It’s a little late for this year, but next year you could be eating Seelenbrezen for All Souls’ Day. Or Seelenkranz, or Seelenwecken. Some are shaped like pretzels but are really more of a sweet yeast bread or a cookie. Some are braided rings or stollen-type braids. There are also savory versions. Here is one version on a seasonal specialty page for a bakery named Cafe Madlon. (Other feastday goodies include Martinsgans cookies (St. Martin’s Geese, for St. Martin’s Day on Nov. 11), St. Sylvester’s Day pigs, and Fasching (Mardi Gras) doughnuts.)
Seelenwecken (Souls-waking) is pretty much just a diamond-shaped cookie filled with chocolate, jam, cream or some other goodie, which your godparents would give you on All Saints and on Easter, until you turned 14 or 15 and were considered an adult. You usually also received money on both feasts. It’s a Bavarian thing. Here’s an article about them.
Allerseelenweckerl is a yeast bread loaf, braided in three, with powdered sugar on top and sometimes raisins. This was another gift for godchildren. Here’s an article about it with a recipe.
Here’s a news story with giant Seelenbrezen in Augsburg. It used to be traditional to leave these Souls-pretzels on the graves of relatives and friends you visited (or even to hang them from a cross gravemarker) as well as to give them to children. In Swabia, godmothers still bake sweet yeast bread “soulbraids” (Seelenzoepfe) for their godchildren. Seelenbrezen often have icing or a sugar glaze, or are made with nuts sprinkled on top, but they are also made in every possible variation.
This Seelen recipe is pretty much just yeast bread, sprinkled with coarse salt and caraway seeds. (It says that this was originally made with spelt flour.) But it also mentions the “grosse Seele”, the great soul, which men sent to their sweethearts as a sort of tangible marriage proposal. This was a bar 20 cm long and 5 cm wide, buttered on top and sprinkled with salt and cumin. Then there was Seelebrot or Hungerbrot, alms for the poor for the sake of the Poor Souls. There was also the “suesse Seele,” the sweet soul, which godparents sent to their godchildren to encourage them to pray for poor souls.
Here’s a recipe from kirchenweb.at in Austria for a sweet Seelenbrezen with a bit of a rum taste for us adults. I converted the measurements and translated it with help from Google Translate, but those of you who know how to bake should keep an eye on things. I assume that 350 degrees and keeping an eye on the oven will get you there.
Dampfl (yeast mixture):
4 1/4 Tbsp. (lukewarm) = 1/16 liter
1/8 cup fresh yeast = 30 grams
2 Tbsp granulated sugar (Rieselzucker) = 2 Estoeffel
1 Tbsp flour = 1 Estoeffel
Add the lukewarm milk to crumbled yeast and stir until it is dissolved. Add sugar. Stir again. Sprinkle flour over the surface. Cover dampfl and leave it in a warm place until it has risen twice as big. (Use a large bowl that will have room for rising more than twice as big.)
4 cups flour = 500 grams
1/4 cup plus a skosh of margarine or butter = 60 grams
3 egg yolks (save the egg whites for brushing on)
Dampfl from above
2 1/2 tsp. milk (lukewarm) = approx 1/8 liter
Sift flour into a bowl. Add the milk-butter mixture (lukewarm!), the egg yolks, the spices and goodies, and the Dampfl. Beat it all well with a wooden spoon until the dough stops sticking to the bowl and wooden spoon. Sprinkle it with flour and let rest. The dough should rise twice as big.
Now take it out of the bowl, knead it, and form it into the shape of a pretzel, a braided ring, or a braid (like a stollen or striezel) – whatever you like. Leave it in a warm place again. Then brush the top with eggwhites for a shiny look and sprinkle with coarse sugar, or sprinkle nuts on top, or whatever you like.
Bake until done at 356 ° F (middle rack) = 180 ° C.