Lucky me to have a sister-in-law who is a fabulous baker and who is fond of inviting people over for coffee and homemade cake in the afternoon. She was also kind enough to come over this week with my itsy bitsy neice to show me how to bake stutenkerl, something especially nostalgic from her childhood in Germany.
Stutenkerl [“stuten” is a type of sweet, leavened dough and “kerl” means “lad” or “fellow”] is a barely sweet bread formed in the shape of a person, usually decorated with raisins and sometimes a pipe that can later be used for blowing bubbles. You’ll find this special treat on the breakfast table all over Germany on St. Nicholas Day (December 6), which is the day when kids find the little present that St. Nicholas has left in their shoe the night before. Hopefully you’ve been good, because nobody wants to find a lump of coal in their shoe! Ute tells me that you’ll find stutenkerl, baked especially for this holiday, in nearly every bakery in Germany, but she says she hasn’t come across them here. So it seems the only way you’ll get your hands on some stutenkerl in the Bay Area is to make some yourself.
Ute and I had a great time making this together and even our little guys (1 and almost 2) had fun getting into the action. This is a lovely kitchen playdate project because 1) most kids I know adore playing with dough; 2) you can make the traditional “lad”, but you can also let the kids loose to make whatever shapes or characters they like; 3) there’s plenty of time to take play breaks since the dough has to rise two times, a bonus when dealing with short attention spans. The very smallest tots will have plenty of fun just playing with a bit a dough and sneaking raisins when you’re not looking, while older kids can help with the measuring, kneading, shaping and decorating…. and of course the eating!
Stutenkerl (makes 4 large “fellows”)
Ute tracked down this recipe in German and says that our stutenkerl were “pretty authentic” which is to say, this is the only stutenkerl recipe you’ll ever need 🙂
- 500 grams (about 2 cups) flour, plus additional flour as needed and for dusting your work surface
- 1 package of active dry yeast
- 50 grams (1/4 cup) of sugar
- pinch salt
- 250 ml (8.5 ounces or just over 1 cup) warm milk
- 50 grams (4 tablespoons) of butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 1 egg
- egg yolk, for brushing the fellows before they bake
1. Add dry ingredients (flour, yeast, sugar and salt) to a large mixing bowl and combine well. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add liquids. Note: the milk and butter should be warm to activate the yeast, but not hot.
3. Mix and knead with your hands — i t will be messy and sticky at first, but it will come together. If needed, you can sprinkle more flour on the dough and incorporate it as you knead. You want your dough to form a ball and be tacky like the back of a piece of tape. Leave your dough in the bowl and cover the bowl with a kitchen towel. Let your dough rise for 30 minutes. To ensure a good rise, we set the covered bowl in a basin of hot water several inches deep.
4. When the dough has risen 30 minutes it will be slightly puffed. Cut the dough in half and then in half again so that you can make 4 fellows or whatever shape you like (you can even use smaller portions to bake mini stutenkerl). Before shaping the dough, knead for a few minutes on a lightly floured surface. I think shaping the figures right on the parchment covered baking sheets that you will be baking them on is best so that you don’t have to worry about transferring them. Let the little fellows rise, uncovered on baking sheets for 20 minutes in a 175 degree oven.
5. After the second rise (they will be quite puffy), decorate your stutenkerl with raisins, them brush the tops with beaten egg yolk. Bake at 380 degrees for 20-25 minutes until they are shiny and golden on top and a skewer poked into the bread comes out clean.
For ambitious dough artists, check out this cool video of a baker shaping an elaborate stutenkerl. It’s just plain cool to watch, but also gives you an idea of some techniques you might use to give your fellow a little character.