This is a short explanation of how I made an edible-decorated miniature Christmas tree and a selection of full-sized ornaments. Seeing as the best part of Christmas is in the eating (it's in the top 3, at the very least), I thought a night of watching holiday movies and slowly crunching our way through the decorations was suitably festive. This was part of my gift to my boyfriend, but it would also be an awesome gift for kids, or for lending a bit of festive spirit to anyone who doesn't have space for a full-sized tree (renters, students in dorms, the boy wizard under your stairs, whoever.) Also better than a real tree, the clean-up is both easy and delectable. The cookie ornaments on their own make a great gift for someone with a full-sized tree, too!
It's fairly straight-forward, but there are a few considerations to think about so I've outlined them here!
Step 1: Procure Your Conifer
Buy yourself a little tree. Fake ones can be picked up for pretty cheap at Michael's, Walmart, Zellers, Winners—they're easy to find. Real ones are especially adorable and leave your recipients with a more permanent gift once the eating is done, but they might cost more. It's important that you do this first, so that you can make sure that your ornaments and other decorations aren't going to dwarf it or look ridiculously small. It also gives you an idea of how many you're going to need to reasonably cover it. (No harm in making extras for the snacking, though.) If you're making ornaments for someone else's tree, it's probably safe to assume it's a standard size.
Step 2: Make Your Doughs!
For a project like this, you're going to want to stick to roll-out cookies that preferably aren't sandwiched. We want firm, resilient cookies, and fillings generally soften cookies over time. You can make all your decorations out of the same dough, or you can make a few different ones for variety.
I made vanilla sugar cookies using Bridget's recipe from Bake at 350, gingerbread cookies using a recipe from Epicurious, and a linzer recipe from Canadian Living.
Sugar cookies - http://bakeat350.blogspot.ca/2008/04/taste-of-yellow-yellow-rose-sugar.html
Gingerbread - http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Gingerbread-Cookies-and-Citrus-Sugar-Cookies-103110
Linzer - http://www.canadianliving.com/food/baking_and_desserts/linzer_cookies.php (note: don't proceed with the filling)
- If you want your cookies to stay very true to their shape, I've found good success with leaving out all but 1/2 tsp of the leavener in most roll-out cookie recipes.
- Divide your dough in half or even into thirds, wrap tightly, and put in the freezer for a couple of hours or the fridge overnight. This way you only have to take out the amount you need to work with and it will be able to stay cold.
Step 3: Bake Dem Cookies!
Roll out your dough and cut out your cookies.
- Work with the dough chilled. As it warms up, it will be harder to work with. Only take out 1/3 or 1/2 of the dough at a time, and put the scraps back into the freezer while you're waiting for the next round.
- Use lots of flour, or parchment paper. Keep sliding and rotating the dough as you roll it to prevent it from sticking. If you roll the dough right onto the counter top, it will stick and the shape will be destroyed when you try to lift it off.
- Roll them a little thicker than you would normally (I did about 1/3").
-Using the top of a piping tip or a skewer, make a hole in the dough where you want the cookie to hang from. Remember that the cookie will expand a bit in the oven, so the hole has to be big enough to accommodate for that. Also make sure to put your hole at least 1/4" away from the edge of the cookie, or else your decoration will be very fragile where it hangs.
Bake your cookies off and let them cool completely before decorating.
Step 4: Decorate!
Traditionally, these type of cookies would be decorated using royal icing. I used http://bakeat350.blogspot.ca/2010/01/royal-icing-102-or-201-or-whatever.html. This isn't the place for a full decorating tutorial, but http://www.universityofcookie.com/ has a ton of really helpful videos from cookie senseis.
- Decorating with a limited colour palette in mind keeps down the mess and means less piping bags and bottles to deal with. It also makes your ornaments look cohesive.
- Be aware that a traditional red-and-white palette can potentially lead to a lot of ugly bleeding between colours. If you are using a red base, wait until it's completely dry to pipe on your white details, and vice-versa.
- Make note of where the string will rub against the cookie as it hangs, and don't put any fragile or raised decorations in that spot. e.g. on the round bulbs, there is nothing around the top side of the hole.
- If you aren't too keen on flooding and piping, you could use a variety of dragees, sprinkles, and jimmies to decorate. Or, if you've got kids helping, use edible markers to draw on them.
- If you don't consider yourself an artist, don't sweat it. This is a pretty home-y project, to be made, given and received with love, so it doesn't matter too much.
Step 5: String 'Em Up
Fairly straight-forward. When choosing your string:
- Make sure that it's non-toxic. A sparkly ribbon that's going to cover your cookies in glitter is not a food-safe choice.
- Dyed yarns or threads might rub off some colour onto sugar cookies.
- Plastic curling ribbon is sanitary and affordable if you're making a lot of ornaments, but if you're gifting someone only a couple, butcher's twine or cloth ribbon feels classier.
- Make sure if you're buying ribbon that it's thin enough to get through the holes in your cookies. Otherwise, it is an extremely frustrating process.
Step 6: Finishing Touches and Assemble!
To finish off your tree, you might want to add chocolate or candy ornaments, mini candy canes, or strung popcorn. Such additions will elevate your tree to Gangsta level.
Decide if you're going to deliver the tree decorated or, if not, find some cute bags or a plate to put your ornaments on for your recipient to unwrap. I took the plate of cookies (above) with a glass cupcake ornament and some chocolate and wrapped it all in cellophane as a hostess gift for a tree-trimming party.
Whether you're delivering a package with the tree or just some cookie ornaments on their own, wrap them tightly in a sealed bag or container. They'll stay good for about 2 weeks this way. Once put on the tree, they should be eaten within 3-5 days. After about a week they can start to taste pine-y, according to recipients.