What would be winter without its comforting and delicious food? As Saint Nicolas day and Christmas approach, let us rejoice in the coming back of a classic, traditional Alsatian food: manala.
Served to celebrate Saint Nicolas day, manalas are little brioche men you can find everywhere in the east of France in winter.
Saint Nicolas, patron saint of children, is celebrated on 6th of December by eating manala, clementines and sweets, and drinking hot cocoa.
Depending on the region, the meaning of these little men can vary, but what never does is the pleasure of eating them. Whether they represent Saint Nicolas himself or the three children he resurrected after a butcher murdered them, all Alsatian children adore him (and the pastries, obviously!)
- How to eat your manala the right way:
It is important to respect some traditions, so here is the right way to enjoy your manala (according to my grandmother and my mother, and they’re always right, so…).
Manala are even tastier when shared, so in the evening of December 6th, you will have to gather your friends/flatmates/whoever you want, and have breakfast for dinner. Hot cocoa is mandatory, for dipping your manala in it is an almost divine experience. If you are feeling fancy, you can open up your manala and spread honey, chocolate spread, jam, butter on it. Et voilà!
The joy in eating manala is certain, what is less certain is what you should call them… As for many things, Alsatians have heated debates on what is “the right” name for this pastry.
If you are from the south of Alsace, you probably call them “manala” (which can also be written as “mannala”). From the north? It’s “mennele” or even “mannele”. In Franche-Comté, it is known as “Jean Bonhomme”, but as “petit Saint Nicolas” in Lorraine. Confusing, right?
The recipe however is straightforward: Simple, but time-consuming, so let us roll up our sleeves and get started.
Preparation time: 1h30; cooking: 25 min; thermostat 5/6. For 4 people (approximately 16 manala).
You will need:
- 500g of flour,
- 25g of baker’s yeast,
- 100g of crystal sugar,
- 200g of milk,
- 5g of salt,
- 100g of butter,
- 2 eggs,
- 1 yolk.
Warm (around 40°C) half of the milk in a bowl and dilute the yeast in it. Add 100g of flour and mix. Cover the bowl with a cloth. Leave to rise for 20 minutes. In a saucepan, melt the butter with the remaining milk, sugar and salt. Allow to cool. Add the leavened mixture prepared earlier, while kneading. Add the 2 whole eggs and the remaining flour. Knead for 15 minutes. Cover the container with a cloth and leave to rise for 30 minutes. Form small cylinders of 3 cm in diameter and 15 cm long. Cut them with scissors to form the head, arms and legs. Place the pieces on a buttered baking sheet. Glaze the pieces with the remaining egg yolk, and form the eyes with raisins or chocolate chips (this last bit is optional). Leave to rise for 20 minutes, then put in the oven.
If cannibalism bothers you, you can always shape your dough as a snail (of sorts), in which case you now have a schnackala (a snail) instead of a manala.
It is important to leave your manala to rise in a warm room, with no draughts, as it will hinder the process.
It is also essential not to warm the milk too much. It should not be boiled, otherwise the mixture of yeast and milk will not take. You should be able to drop some milk on your wrist without burning yourself.
And don’t forget, the uglier they are, the better it is. Mine (and my mum’s) always look like weirdly shaped aliens…
Mannalas (petits bonshommes) et schnackalas (escargots) – Les douceurs d’Elodie. 2021. Mannalas (petits bonshommes) et schnackalas (escargots) – Les douceurs d’Elodie. [ONLINE] Available at: http://lesdouceursdelo.canalblog.com/archives/2010/12/05/19791544.html. [Accessed 19 November 2021].
TRADITION. Le jour du manala à Cernay. 2021. TRADITION. Le jour du manala à Cernay. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.dna.fr/edition-mulhouse-thann/2019/12/06/le-jour-du-manala-a-cernay. [Accessed 19 November 2021].
Mannele — Wikipédia. 2021. Mannele — Wikipédia. [ONLINE] Available at: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mannele#:~:text=Un%20mannele%20ou%20mannala%20(de,lorraines%2C%20et%20plus%20g%C3%A9n%C3%A9ralement%20allemandes. [Accessed 19 November 2021].
marmiton.org. 2021. Manalas ou mannele (Alsace) : recette de Manalas ou mannele (Alsace). [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.marmiton.org/recettes/recette_manalas-ou-mannele-alsace_13205.aspx. [Accessed 19 November 2021].
written by Julie Adèle Christiane Maruitte. She graduated at Paris IV-Sorbonne, with a double major in history and English and holds a master’s degree in audio-visual translation. She is now a Schuman trainee at DG TRAD Directorate.