Preparations for St. Nicholas Day begin in November in Switzerland. Candy shop windows turn into magic fairylands, with an array of delicacies to delight the fantasy and taste of any child.
Marzipan is a favorite ingredient, shaped into Santas, pigs, potatoes, colorful fruits, and elves with beady eyes and pointed caps.
Hundreds of heart-shaped cookies are tied with crimson bows, and mellow milk chocolate is shaped into walnuts, balls, Swiss francs, and more Santas.
Then, just before St. Nicholas Day, bakers in the German part of Switzerland are up to their elbows in troughs of dough, kneading and shaping hundreds and hundreds of little bread men called Grattimannenm , in the Basel area, or Grittibanzenm in the Bern area.
From bakery windows, rows and rows of identical funny little fellows beckon you with bright raisin eyes, jaunty caps, and fancy vests made of bread dough.
Sometimes they sport pipes and carry a switch under one arm. Tall Grattimannenm , two or three feet high, are given as gifts to children.
For dessert there are, without fail, mandarin oranges or tangerines and peanuts in the shell. The peanuts are a very traditional part of the celebration.
How did jaunty little bread men become a part of this day of gift giving? Baselers tell me the Swiss word grattim comes from the High German gratsch beinigm , which means stick men, for Grattimannenm do in fact resemble stick figures.
But most of their origin remains a mystery, the Swiss say. There is a definite connection to St. Nicholas, and it is thought the Grattimannen were made to represent his helper, Schmutzlim , and the German Knecht Ruprecht, servant of their St. Nick.
Schmutzli is probably a carryover from pagan times, possibly originating from the personification of a sun god, worshiped during the time of the winter solstice. Because of this pagan origin, Schmutzlim was given second place to the Christian St. Nicholas.
Bread baked in this shape has also been traced to Germany and Upper Austria, but only in the last century.
Whatever their origin, Grattimannenm or Grittibanzenm make a whimsical treat when baked for a St. Nicholas Day breakfast or lunch. Don't forget the tangerines and peanuts! Grattimannen 3/4 cup milk 1/3 cup butter 1/3 cup sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1 package active dry yeast 1/4 cup lukewarm water 1 teaspoon sugar 1 egg 4 to 4 1/2 cups flour Raisins
In a saucepan combine milk and butter over medium heat until very warm. Stir in sugar and salt. Cool to lukewarm. Sprinkle yeast over water and sugar.
Beat egg in mixer bowl. Add milk/butter and yeast mixtures. Gradually add 2 cups sifted flour and beat 5 minutes with electric mixer. Gradually add 2 cups flour.
Turn out onto lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. Dough should not stick to the board. Place in greased bowl, turning to grease top of dough. Cover with plastic wrap and set in warm place until doubled in bulk. Punch dough down. Small Grattimannen
Divide dough into 6 equal parts. Roll each piece into a smooth 8-inch-oblong body. With the side of your hand, ''cut'' a head for each Grattimann, leaving it slightly attached to the body. Place Grattimannen well apart on large greased baking sheet. Flatten bodies slightly.
With a sharp knife or shears, cut arms and legs. Spread legs well apart. Spread arms into different jaunty waving positions. With shears, snip a nose and mouth at the bottom of each face.
Cover with kitchen towel and let stand in warm place to rise, about 15 minutes. Brush each man with 1 egg slightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water. Press in raisins for eyes and buttons. Let rise until doubled in size.
Bake at 350 degrees F. for 15 to 17 minutes. Watch color closely. Cool on racks. Cover with towel to retain soft crust while cooling. Large Grattimannen
Follow mixing instructions. Cut a piece of dough about 1 pound in weight, or a little less than 2/3 of the dough. Roll into an oblong body shape 18 to 20 inches long. With side of hand, ''cut'' head and flatten. Place on greased baking sheet. Flatten body of man. Cut legs and arms and spread apart. Continue flattening body and legs.
Form shoes. With small pieces of dough, fashion a stocking cap. Add a little extra flour to remaining dough. Roll out very thin strips of dough (adding a little extra flour) and trim the clothing of the Grattimann similar to the decorated clothing in illustration.
With kitchen shears, snip decorative effects into pants and sleeves. Cover with kitchen towel and set in warm place. Let rise until doubled in size. Brush with 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water. Sprinkle with Hagelzucker, or pearl sugar.
Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cover with foil if necessary to prevent burning. Cool on rack. Cover with terrycloth towel while cooling to preserve softness.
Serve warm, with sweet butter, Gruyere cheese, hot chocolate, tangerines, and peanuts in shell for a traditional Swiss treat.