Spatzel, Spätzel, Knöpfle, Spätzli
German, Austrian, Swiss where did this dish originate you can be sure that I encountered already some heated discussions in my American life about this subject because a lot of people are very proud -- almost possessive when it comes to the heritage of their childhood staple. To keep it neutral all I will say is that nobody seems to be able to trace the origin.
When I discuss spätzle or spätzel -- which is what it was called when it was put it in front of me when I was a little brat -- I refer to it as a free shaped egg pasta or tiny dumpling.
Spätzel dough typically consists of a few ingredients, principally eggs, flour, and salt. Often, water is added to produce a thinner dough. It has a soft sticky pancake like batter.
I season my spätzel recipe with salt, nutmeg and I have many different variations, e.g., like adding blanched and pureed spinach or squash puree, or I use different liquids like almond milk or straight mineral water to give a somewhat light and fluffy texture to the spätzel.
Handmade spätzel are formed by scraping strips of dough from a cutting board or by pushing the dough through a mechanical device. Whichever method is used, the noodles are formed directly over a large pot of boiling water or some sort of broth (I used beer on the Iron Chef show), into which they dropped. Bring to a gentle boil just until the noodles rise to the surface. The most important thing here is to work quickly otherwise the egg batter will start to cook and harden and clog the little holes of your spätzel maker. I suggest working in batches, so not to crowd the spätzel in the boiling water. The noodles are shocked in ice water then drained and tossed with vegetable oil to prevent sticking together. Several types of special purpose spätzel makers are available, ones resemble a strainer, (or colander), a potato ricer, a food mill or coarse grater. Common Spätzel shapes are long thin noodles, thick small dumpling with an elongated shape and small oval or round dumplings. All are more or less irregular and that is how it is supposed to be traditionally. Adjust seasoning with salt and fresh pepper and get creative with add-ins like cheese, pancetta, truffles…. think of it as a pasta dish.
I have a few tricks for making this dough:
When I mix the ingredients I use a strong wooden spoon if I work by hand. When I use an electric mixer I don’t use the whisk attachment, I use the “bishop” attachment instead (or what is usually called a paddle attachment but to me it looks like a bishop’s hat).
I make the batter by mixing the dry ingredients first then I add half of the liquid ingredient (e.g. milk, water, coconut milk etc.) and then the eggs and more of the liquid ingredients as needed. This yields a nice smooth batter.
You should know that flour made in different seasons will absorb liquid differently hence a recipe will vary between the seasons slightly. The texture will be in-between dough and a batter. You may need to adjust the batter and add a little of a particular liquid or not depending on the elasticity of the batter.