)
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup caramelized onions
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons chopped chives
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/4 cup unseasoned Panko breadcrumbs toasted in 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter and a pinch of salt (optional)
- kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Make the spaetzle
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, table salt, and nutmeg. Stir together water and milk. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in milk, water, and beaten eggs. Whisk until the mixture is smooth. Batter will be very thick and elastic.
Let the batter rest while you bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil with a generous pinch of salt. Set a colander into a large bowl of ice water and set aside. Carefully drop batter into the boiling water using a spaetzle maker, or use a rubber spatula to press the batter a few tablespoons at a time through a colander with large holes. Gently stir the spaetzle and boil until they float and are tender, 5-8 minutes. Drain the spatzele and transfer to the colander in the ice water. Repeat the process with remaining batter until all spaetzle are boiled.
Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet until light-golden brown, about 3 minutes. Drain spaetzle well and gently toss in the skillet with the browned butter. Cook, stirring frequently, until spaetzle are heated through. Gently fold in caramelized onions and chopped herbs. Season to taste with salt (I usually add about 1/2 teaspoon Kosher) and freshly-ground pepper. Serve hot, with a sprinkling of toasted breadcrumbs, if desired.