What on earth is a Grittibänz?! you may rightly be wondering. My fellow Swiss will, however, know these little bread men as a traditional treat we eat on December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day, along with clementines and chocolates.
Baking being something I’ve always loved, I started making them myself a few years ago, each time searching for an ever better recipe and the “right” technique to get soft and fluffy little men (and women), instead of ones that hardened as soon as they cooled.
As I was still in London this time last year, this is the first time since going plant-based that I have made Grittibänz and – I’m not saying this to be dramatic – these vegan ones are seriously the best I’ve ever made! So of course I want to share this recipe with you. Not only for all the Swiss who make these each year, but for anyone wanting a piece of Swiss culture or just a good recipe for vegan enriched bread dough. You obviously don’t have to form little men out of this dough, but can make rolls, form a plat (we call this bake a Zopf or Züpfe) or make whatever you want and eat it all year round.
The recipe I used is from the Swiss Vegan Society (Vegane Gesellschaft Schweiz). I have translated it into English and adapted it slightly (leaving out the vegan egg replacement, as I found it unnecessary) as well as changing the technique, based on my previous experience with handling dough.
- 500 g Zopfmehl – this is a special kind of flour made of white flour and spelt (which makes it more elastic); if you can’t get a hold of this, regular white flour (maybe mixed with some light spelt flour) should be fine as well
- 1 level tbsp salt
- 80 g soft margarine (I used this one by Alnatura – which also contains walnut oil)
- 1/2 40 g cube of fresh yeast (the recipe gives the alternative of using a sachet of dry yeast)
- 1/2 tbsp maple syrup (optional)
- 2.5 dl rice milk (lukewarm)
- To decorate: raisins, nuts, chocolate chunks etc.
- Warm the rice milk if straight from the fridge (it should not be hot, just lukewarm), add the maple syrup, if using, and crumble the yeast into the liquid.
- Measure the flour into a large mixing bowl, add the salt to one side of it (you don’t want it getting in contact with the yeast at this early stage). With your hand, form a hollow in the center of the flour into which you pour the rice milk and yeast mixture. Sprinkle a tiny bit of flour on to the surface of this “lake” and let this rest for 5-10 minutes. (Ideally you’ll see some bubbles start to form).
- Next add the soft margarine and knead everything together to a smooth, elastic dough. (I used my KitchenAid with the dough hook attachment for around 10 minutes. Either way, test the dough by seeing how far it will stretch before breaking apart. It should be quite stretchy).
- Place into a bowl, cover with clingfilm, and leave somewhere warm to rise for ca. 1 hour 45 min/ 2 hours. (My oven was still a tad warm from baking sweet potatoes 2-3 hours before, so I put the bowl in there 😉 ).
- Once risen, divide the dough into four equal rounds and form into the desired shape. To make a Grittibänz shape check out this video I found, as it’s easier to see it than to read about it (skip to minute 2). Feel free to make whatever shape you desire, just note that the oven time may vary depending on how thick or thin you make the dough.
- Decorate any way you like – e.g. using raisins for the eyes of the Grittibänz – and then leave the Grittibänz to rest for about 15 minutes, while you preheat the oven to 200 ° C (not on fan).
- Optional but recommended: before putting the Grittibänz into the oven, up the temperature and put two little dishes of water on a tray and into the oven, to create some steam. This should help your bakes rise and also retain that lovely softness. Take the dishes out and switch the temperature back to 200 ° C before putting your Grittibänz into the oven.
- Brush some rice milk onto the Grittibänz and bake for about 20 minutes or until baked through. They should be a nice golden color. Leave to cool before eating.