O Christmas Tree

image courtesy of Brae McDougald

image courtesy of Brae McDougald

Merry Christmas everyone! I'm about 95% done with my shopping, and I'm feeling the need to do some Christmas baking. I've been avoiding sugar for a while now, and she's been calling my name something fierce.

Last year, in the days leading up to Christmas, my good friend Jen dropped off the warmest, most delightful treat. It was a Christmas tree baked from dough and brown sugar, slathered in a gooey icing. My memory is that the night she dropped off the tree my family was away from the house, and as I sat watching a Christmas movie I ate the entire tree. Or at least most of it. I still think fondly on that evening. Don't judge.

Last Saturday Jen put on a baking demonstration for some ladies at church and taught us how to make the much-coveted cinnamon roll tree. She has also agreed to share her recipe here -- one passed down through three generations. Don't be daunted by the long list of instructions. Things start moving quickly once you get your feet under you . . . ummm, flour under you.  Also, if you scroll down, there is a short but handy video clip demonstrating the actual dough handling. Many thanks to Jen for her recipe and her fine showmanship!



  • 1.5 cups milk
  • 1 tablespoon yeast (plus pinch of sugar and appx 3 tablespoons warm water)
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 5-6 cups flour
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup brown sugar


  • 3-4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ cup milk

Making the Dough:

  1. Scald milk in a small pan over medium-high heat.  (Scald = heat without stirring until just before the boiling point, then remove from heat.)
  2. In the bowl of a large mixer add butter, sugar and salt.
  3. Pour scalded milk over butter and sugar mixture. Allow to come to luke warm temperature.
  4. “Pop” yeast. (In a small dish combine yeast, pinch of sugar, and enough warm water to dissolve yeast (about 3 tablespoons).  Stir to combine and let sit for a few minutes)
  5. When butter/sugar mixture is almost luke warm, turn mixer to lowest setting to combine and ensure butter is melted.
  6. While mixer is running on low speed, add first cup of flour. Then add the eggs.
  7. Add yeast mixture.
  8. Continue adding flour gradually, allowing it to incorporate. Increase mixer speed as necessary until dough forms and pulls away from bowl.  Dough should be very slightly sticky to the touch (not sticky enough to leave dough on your fingers) and should feel like your earlobe when lightly pinched.
  9. Cover and leave in warm place to rise for approximately 90 minutes, or until doubled.

Rolling out the Trees:

  1. Cut the dough into three equal parts, form each into a ball, and then set those not actively being worked aside and cover with a towel.
  2. On a floured surface, shape the ball into a rough triangular ball-shape.
  3. Flour a rolling pin and your hands and begin to roll the dough, forming a squat triangle with rounded points.  Work the rolling pin directly toward each point in turn, avoiding rolling toward the straight edges generally.  Work the bottom points more than the top so that the base is wider than the triangle is tall.

4. When the dough is a reasonably nice squat triangle, about ¼ - ½ thickness throughout, stop rolling.
5. Melt ½ stick butter in a small dish.
6. Combine 1 cup brown sugar with 1 tablespoon cinnamon in a separate dish.
7.  With a pastry brush, spread butter down the center of the triangle dough from the top point all the way down to the center of the base.  The butter should form a thinner triangle than the dough so that it comes to a point at the top, but at the bottom it only covers the middle third of the dough, leaving the outer thirds of the base unbuttered.
8. Sprinkle enough of the brown sugar mixture over the butter, spreading it out with your hand, to cover the buttered area.  It should cover the area, but not be a very thick coating as excess sugar will ooze out and leave a mess when baking.  (If desired, you can add some raisins or nuts at this step).

brown sugarweb.jpg

9. Using your fingers and a small cup of water, wet the outer side edges of the triangle sufficiently so that the dough will stick to itself.
10. Fold the outer edges into the center, pinching the wet edges to seal.  Be careful not to let the wet edges dip into the sugar/butter in the center.  Once the edges are pinched, carefully spread the pastry back out a bit so that only the very center pinched seam runs down the middle of the now elongated triangle shape.  It should start taking on the shape of a taller tree now. 

11. Using two hands, carefully flip the pastry over onto a cookie sheet or piece of parchment.  The seam should now be on the bottom.
12. Using kitchen shears, make horizontal cuts from each side towards the center, leaving the center intact (don’t cut further than your seam on the underside).  The cuts on either side should line up directly across from one another.  The first cut at the base should be about 1.5 inches from the bottom.  The remaining cuts should be about ¾ - 1 inch apart, leaving a small attached triangular shape at the top.
13. Once both sides are cut, take the bottom strip on either side and fold downward, crossing the two strips to form a trunk.
14. Next twist each strip one turn downward, pulling out slightly and pressing down after you twist to encourage the dough to stay twisted.Once you’ve twisted all the strips, you have now formed your tree!!  Set aside and cover with a towel for about 15 minutes while the oven preheats to 350-375.
15. Bake each tree uncovered for 12-18 minutes, until lightly browned—careful not to overbake.
16. Remove and let cool for a few minutes.


  1. Put approximately 3 cups powdered sugar into a mixing bowl.
  2. dd 2 tablespoons softened butter.
  3. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla.
  4. Add ¼ cup milk.
  5. Beat mixture adding milk or powdered sugar to achieve a soft icing or thick glaze—you should be able to drizzle the icing, but just barely.
  6. When icing is desired consistency, add green food coloring if desired.

Icing the Tree:

  1. When tree has cooled slightly, (it should still be warm, but not hot), use two spatulas to lift it carefully onto a foil tray, or foil lined piece of cardboard.
  2. Drizzle or drop spoonfuls glaze over tree with a spoon.
  3. Lightly spread the glaze so it slides into the cracks.
  4. Shake sprinkles over tree before glaze hardens (optional).

Serve while still warm if possible, or when fully cool, cover with plastic wrap.  Add a bow at the top of the tree like a star and give to a friend!