Swiss Bread: Grittibänz/Bonhomme de Pâte

With Bundt Day and Thanksgiving behind us, I’ll be focusing on Swiss Christmas treats from now until the end of 2013. To kick off the holiday baking bonanza, I’m starting with yet another Swiss bread: Grittibänz (German) or Bonshommes de Pâte (French). These little bread men are made primarily for Saint Nicholas Day, and likely date back to the 16th century, according to Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse. Very loosely translated, “Grittibänz” apparently means something like “old frail man walking with his legs spread apart.”

From what I’ve heard, the celebration of Saint Nicholas on December 6th occurs more in the German-speaking and Catholic-leaning cantons of Switzerland. However, I’ve been learning about celebrations happening here in French-speaking Suisse-Romande as well, particularly in the canton of Fribourg.

My 6-year old has been helping to teach me about this Swiss holiday, as he and his classmates were singing about Saint Nicholas and his donkey yesterday. Today, he came home and told me how Saint Nicholas travels with a sidekick, le Père Fouettard (or “Schmutzli” in German), who hits badly-behaved children with a broom (!). He also heard that Saint Nicholas hands out Bonshommes de Pâte, so it looks like I’ll be making these again this week…


Bonshommes de Pâte (Grittibänz)

Adapted from the recipe in Croqu’menus (2005).

(dairy/nut-free; can be made without egg)

350 ml rice milk, room temperature
7 grams (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
60 grams of dairy-free margarine
500 grams bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
canola oil, for greasing the bowl

1 egg, beaten (or melted dairy-free margarine)
Toppings: pumpkin seeds (almonds are more traditional, but we’re avoiding them), dried raisins or cranberries, coarse grains of sugar

1. Add the rice milk, yeast and sugar to a large bowl. Let the yeast dissolve for a few minutes on its own and then whisk together. Add flour, margarine and salt to the yeast mixture and stir together until dough forms.

2. Knead the dough for about 5-10 minutes. The dough will be sticky, but be patient. Add a little flour, if necessary. Once the dough is smooth and elastic (when you press the dough with your finger, it bounces back), place in a greased bowl and turn greased side up. Let it rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

3. Shape the dough into about 1-4 bread men. Here’s a quick video (in German) from Swiss Milk that gives an overview of how to shape the dough (it also features other small bread shapes for Christmas; skip to 2:50 for the section on Grittibänz).

4. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Let the bread rise while the oven preheats. Just before placing in the oven, brush the top of the bread with some of the beaten egg (or melted margarine). Decorate with pumpkin seeds (or almonds) and other dried fruit and coarse grains of sugar.

5. Bake for 30 minutes until the bread is nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.



Finally, a big “thank you” to the Food Librarian for including my Vegan Chocolate Bundt Cake with Speculoos Glaze in her National Bundt Day 2013 Round-Up.


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