I was recently on the lookout for a Grittibänz recipe. The Swiss bread man is one of my treasured childhood memories of early December.
When December 6 approaches, bakeries across Switzerland gear up to bake this special treat for St. Nicholas Day. The Grittibänz is a sweet bread shaped like a St. Nicholas. It is usually handed out to kids by St. Nicholas, their patron saint. According to Swiss Bread, one of my favorite baking books, the tradition of Grittibänz goes back as early as the 16th century.
I learned that the Grittibänz is based on a simple sweet bread recipe (Zopf). Creating the little bread man (or bread woman) is actually more about the right technique and the decorations.
Ingredients for dough:
3 dl milk
60 g butter (unsalted)
15 g fresh yeast (7 g dry yeast)
1 tbs sugar (4 g)
500 g white flour (If available: Zopfmehl, Farine pour Tresse, Farina per Treccia)
1.5 tbs salt (6 g)
For the finishing touches:
1 egg yolk
2 raisins or cranberries for the eyes
Pearl sugar (coarse)
Optional: chocolate bar
Instructions to make the dough:
1. Slightly heat the milk to the point it is lukewarm, add chunks of butter and let it rest for a moment.
2. Sprinkle some flour onto a flat surface.
3. In a small bowl, mix the yeast and sugar until dissolved.
4. In a large bowl, mix flour and salt. Form a crater in the center, then add the milk from step 1 while stirring the mass.
5. Add the yeast from step 3 and keep stirring until the dough takes shape.
6. Now, use your hands to knead the dough, at one point removing it onto the flat surface. Knead for about 10 minutes to make it soft and smooth. Use the ball of your hand to form a hole, then close that same hole by folding the dough onto it.
7. Sprinkle the large bowl with flour and set the dough back.
8. Cover it with a damp kitchen towel and let the dough rest for about 1.5 hours until it has doubled in size.
When you are ready to bake:
9. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.
10. Split the dough into 2 to 4 pieces, then form each piece into an oval shape.
11. Use a knife to clip off two little bits for the neck, thereby shaping the head.
12. Keep using the knife to mark the arms and legs.
13. Next Level Grittibänz: use some dough to form a scarf, boots, and a hat.
14. For the eyes, push the raisins or cranberries way in.
15. And finally, beat the egg yolk and paint the little bread men or bread women. Sprinkle some pearl sugar on it.
16. Bake the bunch for 20 to 25 minutes on the middle rack until they appear golden.
What to call the Swiss breadman in the Swiss national languages:
- Italian: Ometto di Pasta
- French: Bonhomme de Pâte
- German: Grittibänz, Grättimaa (Basel), Hanselmaa (Luzern, Solothurn), Elggermaa (Winterthur)
- Romansh: Pop da biscutin, Pop da pasta