Today is a very special day for kids in Germany – it was always my most favorite day after Christmas – Today is Nikolaus! Saint Nicholas was a historic 4th-century Christian saint. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker; he had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, a practice celebrated on his feast day St Nicholas Day- December 6th and thus became the model for Santa Claus.
The night of December 5th kids in Germany put out their boots in front of their door and when they wake up in the morning they are magically filled with fruits, nuts and chocolates – well that was way back when, in todays world most of the parents opt for small little gifts, as well as sweets. One of the sweets that kids will find in or next to their Boot(s) is a “Weckmann” or “Stutenkerl”. A Stutenkerl belongs to the Saint Nicholas tradition in Germany. It is a pastry made of Stuten, sweet leavened dough, in the form of a man (Kerl is German for ‘lad’ or ‘fellow’). Stutenkerl is available usually around Saint Nicholas’ Day, December 6th, but in parts of the Rhineland already at Saint Martin’s Day in November.
Saint Martin started out as a Roman soldier. The most famous legend of his life is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the beggar from dying from the cold. The nights before and on the night of Nov. 11, children walk in processions carrying lanterns, which they made in school, and sing Martin songs. Usually, the walk starts at a church and goes to a public square. A man on horseback dressed like St. Martin accompanies the children. When they reach the square, Martin’s bonfire is lit and Martin’s pretzels are distributed.
In my region of Germany (the Rheinland) in a separate procession the children also go from house to house with their lanterns, sing songs and get candy in return. Wow haven read all of this now on Wikipedia gave me goose bumps and a little bit tearing up thinking back of my childhood in Germany and all the history that I just took for granted and it reminded me of all the great times I had with my family and friends as a child and teenager.
This little sweet Stutenkerl resembles a lot of German history as well as my own childhood and it was a lot of fun to make those and share them with my friends kids. If you have an hour to spare bake yourself some Weckmaenner and get into the Christmas spirit! And now you also know the story of Santa (Ni)Claus as well as where stocking stuffers come from – those resemble the boots that in German tradition get filled on December 6th but in the American spirit got rolled into Christmas.
Although my mum most likely won’t read this – I don’t think my parents actually read my blog (unfortunately they never learned English in school back in the day) a Shoutout to my mum who always made Nikolaus a very special to me and I saw she just sent her daughter Nikolaus greetings from Germany via What’s App – yeah my parents made it into the cell phone texting area!!
- 4 cups flour (1000 gr)
- 2 packets of dry yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 package of vanilla sugar or 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1/2 a cup melted butter
- 2 cups milk (500gr) – room temperature
- 2 eggs
- raisins for decoration
- 1-2 cups sliced almonds, dry roasted for approx.. 5 minutes.
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- Mix the yeast in a small bowl with the sugar and 1/2 a cup of warm water (not hotter than 100 degrees) and let it sit of 5 minutes until you see that the yeast “blooms” and you have a thick layer of “bubbles” on top of the water
- In a big bowl combine the flour, salt, sugar, vanilla sugar/extract and lemon zest. Add the melted butter and milk. Give it a few stirs and then add the water/yeast mixture. Mix until everything is well incorporated. I have a Kitchen Aid which makes the kneading of yeast dough easy; I use the dough hook and set the Kitchen Aid on #4 -5 for speed level and let it knead for 5 minutes.The dough should be nice and elastic and it should easily peel of the walls of your bowl, if its too sticky add some more flour, if its too dry add a little bit more milk.
- Cover the bowl and let the dough rest at a warm place for 30-40 minutes. It should double in volume.
- Once your dough has doubled, flour your work area and divide the dough into 4 parts. Now you have to form the “Stutenkerl” . Take a look at this German Video – just skip the first part and go straight to the 3 minute marker and you will see how this lady forms a Stutenkerl. You pretty much roll the dough into a big log, then make a “dent” into the top part of the roll for the head (squish the top part together to “almost separate” the head from the rest of the dough, make sure though you have a “sturdy” neck otherwise your head will fall off when you pick up the Weckmann), then flatten the log and cut into the middle of the log straight down to make legs and bend each side outwards. A little bit under the “shoulders” cut out an arm on each side. Take a look at the video it makes totally sense and is super easy once you see it.
- Place the Weckmann on a baking sheet lined with greased parchment paper.
- Mix the powdered sugar with a little bit of water, so that you get a sticky, liquid sugar glaze and glaze the Weckman.Now cover the Weckmann with the roasted almonds and slightly press them onto the glaze. Lastly use some raisins to give the Weckman a face with a raison for each eye, a couple of raisins for the nose and a few more for the mouth.
- Bake on a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
- Let them cool out for a little bit and eat them warm with lots of fresh butter. Store them in Ziploc bags and heat them up before you want to eat them, they taste really good slightly warm.