Since September 8th marks the end of summer and beginning of fall as well as Mary's Birthday - nine months after the feast of the Immaculate Conception - this day has many thanksgiving celebrations and customs attached to it, such as the blessing of the summer harvest and fall planting seeds and seedlings.
In France there is a nice connection between the Nativity of Mary and wine: this feast day is the occasion for a grape harvest festival in the wine regions of France where winegrowers call this feast 'Our Lady of the Grape Harvest'. They bring their best grapes to the local church to be blessed and then tie some of the first fruits to the hands of the statue of Mary. An extensive festive meal which includes the new grapes is often part of this day's celebrations.
On this day, which, by the way is also the name day for all Marias and Mariettas, Italians like to eat blueberries, the blue of the berry is a reference to the traditional color of Mary’s cloak.
As the summer draws to a close, in the Alp region of Austria and Bavaria this day is 'Drive-Down Day' (Almabtrieb) during which the cattle are led from their summer mountain pastures in the slopes and brought to their winter quarters in the valleys. The 'Almabtrieb' is usually a large caravan, with loads of decorations and festivities. In some parts of Austria, milk from this day and all the leftover food are given to the poor.
There are a number of Marian Feast Days, too many to list them all. I talked about the wonderful traditions with respect to herbs and Assumption Day in my blog post here. So, today, September 8th, celebrates Mary's birthday and while there is no one specific traditional baked good that is prepared on this day, during my research I came across a recipe for 'Mary’s Sweet Rolls' (Süsse Marienküchlein) - their name refers to the fact that although these lovely sweet rolls can be baked throughout the year, of course, because they are just perfect for teatime, it is nice to bake them on special occasions like one of the many Marian feast days.
While the original recipe I found is for small rolls with pearl sugar only, I decided to add some slivered hazelnuts to some of them. We have a hazelnut tree in our garden and the nuts are ripe about this time of year, so this personal touch seemed fitting - plus I think the hazelnuts make these rolls look even prettier.
And let us not forget that not only is the beginning of September often associated with sowing and harvest, but there is even a folk saying which can be traced back to the Middle Ages that says that ‚Nuts are at their best on Mary’s Birthday‘ (‚An Marä Geburt sind die Nüsse gut‘). One more reason to add freshly harvested hazelnuts from our tree to these rolls.
Mary's Sweet Rolls (Süsse Marienküchlein)
(yields about 25)
- 250ml milk (I like to use 3.5%)
- 100g butter, unsalted, room temperature
- 21g fresh yeast OR 8g instant yeast (around here 'Trockenbackhefe')
- 550g strong baking flour (around here 'Type 550')
- 75g superfine baking (caster) sugar
- a pinch of fine sea salt
- grated zest of ½ organic lemon
- 8g pure vanilla sugar (around here 'Bourbon Vanillezucker')
- 1/8 tsp Cinnamon (I like to use 'Ceylon cinnamon')
- 2 eggs (M), free-range or organic
- some milk (again, I like to use full fat milk)
- pearl sugar (aka 'nib sugar' or 'hail sugar')
- slivered hazelnuts
- pure vanilla sugar
- Heat the milk to lukewarm, add the butter and the yeast to the milk and stir until the yeast and butter are dissolved.
- In a mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, salt, lemon zest, vanilla sugar and cinnamon. Add the flour mixture tot he yeast mixture. Then add the eggs. Mix all the ingredients until combined. Knead by hand until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
- Cover the dough and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour.
- After that, punch the dough down and roll it out to about 2 cm thickness.
- Using either a cookie cutter or a glass, cut into rounds, transfer them to parchment lined baking sheets and allow them to rise for an additional 20 minutes.
- While the rounds are rising, pre-heat your oven to 170° C.
- Next brush some milk over the top of the buns and sprinkle some pearl sugar and/or slithered hazelnuts mixed with some vanilla sugar on the tops.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. NOTE: These treats are best eaten the day they were made.
Despite common belief, the hazelnut is not a bush but a tree and in many cultures the hazelnut tree is revered as a sacred tree. And if one needed one more reason for the addition of hazelnuts to this recipe, I came across a legend from the Middle Ages during my research. According to the legend, Mary feel asleep under a hazelnut tree and when she awoke, she blessed the hazelnut tree that had provided a safe shelter to her while she slept so that from that day on, every person that stands under a hazelnut tree shall feel safe and never despair.
Please note that my recipe for Mary's Sweet Rolls (Süsse Marienküchlein) is part of my series for a 'local' (meaning across the state of North Rhine-Westphalia) radio station, where, throughout the years, I present different baked goods that are closely tied to various holidays and seasons. If you are interested, have a listen (in German) HERE.
The various recipes of my series can be found here:
- in January, for Three Kings Day (Dreikönigstag) two kinds of Galette des Rois (Dreikönigskuchen) (HERE)
- for Lent (Fastenzeit) Lenten Soup with Lenten Beugel (Fastenbeugel) (HERE)
- for Good Friday (Karfreitag) the delicious Hot Cross Buns (HERE)
- for Pentecost /Whitsun (Pfingsten) the fun Allgäu Bread Birds (Allgäuer Brotvögel) (HERE)
- for the beginning of the summer vacation, the lovely Sacristains (Almond & Sugar Puff Pastry Sticks) (HERE)
- for St Christopher's Day (St Christophorus), the energy-packed Müsli Power Bars (Müsli Energieriegel) (HERE)
- for Mary's Assumption Day (Mariä Himmelfahrt) my Tear & Share Herb Bread (Kräuterbrot) (HERE)
- for Mary’s Birthday (Mariä Geburt) some very pretty Mary’s Sweet Rolls (Süße Marienküchlein) (HERE)
- for Thanksgiving (Erntedankfest) a delicious and seasonal Thanksgiving Apple Tart with Frangipane (Erntedank Apfeltarte mit Mandelcreme) (HERE)
- for Halloween a Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake (Kürbis-Gewürzkuchen)
- for St Martin's Day (Martinsfest) the cheerful Sweet Dough Men (Weckmänner) (HERE)
- for St Andrew's Day (Andreastag) a classic Petticoat Tails Shortbread (HERE)
- for Christmas Day (Weihnachten) these Traditional German Gingerbread (Elisenlebkuchen) (HERE)
- for New Year's Eve a New Year's Eve Pretzel (Neujahrsbretzel)
- for Candelmas Day (Mariä Lichtmess) some delightful Navettes de Saint Victor (HERE)
- for Carnival Season (Karneval) these lovely Carnival Doughnuts (Karnevals-Krapfen) (HERE)
- for St Patrick's Day a traditional Irish Brown Soda Bread (Irisches Sodabrot)(HERE)
- for St Joseph's Day a long-forgotten but thankfully re-discovered Sweet Cotton Bread (Baumwollbrot)(HERE)
- for Palm Sunday (Palmsonntag) these very pretty Palm Pretzels (Palmbrezel) (HERE)
- for Easter Sunday (Ostersonntag) an Easter Brunch at Home with Tarte Flambée (Flammkuchen) (HERE)
- for the Month of May (Marienmonat Mai) these elegant Visitandines de Nancy (HERE)
- for Pentecost/Whitsun these festive Beignets (Heiliggeistkrapfen) (HERE) - more delicious treats to come very soon.