St Nicholas Day and Weckmänner bring up the best memories of growing up in Germany. As Saint Nicholas would come around to hand out the brioche-like baked Weckmann pastries, Knecht Ruprecht would follow along. Plus, Weckmänner are are a welcome break from all the cookie baking!
What is St Nicholas Day?
In Germany, the boot is left outside the front door on the evening of December 5th, then filled by the parents with treats like little chocolate coins, mandarin oranges, nuts, and small gifts from Saint Nicholas. A surprise awaits for the kids when they wake up on the morning of St Nicholas Day.
In other countries like Switzerland, a sack is left outside of the kids' bedrooms as a surprise when they wake up in the morning.
Later in the day at school, a man dressed as Saint Nicholas (Nikolaus) would come to each classroom with his helper Knecht Ruprecht to hand out Weckmänner.
It was one of my favorite holidays growing up in Germany, along with Martinstag, when sweet German pretzels called Martinsbrezeln are handed out to kids. The bottom line is: Germans love their baked goods and pastries.
When is it?
Saint Nicholas Day is on December 6th every year, when kids in Germany (and a few other European countries) wake up to a boot filled with treats and little gifts.
A Weckmann or Weckmänner are the traditional pastries handed out to kids that day. Saint Nicholas Day is not a national holiday in Germany, but that doesn't mean it's not celebrated.
Who is Knecht Ruprecht?
Knecht Ruprecht was dressed in dark, old clothes and carried a wooden stick. He represents the dark part of German folklore and followed along as a warning that kids needed to be good. He is the tamed down version of Krampus (popular in Austria) and he doesn't look nearly as scary!
Saint Nicholas day in German
Saint Nicholas Day in German means Nikolaustag. It's one of my favorite kids' holidays from growing up in Germany.
The Weckmann Tradition
A Weckmann or Weckmänner are brioche-like pastries made from a fluffy yeast dough. You can hand-shape them or use a homemade template or cookie cutter to create the shape, then have fun decorating them with raisins for eyes and buttons and Hagelzucker (pearl sugar) for clothes and more.
They often have ofen-safe, unglazed clay pipes baked onto them, but they are impossible to find in the USA, so I skipped them.
German bakeries sell Weckmänner around Christmas time, and on Saint Nicholas Day they are handed out by Saint Nicholas at school. They make for such a fun non-cookie baking project (already on my 4th batch baking some of my favorite cookies like Vanillekipferl, Spitzbuben and Zimtsterne) and I hope you will make some at home like we did, too.
Weckmänner also go by Stutenkerle, Klausenmann, Pumann, Dambedei, Klaaskerl, Grittibänz, Teigmännli, depending on which region in Germany or other surrounding countries you're in!
Watch this 20-second video to see how we make and decorate Weckmänner at home. It's so easy and my kids had so much fun making them!
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Weckmann/Stutenkerl (German St Nicholas Day Traditional Recipe)
- Stir 1 pouch of yeast (7 grams or ½ teaspoon) together with barely warm milk and allow to sit for 5 minutes to bubble up or 'bloom.'14 grams active-dry yeast, 250 milliliters milk
- Gently stir in 1 ½ cups (180 grams) of the flour to create a starter dough. Cover and allow to rest in a warm spot in your house for 2 hours (the longer it's allowed to rise, the better the flavor development).500 grams all purpose flour
- Now add in the remaining flour (320 grams or 2 ½ cups) and remaining yeast (1 pouch/7 grams/½ teaspoon ), egg, butter, sugar, vanilla, lemon peel and salt and and knead until you end up with a smooth dough that peels away from the sides of the bowl. You may need to add just a touch more flour.75 grams sugar, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, 75 grams butter, 7 grams salt, 1 egg, ½ lemon
Shape and Decorate
- Shape the Weckmänner by first rolling out the dough thinly and cutting them out OR shape them by hand. When cutting them out, I use either this cookie cutter or make a template from parchment paper (about 6 to 8 inches in size) to cut around.
- Place them on a baking sheet prepped with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit (180° Celsius).
- Cover with a clean linen towel and allow to rise one final time until doubled in size (about 30 minutes).
- Whisk together egg yolk and milk, then brush onto the Weckmänner.1 egg yolk, 1 Tablespoon milk
- Use raisins for eyes and buttons and pearl sugar for clothes or whatever your heart desires. This part of course is what kids have the most fun with.raisins, pearl sugar
Bake & Eat
- Bake in batches on the middle rack for about 18 to 20 minutes OR bake at once in separate sheets and rotate them halfway through baking. If baking two trays at once, they may take just an extra minute or two. Enjoy right away.