Originally larger than they are now, shaped by hand from small pieces of dough by then dropped into boiling water, it is thought the dough shape somehow resembled a little bird so the miniature dumplings were named Spaetzle, from Spatz sparrow, and Southern German dialect for small sparrows.
Pronounced SHPAYT-zlee it is also used as a favorite nickname, meaning something along the lines of "treasure" or "sweetheart".
During their long history German spaetzle were used for times of 'Fasting', and were originally as a healthy, nourishing and inexpensive food for those living in areas with little land, or fertile soil, available to produce a more varied diet.
From being molded by hand then with a spoon, the dough began to be scraped into boiling water from a wooden board leading to the invention of a special scraper known as a Schaber. Some cooks still make their Spaetzle this way, however there are many other methods used to shape them. From straining the dough through a colander, using a potato ricer, one of the different types of spaetzle maker or press that make the whole process very easy, or just flattening a stiff dough and cutting it into small thin pieces.
Although Spaetzle noodles continue to be a regional specialty from Baden Wuerttenberg and Bavaria the noodles have traveled, and are found and enjoyed throughout Germany, served with cheese and caramelized onions as a complete meal for example or as an accompaniment to all types of meat and sauces. Especially during the colder Autumn and Winter months.
For the basic recipe for Spaetzle you will need:
Ingredients for four portions:
1 lb All purpose flour
5 beaten eggs
3/4 cup tepid not hot water
1 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
Mix everything together. Traditionally by hand, bringing the dough in from the sides of the bowl.
When the dough is able to slip off a spoon without sticking it is perfect for Spaetzle. If it is too runny add more flour, too sticky gradually add more water. Allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
Fill a big pot with water, bring to boil, add one tablespoon salt return to boil then reduce to simmer.
Now the fun part, because not owning a Spaetzle maker or press does not mean no spaetzle noodles.
Take a large holed colander or a slotted spoon and, while holding it over the simmering water, push the dough through the holes with a spoon or a spatula to fall into the pot. This will make cute "artisanal" noodles.
If the Spaetzle are too small, say about the size of a pea, then they soak up any sauce beautifully but that masks their own flavor, if they are too big, finger sized, they will taste too much of the dough, and Germany has dumpling recipes that would be much more flavorful. Pencil thick is about right.
It is a good idea to start out with a batter thicker than you need, test it, and then thin it out little by little with water until it's the right consistency.
You should also know that there is no perfect shape for Spaetzle. Sometimes you will get long noodle shapes, or perhaps little teardrops or short straight lengths, they are even affected by the height from which you drop them. It is not important and just adds to the charm.
Don't have more than one layer cooking at a time, or they will not cook properly.
Stir gently to keep Spaetzle separate, and when they float to the top of the water they are cooked. This can take anything from one minute to three minutes, depending upon the size of the Spaetzle.
Transfer Spaetzle to another colander with a slotted spoon and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process. Continue until all the dough has been used, adding more water if necessary, bringing it to the boil and then return to simmer.
An easy way to serve Spaetzle is "au naturel", as a side dish. Melt some butter in a skillet over a medium heat, add the cooled pasta stirring to make sure they are coated. Cook for two to three minutes until warmed through and the noodles have begun to color slightly, add chopped chives or parsley for additional flavor and decoration.
Serve as is, seasoned with salt and pepper, or add finely grated cheese, fried bacon pieces, caramelized onions, braised mushrooms, or all four, to the butter and Spaetzle and heat through. In the case of the cheese until it begins to melt and is well blended.
Or it can be ueberbacken, which is a spaetzle gratin with for example Black Forest ham and Gruyere cheese.
Another German wintertime favorite recipe is Spaetzle added to chicken and vegetable soup.
Part or all of the flour can be substituted with whole wheat if you prefer, however then the dough must rest for at least an hour so that the bran can soften.
Flavored Spaetzle is just as easy to make.
Ro-Ro-Spaetzle, Rotwein-Rosmarin Spaetzle. Replace the liquid with red wine and add ground rosemary. Fits perfectly to game or pork.
For Paprika Spaetzle: leave away the nutmeg, add 3 tablespoons sweet or hot paprika powder and a tablespoon of sunflower or vegetable oil to the mix. Paprika is very popular in Germany so this is a favorite.
Herb Spaetzle: add 4 tablespoons mixed very finely chopped herbs of your choice, can also add a little finely chopped chili or pressed garlic in with the herbs. Four tablespoons finely chopped Basil, or blanched chopped fresh Spinach with 2 tablespoons of butter added, work very well. These mixes will probably need a little more water to reach the correct consistency.
Tomato Spaetzle: Add three tablespoons tomato puree to the basic recipe.
Cheese Spaetzlel: Add very finely grated cheese to the basic recipe.
Can be served as a side dish with any meats, or sauces or together with a fresh salad.
Now all you need to do is:
Enjoy your Spaetzle!
Making Spaetzle with a spaetzle press over the water in which they are to be cooked, photographer Stefan-Xp, Spaetzle with caramalized onions, photographer RainCT, both courtesy de.Wikipedia
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This is the Spaetzle Maker I use. It is called a 'hopper' (spaetzlehobel,)does its job perfectly with a not too thick mixture, and doesn't cost the earth
There are many different tools to help with your Spaetzle making, and here are just a few of them.