During my year studying abroad in Salzburg, Austria, I ate plenty of amazing, uniquely Austrian things: seeded breads and marzipan-filled pastries, hoppy beer, tart potato salad, käsekrainer (cheese-filled wursts) from street vendors, and more schnitzel than I’d care to admit. But the dish that I found there—and now, crave more than any other—isn’t really that different than one of my American favorites. Maybe its familiarity is why it’s so beloved to me.
The dish is käsespätzle, an Austrian relative to mac and cheese. I first had this dish at the Salzburg Christkindlmarkt, one of the annual holiday markets that take over Europe from November to January. With a tiny disposable wooden fork in hand, I dove into the cheese pullable dish: Pillowy, noodle-like spätzle mixed with Gruyère and caramelized onions, then topped with crispy shallots. It’s pure magic.
Since returning from my Salzburg, I have searched high and low for this dish at restaurants near me, but have had little luck. So I decided to figure out how to master it on my own, perfecting it over the course of two years. After attempts with too much cheese (I never thought I’d say those words), not enough flour, or pans full of burnt onions, I finally mastered the dish that I missed so much, and I’m excited for you to try it, too.
When preparing this dish, there are a couple of things to keep in mind: First, you don’t need a fancy spätzle maker—a colander with big holes or a flat vegetable grater both work wonderfully. Second, the batter is pretty forgiving: If it’s too thick to go through the holes, add an extra tablespoon of milk. And if it’s a bit too thin, add a tablespoon of flour and gently stir it into the batter before trying again. A rubber spatula or plastic bench scraper works well to help nudge the batter into the boiling water.
Käsespätzle can be served as a main dish or a side, perhaps alongside schnitzel or a roast. No matter which route you take, if you want the true Austrian experience, serve it with a vinegary side salad full of paper-thin cucumbers and big leaves of butter lettuce—the perfect way to cut the richness. Whether you cook it for a weeknight dinner or an Oktoberfest celebration with friends, this dish will transport you to the Alps (Steigl beer in hand) any day. —Delaney Vetter
- Prep time 15 minutes
- Cook time 1 hour 30 minutes
- Serves 4 to 6
- Mix-ins & Toppings
salted butter, divided
medium yellow onion, cut in half and sliced very thin
shallots, sliced very thin (about 2 shallots)
Gruyère cheese, shredded
Emmental cheese, shredded
freshly cracked black pepper
finely chopped chives
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Make the caramelized onions: In a small sauce pot, melt 2 tablespoons of butter on medium heat. When butter is melted, reduce heat to low and add the onions. Cook for 60 minutes or until deep golden and caramelized, stirring every 5 minutes.
- Make the crispy shallots: Heat vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots, stir constantly until deep golden. Quickly remove and place onto paper towels, sprinkle with salt immediately.
- Make the spätzle: While preparing the batter, fill a 4 quart pot with salted water and bring to a boil. In a medium mixing bowl whisk together eggs and milk until combined. Add salt and flour and whisk until smooth (it should resemble thick pancake batter—if it's too thick, add a tablespoon of milk at a time until it gets to the right consistency; if too runny, add flour a tablespoon at a time until it's thick enough). Once water is boiling, pour a quarter of the batter through a spätzle maker into the water (if you don’t have one, vegetable graters and colanders with large holes work just as well). Once the spätzle float to the top, let them cook for 4 additional minutes, until tender. Strain and remove with a slotted spoon, set aside on a big plate, and repeat with the rest of the batter.
- Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a cast-iron (or other heavy-bottomed, oven-safe) skillet over medium-low heat. Add the spätzle and sauté until they begin to take on some color. Remove from heat and stir in ½ cup of Emmental and ½ cup of Gruyère, plus the black pepper and caramelized onions. Sprinkle over the remaining 1/4 cup of each cheese, place the skillet into the oven, and bake for 15 minutes until bubbly and golden. To serve, top with crispy shallots and chives.