The baking of Stutenkerl, also known as Weckmaenner, during Advent has been a tradition for centuries. Made from a sweet yeast dough which has been formed by hand into the shape of a plump, approx. five inch (12 cm) tall, "bread man", a Weckmann often has eyes and a mouth made with raisins while its buttons can be made from raisins, slices of almonds or dried cranberries, and although sometimes the figures are miniature works of art they are usually more like a simple gingerbread man.
It is a custom which 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, and over time it became known as image bread 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 it was called a Nikolaus for St. Nicholas Day which takes place on December 6, but the tradition now begins on November 11th, St. Martin's Day.
Throughout the regions of the country celebrating Sankt Martinstag and St. Nikolaus Day, Weckmaenner are to be found in all bakeries, while home baking of the traditional bread men is a fun way for children to pass some of their school free hours. After that they disappear again until the next St. Martin's Day.
Any sweet yeast dough can be used, but this is one of the many original and authentic German recipes.
A WECKMANN AND NIKOLAUS RECIPE Quantities for 10 Weckmanner or Nikolause
1 Cup Milk
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
Grated peel from 1 lemon
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 together 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, 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 available, but the majority of "Weckmann bakers" still enjoy shaping the rounded bread man by hand.
Place the Weckmaenner on greased or baking paper covered baking tray, allowing enough space in-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 hand so they don't burn), for the eyes, and down the body section use three or four raisins or pieces of nut for buttons.
Place in a preheated oven and bake at 325 to 350 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown.
A German Weckmann either carries a small clay pipe or has one in his mouth, however the figure was first meant to represent a Bishop, and it seems that sometime in the past the bishop holding a crosier in his hand became instead a "bread man" form with a pipe. Which if turned upside down does look like a bishops staff. Nevertheless, as small clay pipes are hard to find, this is a recipe for a non-smoking Weckmann.
This Ateco Ginger Bread Man Cookie Cutter makes an easy job of great St. Martin's Day or St. Nicholas Weckmann. He is about the right height and has a fun shape that can be 'rounded' out to give him an authentic 'belly'.
Germans enjoy hundred of different types of bread, from Rye to Sweet, and made into almost as many different shapes and sizes. This is a great 'Bread dough' cook book, a 'Cookbook Winner of the Year', written by a Frenchman and with easy recipes for many of the types of bread available in Germany
An unbaked and a baked Yeast Bread Man with pipe - photographer Micha L. Rieser, courtesy de.Wikipedia
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