Happy Saint Nicholas Day! December 6th is a special day in a lot of European countries, including my little region of the Alsace, Northeast of France. With its German heritage and French nationality, the region offers the best of both worlds!
So today, I wanted to share a baking activity you can do with your children this month. It is a lot of fun and so delicious!
The Origin of Saint Nicholas (“Saint Nicolas” in French)
Nicholas of Myra was a bishop in what is now Turkey. He was known for leaving surprise gifts in children’s shoes. He later became the Patron of School Students in Catholicism.
In the Alsace, his day is celebrated by children at school, with Saint Nicholas bringing gingerbreads, clementine and “Mannalas” (men-shaped brioches breads). He rides a donkey or comes by foot, and the children enjoy the snacks with hot chocolate.
Some villages even have Saint Nicolas and the “pere fouettard” in French or “Hans Trapp” in Alsacian (mischievous helpers dressed in black clothing and armed with a whip) go walk through the neighborhoods and either reward children or run after them if they misbehaved.
I was personally always scared of both characters, I liked hearing about the legends and the story but those strange masked men scared me as a little girl. Later on, when I was actually in school, I looked forward to the treats. I loved helping my grandma bake the “mannele” or “mannala” (Alsacian word for “little men”). These are “milk breads” with raisins and are an excellent treat with hot chocolate. Add some Nutella or honey and enjoy!
Recipe for the “Mannala”
– 500 g flour (1.1 lbs)
– 1.5 dl milk (5 fluid ounces)
– 3 eggs
– 20 g baker’s yeast
– 150 g of butter (5.3 ounces)
– 100 g of sugar (3.5 ounces)
– 1 pack of vanilla sugar (Dr. Oetker brand)
– 8 g fine salt (2 teaspoons)
– (Optional: 1 spoonful orange flower water
– 2 egg yolks diluted in a spoon of coffee (to golden the cakes)
– 100 g (3.5 oz) confectionate sugar diluted in water or rhum
– raisins, almonds, nuts for forming eyes, nose, mouth…
- Warm milk in saucepan, add butter in pieces, sugars and salt. Add the yeast and allow to rise in a tempered room for 15 minutes.
- In a bowl (you can use your KitchenAid mixer), pour flour and make a hole to add the yeast preparation. Then add 1 egg at a time and mix.
- Mix and knead until you obtain a smoothe paste.
- Allow to rise for 1 hour in a warm place.
- Work the dough again by forming the little men. Take a handful for the body, add legs, arms and head. Or take a bigger portion and cut out the legs and arms. Add raisins or chocolate chips for eyes, buttons, etc.
- Allow to rise for 30 minutes.
- Use a brush and paint the egg yolk mixture on each mannala.
- Bake for 25 – 30 minutes in oven at 180 degrees Celsius or 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Take out of oven, allow to cool and then add sugar icing.
Enjoy with hot chocolate! How fun it is for kids to eat a treat they formed themselves. Maybe they will decide to make each “mannala” shaped after themselves or each member of the family. It could also be shaped like a horse, a cat or a dog.