Halloween is now over and Christmas is getting closer! Today I want to share with you a tradition that we have in my region before Christmas: St Nicholas. Maybe you have heard about this tradition or the story of St Nicholas before, but for those who don’t let me tell you.
Before we started celebrating Christmas and Santa Claus, many people (mostly in the East and the North) used to celebrate St Nicholas by offering gifts on that day. St Nicholas was a holy man always kind and willing to help others, mostly famous for his kindness toward children. The most famous story about him is the story of 3 children captured by a butcher that have been saved by St Nicholas. On St Nicholas day, which is on December 6, good children are rewarded by gifts when naughty children are whipped by “Père Fouettard” or literally translated “Father Whipper”. Father Whipper is a character that accompany St Nicholas and has the sole purpose to mistreat the naughty children.
As I am from the East of France, each year when I was little, St Nicholas and Father Whipper would visit our classroom to give us gifts such as raisins, clementines or oranges, fruit paste and mannele. So what is a mannele? A mannele is basically like a brioche but in the shape of a little man, which is supposed to represent the 3 children that he saved from the butcher. This is very popular in the East and North of France and can be found in any bakery. You can find plain ones, or some with chocolate chips or even doughnuts. Mannele has different names according the regions, for example in Alsace it is called mannele or manala, and in Franche-Comté it is called Jean-bonhomme.
Today I will show you how to make plain mannele, so let start cooking!
- 4 + 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon of dry yeast
- 330 ml milk
- 1/4 cup soft butter
- 1 egg
- 1 yolk+ 1 tablespoon of milk for the finish
1- Warm up the milk in a saucepan or in the microwave. Add the yeast to the milk and let it rest until a foam forms at the top.
2- In a mixing bowl, add the flour, sugar, a pinch of salt and the egg. Start to knead the dough. Add the butter and continue kneading .
3- Progressively add the mixture of milk and yeast to the dough. Knead until the dough is smooth and non-sticky. Cover the bowl with a humid cloth or cling wrap and let the dough rise for about 1h30.
4- Once the dough has rose, separate the dough into balls. Each ball will be a mannele. To shape the mannele there are different ways:You can use a gingerbread man cookie cutter or you can make the shape yourself by using scissors. I will explain you how to do this yourself. First of all, roll the dough into a sausage, and use your fingers to shape one of the extremities into a ball (don’t separate it from the sausage or it will not stay after baking). Take your scissors and make a small cut at the bottom of the sausage (not the head part) to create the legs. Then make a small cut on each side of the sausage to make the arms and tadaa! Your little man is done!
Keep doing this for each ball, and let them rise for an hour.
5- Once the hour passed, you can add chocolate chips to make the eyes and buttons or you can simply keep them that way. Mix 1 yolk and 1 tablespoon of milk and brush each mannele with it. This will give a nice golden color to them. Preheat your oven at 355 F and cook the mannele for about 15 min.
Let the mannele cool down before eating. They are delicious by themselves, or you can spread some nutella or jam on it if you want.
I hope you will enjoy this recipe and I wish you all a happy St Nicholas!
Don’t forget to share and like this recipe and let me know in the comments if you celebrate St Nicholas too and if yes what are your traditions?