These Alsatian brioches appeared in the 15th century. They are linked to the celebration of St Nicholas and are traditionally offered to children who have been good (sounds familiar? That is because ol’ St Nick was the original Santa Claus). Originally, Mannele had other shapes (horses, bunnies, chicken, etc…) but gradually took a more human form, representing St Nicholas or one of the resurrected children.
According to some rumours, Mannele would be linked to gingerbread men, who also appear in shop windows around the same time of year. However, while both appeared in the 15th century, gingerbread men seem to have been born in London, in the kitchens of Elizabeth I, who liked serving her prominent guests with biscuits presented in their likeness.
- 600g/21.16 oz. plain flour
- 1 sachet active dry yeast (about 10g/0.35 oz.)
- 330ml warm milk
- 55g/1.94 oz. sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 60g/2.11 oz. softened butter
- 1 egg
- Of choice: chocolate chips, sultanas, pine nuts… (to shape the eyes and other decorations)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tbsp. milk
Cut the butter into pieces and leave to soften at room temperature.
Warm the milk and sprinkle the yeast over it. Be careful, the milk shouldn’t be hot or it will kill the yeast.
In a big bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Rub in the butter until you get a crumb-like consistency.
Mix in the egg, using a hard spatula.
Slowly add the milk and knead until the dough is smooth, soft and no longer sticky.
Cover with Clingfilm and allow to rest for about 1h30, or until the dough has doubled in size.
Once your dough has risen, tip it onto your working surface and knock the air out.
To shape the Mannele, you can use of the 2 following methods:
- divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and shape them into logs. Cut one third and roll it to form the head. Using a pair of scissors or a sharp knife, make two oblique cuts into the cylinder, for the arms, and a vertical one at the bottom to cut the legs. Place the head over the shoulders;
- roll out the dough with a rolling pin and use a gingerbread man cookie cutter. I used a 14cm/5.5 in. cookie cutter.
Place the Mannele on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Do not put more than 6 Mannele per sheet or they’ll stick together during the second rise.
Cover with a towel and let rise for about an hour.
Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F.
Beat the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon milk and brush over the Mannele.
Pin the chocolate chips/sultanas/pine nuts onto the dough for the eyes, buttons and/or other decorations.
Bake for 15 minutes or until golden.
Cool on a wire rack before eating them with a cup of hot chocolate
Note: if you are vegan and/or follow a dairy-free and/or gluten-free diet, I would love to have your feedback on the possible substitutions and the results you get. Thank you 🙂