Saint Nicolas day (see link) is celebrated on the 6th of December throughout Europe (Austria, Croatia, Switzerland, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, France, etc...). In Switzerland, the naughty children which have badly behaved are threatened by "Schmutzli" (or "dirty guy", he accompanies Samichlaus/Santa Claus) who makes them afraid by telling them that he'll throw them in a sack and bring them to the Black Forest where he will drown them... Gulp, very charming indeed!!! Otherwise, children sing a song or recite poems, and they receive (from their parents, relatives and Saint Nicholas) chocolates, oranges, cookies, etc... So, it is understandable that, for the kids, it is at the same time a scary and exciting moment!
During that festive time, people bake a lot and generally, they prepare little breads in the shape of men which, in older times, had the purpose of chasing away the demons. Here in Switzerland (mostly the Swiss German part) they are called "Grittibänz", "Grättimaa", "Elgermaa", "Chläus" and "Teigermännli" depending on the different cantons and dialects, but they are also know as "Petits Bonhommes" (in the Swiss French part). In Germany, you'll find them under the name of "Weckmann", in France "Mannala", "Mannele" or "Jean Bonhomme", in Belgium "Cougnou" and in Luxemburg "Boxermännercher". As you can see, those little breads are well-spread.
"Grittibäanz" breads are very cute, delicious and fun to make. The bread dough used is a bit similar to the "Pain Au Lait" dough as it's made with butter, milk and eggs. They are very soft and superbly fragrant. A must try before and for Christmas!!!
This recipe comes from Marianne Kaltenbach's (6th June 1921- 15th October 2005) cookbook "Cuisine Rustique Suisse" (originally titled "Ächti Schwizer Chuchi" dating from 1977). I adapted and halved the recipe, because, in my opinion, it would have given far too many "Grittibänz"...
Makes 10 "Grittibänz".
500g Plain white flour
2 Tsp Dried yeast
2 Tsp Castor sugar
250ml Milk, tepid
80g Unsalted butter, at room temperature, softened and creamed
1 1/3 Tsp Salt
1 Egg (~50g), beaten
1 Egg yolk + 1 Tsp Water (for the egg wash)
Currants and almonds for the face/body decorations
1. Sprinkle the sugar and yeast into 1 cup of the milk in a bowl.
2. Leave for 5 minutes and then stir to dissolve.
3. Sieve the flour into a big bowl.
4. Make a well and pour in the yeasted milk.
5. With a wooden spoon, draw enough of the flour into the yeasted milk to form a soft paste.
6. Cover with a tea towl and leave to "sponge" until frothy and risen, about 20 minutes.
7. Add the leftover milk, the beaten egg, salt and the creamed butter. Mix in the flour to form a soft dough.
8. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic for about 10 minutes.
9. Put the dough into a buttered bowl and cover with a tea towl.
10. Leave to rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
11. Knock back the dough and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
12. Divide the dough into 10 equal pieces.
~ Demonstration by Anne of "Papilles Et Pupilles". ~
13. Roll each piece into a thick sausage.
14. To shape the head, use your index and thumb to pinch both sides of the sausage (first quarter of the sausage).
15. With a pair of scissors, cut both sides (middle) in order to create the arms and then, cut both legs (down).
16. Create a mouth, nose and eyes with the currants and almonds.
17. Place the "Grittibänz" on a baking sheet lined with baking paper and cover with a tea towl.
18. Prove until doubled in size, about 30-40 minutes.
19. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F).
20. Brush the "Grittibänz" twice with the egg wash.
21. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until golden and sounding hollow when tapped on the underside.
You can decorate and shape your "Grittibänz" as you wish; use your imagination!
Try baking those breads with kids, they'll love it!
Eat at any time with the savory or sweet spread of your choice.
(Zurich -Pic by Drew Charles www.trekearth.com)
(Manele -Pic by Anne www.papillesetpupilles.blogspot.com)
(Saint Nicholas -Pic by www.samgirl.com)