These jolly, dancing little men, made of mildly sweet bread dough, are called "munlies' by the Petsche family of Canyou Lake, California.
Their origin is definitely German, and making munlies is a tradition that's been handed down through generations of the family. But even though there are allusions to munlies in German literature (mannlein, meaning "little man,' is more likely the proper spelling), they're not as well known as other German Christmas customs.
On Christmas Eve, everyone in the Petsche household--children included-- decorates a gaily active munlie for Santa's snack. Next morning, they share what is left with butter, jam, and a glass of milk.
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110|)
1 1/4 cups milk
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup (3/8 lb.) butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon anise seed (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
About 6 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Raisins, currants, whole or half nuts
Icing (directions follow), optional
Butter and jam
In a large bowl, combine yeast and 1/2 cup water; let stand about 5 minutes for yeast to soften. Add milk, honey, the 2 eggs, the 3/4 cup butter, lemon peel, anise seed, and salt. Stir until blended.
If mixing by hand, add 4 cups flour and beat until batter is stretchy. Then stir in 2 cups flour until moistened. Scrape dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic 5 to 8 minutes; add flour to prevent sticking. Put dough in a buttered bowl and turn dough over so top is lightly buttered. Cover bowl with plastic wrap.
If mixing with a dough hook, add 6 cups flour and slowly mix to moisten. Beat until dough pulls from sides of bowl; add a little flour if necessary. Cover bowl with plastic wrap.
Let the dough rise in a warm place until about doubled, about 1 hour. Punch the dough down in bowl, then knead on a lightly floured board to expel most of the air.
Measure a well-packed 1/2- or 3/4-cup portion of dough. Roll dough between your hands to make a log about 7 inches long. Lay log on a buttered 10- by 15-inch baking sheet (step 1).
To shape each munlie, start by cutting 3/4-inch notches on opposite sides of the log about 1 1/2 inches from an end (this marks the shoulders). Twist 1 1/2-inch section over 1 full turn to define the head. If desired, pinch and slightly pull the tip to make a pointed cap. To create arms (step 2), make slighty slanting cuts on opposite sides of the log starting about 3 1/2 inches below shoulders and cutting up about 2 3/4 inches (leave about 1/2 to 1 inch across center for chest). …