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Mannele is a milk bread shaped into a little man, made in Alsace (East of France) on December 6th to celebrate the day of Saint Nicolas. Kids enjoy this little treat with hot chocolate.
The day of Saint Nicolas is celebrated in many European countries where tradition differs. During this holiday, gifts and treats are distributed to behaved children by Saint Nicolas.
The character of Saint Nicolas is inspired by Nicolas de Myre, one of the most popular saints in Greece and the Latin Church.
Born in Patara in Asia Minor (southwest Turkey) in 270 AD, he was bishop of Myre in the fourth century AD. He died in Myre on December 6, 345 AD.
After his death, this historical figure has fueled many legends and he became the patron saint of several regions and corporations. He is thus the patron saint and protector of children, navigators, lawyers, prisoners, singles and that of Russia and Lorraine (called “Grand Est” since January 2016, the region of eastern France where I am from).
On the night of December 5 to 6, Saint Nicolas, dressed in his bishop’s costume, goes into the houses to bring to behaved children treats (dried fruits, apples, cakes, sweets, chocolates and especially gingerbread representing the holy bishop). The character of Santa Claus was created from Saint Nicolas, the patron saint of little children and school children.
In certain regions, Saint Nicolas is accompanied by the father called “Le Père Fouettard” (Father Whipper). This sinister character, all black dressed, is responsible for punishing the rascals. The Father Whipper sometimes carries a whip and a bag: he punishes children who have misbehaved and threatens to carry them in his bag if they do not promise to be more behaved. In my childhood, I remember this character and was always scared of him, like the other children.
- 500 g flour
- 100 g sugar
- 100 g butter diced at room temperature
- 250 ml milk (warm 100 F - 110 F)
- 2 eggs (lightly beaten) + 1 egg (for the egg wash)
- 1 package dry yeast
- 1 1/4 tsp salt
- raisins or small chocolate chips
For the glazing (optional) :
- 100 g icing sugar
- 30 ml water
- In a stand mixer bowl, add flour, sugar, salt on one side, yeast on the other. Mix together for a few seconds.
- Add the lightly beaten eggs and the warm milk. Knead on low speed for 10 minutes.
- Then add the soft, diced butter until the dough pulls away from the bowl. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place (I like to put the bowl in a lightly preheated oven to avoid air currents). Let the dough double in size for at least 1 hour 30 minutes.
- Lightly flour your work surface if needed and divide the dough into twelve equal portions (cut in four equal part then each fourth in three) and shape each portion into a ball (weight of each ball around 85 g = 3 oz).
- Roll each ball in a cylindrical shape approximately 5 inches long.
- From the left side pinch at one inch to shape the head. Lightly flatten the rest of the cylinder with the heel of your hand.
- Use a scissor to make the arms and the legs (spread them a little).
- Put each Mannele on a cookie sheet with parchment paper or Silpat. Space them. Let them rise for 30 minutes in a warm place.
- Preheat the oven to 360 F.
- Brush the Mannele with an egg beaten, mixed with 1 teaspoon of water or milk (to make smoothing the egg yolk easier). Put the raisins to make the eyes and the buttons.
- Put them in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown.
- Just after the cooking, you can brush them with a glazing to make them shinier (optional) and let them cool on a rack.