I was introduced to the Grittibänz or Weckmann by my good friend Finla. She makes them every year for her Christmas celebrations. They have called to me for a while now and I even got her recipe for them last year. This Christmas I finally got around to making them this year with a slightly different and not so authentic recipe.
Grittibänz or Weckmann are much the same thing. They are mildly sweet breads shaped and decorated like men and women. Centarl Switzerland calls them Grittibänz while Germany calls them Weckmann. Basel calls them Grättimaa, Zurich and Thurgau refer to them as Elggermaa, French Switzerland calls them Saint Nicolas or Bonhomme de Saint Nicolas while the Italian part knows them as Pupazzo di San Nicolao!
They’re also known as Stutenkerl in German speaking countries. Stuten refers to the sweet dough and Kerl is the German word for lad. Some ther names include Kiepenkerl, Klaaskerl, Hefekerl, Mannele, Stutenmann, Mannala Boxemännchen. You can see how popular they are.
Switzerland, like many parts of Europe, celebrates St. Nicholas Day on the 6th of December. It is believed that Samichlaus and his helper Schmutzli visit children on this day. If the children have been good, they get a sack full of goodies like nuts, gingerbread, chocolate, an orange and a Grittibänz. In Germany, Weckmann is made for St. Martin’s Day on the 11th of November.
Grittibänz apparently goes back to the 1800s and the name comes from two words. Gritti meaning splayed or bowed (describing the legs) and Banz from Benedikt, a common name in those days used to refer to a man. Grittibänz or Weckmann were originally not sweet and made with regular bread dough. Today, they’re made from a sweet enriched dough and typically decorated with raisins and Hagelzucher (pearl sugar). Sometimes they are made with a pipe in their mouths, or a bundle of sticks but more usually a chocolate stick.
Whatever you call them, there’s no denying that they’re adorable. They’re the perfect Christmas season treat and a good way to bake with children, much like building a gingerbread house. You can use any enriched dough similar to that for making Zopf for making these figures. This recipe makes 4 Grittibänz or Weckmann.
The dough comes together easy enough. You need it to be soft, smooth, elastic and it should pass the “windowpane test”. It is the shaping of the figures that takes a little time but it is not a difficult thing to do. If you have a warm kitchen, it is advisable to refrigerate the remaining dough while you work on one portion at a time. This will prevent the individual figures from rising at different rates. I added orange zest to my dough which is not traditional, but it is worth it in my opinion.
Take a look at these demonstration videos on shaping Grittibänz or Weckmann, and others before you start out. Raisins and pearl sugar are typically used to decorate but you can also use other things like almonds, chocolate chips, etc. These breads keep in a bread box for about 2 to 3 days. Freshen them in the oven before eating. They can be wrapped in foil and frozen for about 2 months.
Grittibänz or Weckmann
For the Dough :
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/4 tsp instant yeast
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Zest of 1 orange optional
- 3/4 cup milk at room temperature
- 75 gm unsalted butter soft at room temperature
For Glazing and Decoration :
- Cream or milk
- Pearl sugar
- Almonds halved
- Put all the ingredients into the bowl of your kneading machine except the milk and butter. Mix well. Then add the milk and mix. Add the butter and knead until you have a soft, smooth and elastic dough. Add a little more milk or flour, as required to achieve this consistency. You can also knead by hand.
- Shape the dough into a ball and place in a well-oiled bowl, turning it round to coat completely. Cover loosely and let it rise till double in size (about 1 1/2 hours).
- Gently knead to de-gas the dough. Divide it into 5 equal portions. This is for 4 Grittibänz or Weckmann and the fifth portion is for the decorations. Each Grittibänz will be about 7 to 8-inches long.
- Please watch the videos before proceeding with the shaping. Roll each of the 4 portions into a log. Somewhere between 1/4th and 1/3rd distance from one end of the log, use your little finger while rolling to form a depression which will be the neck of the figure. The log should have a head and body now. Do this with all four logs.
- Work with one log at a time and refrigerate the others if you have a warm kitchen. Using a scraper, cut the body into legs and arms. Use pieces from the fifth ball of dough to fashion hats, scarves, hair for the women, belts, arm and leg bands, etc. Use raisins for the eyes and buttons. Just ensure that the raisins are pushed in well. Also make sure that the ends of scarves, ties, etc are well tucked under the figure or they will come loose during baking.
- Once shaped and decorated, place on parchment lined baking sheets and return to the refrigerator for about 20 to 30 minutes. When ready to bake, brush with a mixture of cream and milk (1:1). You can use egg wash also. Use halved almonds and pearl sugar for decoration. Press down lightly. They will stick on the cream brushed dough better. Decorate as you please.
- Bake at 190C (375F) for about 20 minutes till done and golden brown in colour. Cool on a rack.