Grittibänz – Bake A Swiss St. Nicholas Day Treat

My family is Swiss and German so I grew up celebrating St. Nicholas Day on December 6th.  Before going to bed on December 5th, my brothers and I would put one shoe outside our bedroom door for St. Nicholas to fill.  The next morning our shoes overflowed with marzipan, chocolate and Lebkuchen. I still put my shoe out and St. Nicholas still comes faithfully every year.  Here in Switzerland, kids get small tangerines or Mandarin oranges, burlap sacks filled with peanuts and sweets or bound twigs festooned with candy.

In the weeks leading up to St. Nicholas Day in the German-speaking regions of Switzerland, bakeries throughout the country sell a slightly sweet, brioche-like bread in the shape of a little man called Grittibänz .  They range from very simplistic to elaborate representations. Often with a pipe in their mouth, simple ones might just have 3 raisins for the eyes and nose.  More elaborate ones are decorated with dried fruit and nuts.  Some have beautiful decorations made from cut out or twisted bread dough.

I read accounts that claim Grittibänz dates back as far as the 16th century and originated in Basel. Some people told me they think it’s supposed to be Santa Claus but who really knows.

The bread man is known by several names such as Grittibänz or Basler Grättimaa.  Gritti means straddle or splayed legs.  Benz or Bänz is a shortened form of Benedict, a common name hundreds of years ago.  So, basically, it means man with bow legs.  In Germany, he is often called WeckmannWeck meaning a bread rollSome bakeries sell several versions with different names.  This past week alone I saw Grittibänz Benjamin, Grittibänz Piccolo and a chocolate-studded one named Grittibänz Schoggi (Swiss-German for chocolate).  For more history, here is a link to a radio show I did last year.

To make your own little bread man at home, begin by making a yeast dough or, less desirable, use frozen bread dough (follow manufacturer’s instructions for defrosting and rising).  The full recipe is at the bottom of the post in printable format.

Stir dry yeast into warm milk and let it sit a few minutes.  Mix flour, sugar and salt in a bowl.  Make a well and pour in the milk and yeast along with an egg and some melted butter.  Stir it together then dump it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.  Cover it with a damp towel and let it rise in a warm place for an hour.  Punch it down then start to form your man.

Form a dough oval and place it on a parchment-lined sheet pan.  Reserve a golf ball-size piece of dough for the scarf.

Pinch a portion large enough for the head and give it a 350° twist to form the neck.  Pinch the top to form a hat.

Use floured scissors or a knife to make slits for the arm.   Do not cut all the way through.  Pull the elbows away from the body

Make a slit up the middle of the base and separate the legs.  Pinch a small bit at the bottom and twist 350° to form the feet.

Using your hands, roll the reserved piece of dough back and forth to form a snake.  Place the middle behind the neck.  Bring both sides to the front and twist to form a scarf.  Tuck the ends behind the hands.  Cut off and reserve any excess dough.

Use the excess scarf dough to form base of his hat and cuffs on the slacks.  Typically, raisins are used for the eyes and nose.  I made a slightly more elaborate version using dried cranberries for his eyes, a macadamia nut for his nose and an almond for his mouth.

After decorating, let it rise again in a warm place for about 30 minutes.

Beat an egg and brush it gently over the entire surface.

Bake in a pre-heated 190° C / 375° F oven for about 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown.

When cool enough to handle, remove from the baking sheet and place on a cooling rack.

Ready to eat!!


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Grittibänz - Swiss St. Nicholas Day Bread Man
Author: 
Recipe type: Bread
 
Ingredients
  • 3 dl / 10 ounces warm milk
  • 7 grams / ¼ ounce / 2 ½ teaspoons dry yeast
  • 500 grams / 18 ounces / 4 ½ cups white flour
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 50 grams /1 ¾ ounce / 3 ½ tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 lightly beaten egg
  • 1 additional egg, beaten (to glaze bread before baking)
  • dried fruits, nuts or chocolate (to decorate)
Instructions
  1. Whisk dry yeast into warm milk.
  2. Set aside for several minutes until bubbly.
  3. Combine flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl.
  4. Make a well in the center.
  5. Add the milk and yeast mixture, one lightly beaten egg and the melted butter.
  6. Stir to combine.
  7. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
  8. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and place in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about one hour.
  9. Punch dough down and place onto a lightly floured surface.
  10. Cut into two pieces for two small Grittibänz.
  11. FOR SIMPLISTIC MAN:
  12. Roll dough with your hands into a long, fat oval shape.
  13. Transfer to a parchment paper covered baking sheet.
  14. Pinch desired head size then twist 350 degrees to form a neck.
  15. Use floured scissors or a sharp knife to cut arms and pull away from the body.
  16. Make a slice in the middle of the base and spread the legs.
  17. Use raisins, nuts, chocolate, balls of dough or dried fruit to make mouth, eyes, nose and buttons.
  18. Repeat for second Grittibänz.
  19. FOR A DETAILED MAN:
  20. Roll dough with your hands into a long, fat oval shape.
  21. Cut golf ball size piece of dough off from the top and roll between your hands to form a long, skinny rope.
  22. Transfer dough oval to a parchment paper covered baking sheet.
  23. Pinch desired head size then twist 350 degrees to form a neck.
  24. Form a pointed hat shape and twist 350 degrees at base of hat.
  25. Use floured scissors or a sharp knife to cut a slit on each side about ⅓rd of the way in from the armpit to the waist (do not detach from main dough body).
  26. Pull arms away from the body at the elbow so it looks like hands are on the hips.
  27. Make a slice up the middle at the base and spread the legs.
  28. Pinch a piece of dough at the base of each leg to form a shoe.
  29. Twist 350 degrees at the ankle.
  30. Lift head and place dough rope behind neck.
  31. Bring it around front like a necktie and twist several times until it reaches the waist.
  32. Loop each end behind Grittibänz after cutting off excess.
  33. Use remaining rope to form the base of his hat and bottom of pants.
  34. Make mouth, eyes, nose and buttons with raisins, nuts, chocolate, pieces of dough or dried fruit.
  35. Repeat for second one.
  36. Place Grittibänz in a closed oven with a damp tea towel on the shelf above (or set in a warm place and gently cover Grittibänz with a damp tea towel).
  37. Let rise for 30 minutes.
  38. Remove the risen dough from the oven and gently brush with a beaten egg.
  39. Pre-heat oven to 190° Celsius 375° Fahrenheit.
  40. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown.
  41. Yields two men. Recipe can be halved.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Hey Amy,
    Isn’t it awesome that a blog post is still helping out others after 3 years? I’m a Swiss living in Texas and it’s my first Advent time working at an American Company so I thought it a nice idea to bake some Gritibänz for my colleagues. And how great is it that I came across your recipe as it’s all in ounces and cups so I don’t have to go through the hassle of converting everything!!
    Thank you so much for this!
    Luzia

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  1. […] wine, and local elders arrive on horse and carriage as Samichlauses and Schmutzlis bringing the Grittibänz from the local bakery for the kids.  Swiss kids read poems promising something in Swiss German to […]

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