Baking Stutenkerl, a "Bread Man" also known as Weckmann, Baselmann and Nikolaus in the different regions, had been an Advent tradition for centuries before it became a symbol of St. Martin's Day. Sweet yeast dough shaped by hand into a plump, approx. five inch (12 cm) tall, "bread man", Weckmänner often have eyes and a mouth made with raisins, and buttons made from raisins, slices of almonds or dried cranberries. Some figures are miniature works of art but usually they are like a simple, rather chubby, gingerbread man.
It is a custom based on one that began in the early days of the Christian church, when blessed but not consecrated bread was given to those who did not, or could not, take part in Eucharist. Over time it became known as "image bread", Gebildbrot, because the dough was made into a shape fitting to the holiday or celebration.
In Germany the Bread Man first became a popular treat just during the festive season, and was called a Nikolaus for St. Nicholas Day on December 6, but the tradition now begins on November 11th; for St. Martin's Day.
In German speaking and other countries that celebrate Martinstag and St. Nikolaus Day, Weckmänner are found in all bakeries; while home baking the traditional bread men is a fun way for children to pass some of their school free hours. After that, although sometimes seen during Advent, they disappear until next St. Martin's Day.
Any sweet yeast dough can be used, but this is one of the many original and authentic German recipes for a Weckmann pastry.
A WECKMANN-STUTENKERL-NIKOLAUS RECIPE
Quantities for 10.
1 Cup Milk
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract (optional)
Grated peel from 1 lemon (optional)
1/2 oz (One package or 2.1/4 teaspoons) rapid yeast
3 tablespoons warm, not hot, water
6.2/3 cups flour
1 well beaten egg yolk for glazing
Raisins and pieces of nut for decoration
Mix yeast with 1 tablespoon sugar and the warm water
In a saucepan heat gently milk, butter and sugar, leave to cool
Add the flour to a large bowl and after making a hole in the center pour in the blended yeast, gently mix together, cover and allow to rise for about 20 minutes
Add milk and butter mixture to flour, mix thoroughly.
If using add vanilla and grated lemon, mix this in with the flour etc., then knead into until well combined and smooth, roll into ball, sprinkle with flour and leave to rise for 45 minutes.
Flatten out dough, divide into 10 pieces. There are special baking forms, but the majority of "Weckmann bakers" still enjoy shaping the rounded bread man by hand.
Place the Weckmänner on a greased or baking paper covered baking tray, allowing enough space between each one to allow for spreading and leave to rise for another 20 to 45 minutes.
Brush with beaten egg yolk, and add raisins, (it is a good idea to soak them in water for a few minutes before adding so they don't harden or burn), for the eyes and down the body section for "buttons" use three or four raisins or pieces of nut.
Place in a preheated oven and bake at 325 to 350 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown.
A Weckmann either carries a small clay pipe or has one in his mouth, but the figure was first meant to represent a Bishop, which why in English it is sometimes known as "Bishop's Bread". It seems that sometime in the past the bishop holding a crosier in his hand became a "bread man" form with a pipe, and turned upside down it does look like a Bishop's staff.
Nevertheless, as small clay pipes are hard to find, this is a recipe for a non-smoking Weckmann.
An unbaked and a baked Yeast Bread Man with pipe - photographer Micha L. Rieser, courtesy de.Wikipedia