Making gingerbread houses is a father-son event in our home, with the boys crowded around the table as Michael assembles the house, a task that is not always easy. Some years the walls fall over and we’ve even resorted to using a glue gun to make the walls stand up. Each boy has a mini muffin tin filled with little candies in each cup that they put on the house. Some years the boys cooperate and the effort is pretty organized, but certainly not every year. Someone usually bumps into the house or spills the candy decorations or sticks their fingers where they don’t belong, but in the end that’s all part of the fun. In the past we purchased gingerbread house kits because the boys were very young and we wanted to simplify things a bit, and we weren’t planning to eat it anyway. We figured making our own parts from scratch would come as the boys got a little older.
Last year as we began talking about the annual gingerbread house, we stumbled across a Wilton kit for a gingerbread Christmas tree. After looking it over we thought this would be fun and different. (And if your children are very young, this is an easier project than a house because of the walls-falling thing.) After buying the kit I came across the Wilton Christmas tree cookie cutters on Amazon and immediately ordered them. (Also check your local K-Mart, Michael’s, A.C. Moore, and Jo-Ann’s Fabrics.) Even if we didn’t use them right away we thought they would be useful in coming years.
As it turns out, we were so excited by the prospect of having the cookie cutters that we made three trees: the tree from the kit, a homemade gingerbread tree, and a homemade rice crispy treat tree. We went a little overboard but had a lot of fun doing it. With the cutters you can use whatever kind of cookie you like for the tree. The box comes with a few photos of trees to get your creative juices flowing.
We made a shortened version of the gingerbread tree to save time, so we only made one of each size star, but to get a tall tree you need to make two of each, for 20 stars altogether. The rice crispy treat tree pieces were thicker than the gingerbread pieces, so we chose to make one of each star plus one extra tiny star for the top and still got a nice tall tree.
Of the two homemade trees, the gingerbread tree held up better. If you plan to eat the rice crispy treat tree, you really need to do it on the day it’s made because the pieces dry out quickly. Because we didn’t use any royal icing on this tree, we drove half a chopstick through the middle of the large stars to hold it together.
We use royal icing to decorate because it hardens and stays in place, and it also makes good glue to hold the tree pieces together. The recipe makes a large amount, but you can use the extra for decorating other Christmas cookies (Moravian Christmas Trees, Gingerbread Men) or make a recipe-and-a-half, using half for each color (green, yellow, white). Just remember you need enough for the glue, as well.
We’re sharing our gingerbread Christmas tree with Susan of Food Blogga for her annual festive Christmas cookie event. Each year she gathers links to many beautiful and delicious Christmas cookies from around the world, so you’ll have plenty to choose from. And thank you, Susan, for keeping this fun event going for the past three years.
- 1 recipe gingerbread men dough for 10 stars or 2 recipes for 20 stars (If you have extra you can decorate the extra cookies for the cookie tray.)
- ROYAL ICING
- 16 ounces (454 g) confectioners sugar, sifted
- 4 tablespoons powdered egg whites (Check the baking aisle at your grocery store.)
- 1/3 cup (80 ml) cold water
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- green food coloring
- yellow food coloring
- cinnamon imperials (not the heart-shaped)
- other as desired
- Prepare one or two batches of gingerbread dough and cut and bake 20 star cookies, 2 of each size, according to the recipe. Allow the cookies to cool completely. (TIP: Make a day or two ahead to spread the project out a bit and save time on assembly day.)
- ROYAL ICING: In the bowl of the stand mixer, add the sifted confectioners sugar and the egg white powder, stirring to mix.
- In a measuring cup, stir together the water, lemon juice, and vanilla. (If you want to color the icing, add some liquid coloring at this point. Reduce the amount of water slightly to compensate for the extra liquid.) Pour the mixture into the sugar and mix on low until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated, about 1 minute.
- Increase mixer speed to high and whip for 3 minutes until the icing has stiff peaks. (Repeat for each color you need.)
- Prepare three piping bags, two with #16 star tips and 1 with a round tip. Fill each with one color.
- Pipe a blob of icing (any color) in the middle of the foil covered cake round. Place the largest gingerbread star on top of the blob and gently press. Continue adding blobs of icing and stacking the stars, going from the largest to the smallest. Rotate the stars a little as you go so the points don’t overlap.
- For the top star, pipe some yellow icing on it and add a cinnamon imperial if you wish, then stand it up on a blob of icing on top.
- Begin piping the green tufts all over the tree. We pipe two or three tufts on each branch, er star point.
- Pipe white tufts for the snow. We kind of spread those all around.
- Add Jujubes or cinnamon imperials for the decorations. If the icing has started drying already, you may need to put a dab of wet icing on the bottom of each to make them stick.
- Allow the tree to rest uncovered for an hour or so to make sure the icing hardens and becomes stiff. And if you have little boys who like to swipe pieces like mine do, you may need to hide the finished tree until Christmas Day.
See Equipment list for gingerbread men cookies.
Wilton Christmas tree cookie cutters
10-inch cake round, covered with aluminum foil or food safe decorative paper
stand mixer with paddle attachment
decorating tips and plastic bags (2 #16 star, 1 round)