One of the signs of Christmas in Basel is the appearance of doughy chaps with raisins for eyes and a scattering of sugar on their tummies. In German-speaking Switzerland, the little fellows with a flavor of pain brioché are called Grättimaa. I happened upon these at the Basel Christmas market, just before the feast day of Saint Nicholas on December 6th (when Swiss children here are visited by Samichlaus and his companion Schmutzlis, but that’s another story).
This year, on the Saturday before Saint Nicholas Day, I visited the bakers at one of Switzerland’s top artisanal bakeries, Sutter Begg (the clip on the home page is in German, but worth watching to see the bakers at work).
They demonstrated how Grättimaa are made, starting with a sweet, yeasted dough. The dough had risen before I got to the bakery in the wee, wee hours. Here, two bakers weigh out portions and knead them into slabs, then roll them out on a floured wooden work surface.
Working in a team, three bakers take turns cutting the dough into logs, flattening them out on trays, and using a cookie-cutter like device to make arms and legs. The trays are then set aside for decorating with raisins and coarse sugar. In a morning dance that is rhythmic,seemingly choreographed and elegantly performed from years of practice, the men work steadily until all the dough is gone. Meanwhile, heavenly aromas waft from ovens across the room.
It’s well known that bakers observe somewhat “unsocial” working hours. It was worth the early alarm clock to see these guys work their magic, and bring the little men to life. By 6:00 am, these Grättimaa were ready to be sorted into boxes for delivery to bakeries around town.
For me, it was time for a nap.