Catholic Recipe: December 06, St. Nicholas: Klauskerl (St. Nicholas Doughman)
Also Called: St. Nicholas Bread Man
One of the most beloved saints all through the Middle Ages was St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor. In fact, he still is the favorite saint of little children in the Catholic sections of Central Europe. This veneration is easily explained: He is the special patron saint of small children. His feast day, December 6, is a great day of celebration for the little ones.
In many parts of Europe, children still receive his "visit" on the eve of the feast. Impersonated by a man wearing a long white beard, dressed in the vestments of a bishop, with mitre and crozier, he appears in homes as a heavenly messenger. Coming at the start of Advent, he admonishes the children to prepare their hearts for a blessed and holy Christmas. After exhorting them to be good, he departs with a friendly greeting, leaving the little ones filled with holy awe.
St. Nicholas is said to return during the night to bring his gifts. Upon arising, the children find on the window sill apples, oranges, nuts, candy, figures baked of sweet dough representing the saintly bishop, cookies, and chocolate balls.
The Hollanders brought this custom of the visit of St. Nicholas to America. Later, when New Amsterdam became New York, this Dutch tradition of Sinter Claas (pronounced "Santa Claus") was transferred to Christmas and the figure of the Saint changed into the present legendary figure of Santa Claus, whose "story" was taken from the ancient Germanic mythology of the god Thor.
In accord with the old custom, parents might grant their little children a happy celebration in honor of St. Nicholas, their patron Saint, on December 6, with a "festive" meal (which can be easily prepared for children) and with some of the traditional St. Nicholas pastries. "Klauskerl" is a bread dough shaped into a St. Nicholas figure, a "doughman."
Dissolve yeast in water. Stir in 1/2 cup flour; mix thoroughly. Let rise in covered bowl.
Sift 2-1/2 cups flour into bowl; make "well" in center; put dough in it. Add 1 egg, sugar, salt, butter, milk. Knead until dough starts to blister. Dust dough with flour; cover; let rise to double thickness.
Punch to 1/4-inch thickness and cut pieces in shape of body, head, arms, legs. Assemble to form "St. Nicholas doughman"; cover; let rise.
Make face, using raisins, slivers of almond, currants, etc. Brush with milk, beaten egg. Bake at 375º F. until golden brown.
Recipe Source: Catholic Cookbook, The by William I. Kaufman, The Citadel Press, New York, 1965