I am a sucker for mid-century Christmas crap. I love the fake trees, gilded barware, and felty stockings. This year, instead of trying another version of a traditional Christmas tree cookie, I decided to recreate my favorite holiday tree. The big fake white tinsel tree with giant ball ornaments. The lack of fullness and the awkward placement of the ornaments just really makes my socks go up and down.
I decided to make these mini. Mainly because I wanted the “ornaments” to be nice and big compared to the “branches” and these are the biggest dragees I have. But I also feel like dragees, I use these for this recipe, aren’t the most delicious decoration on the planet so I like to use them in small quantities. I wouldn’t sit down and eat a whole bag of these, but a few really spruce up (get it? spruce?) a holiday cookie assortment. I picked this cookie cutter for it’s size and clean lines but you could use any mini tree cutter.
I’ve made several batches of these. Sometimes I tint the dough an aqua color and sometimes I don’t. I think blue dough can sometimes look unappetizing but I really love the way it sets off the colors of the dragees. Use sky blue gel food dye because the butter in the dough will add some yellow. Every once in a while the dough looks too drab. If that happens you can add some Americolor bright white food dye. That’ll brighten it right back up.
Here are a few tips to ensure these come together smoothly:
- Don’t try and do it all in one session. The cookies actually turn out better if you let the dough sit overnight in the fridge and the cookies dry out in a container on your counter for a few days. It’s also just less overwhelming to do one stage at a time. I usually make my dough 2-7 days before I need the cookies. I do dough one day, bake the cookies another day and decorate them on a third day. Doing it this way you also get the bonus smugness of feeling like your life is organized and under control.
- Skip the royal icing. It’s really tricky to get the consistency right if you’re inexperienced. When I make royal icing I actually get out a timer and count how many seconds it takes for the drizzled icing to get smooth, then adjust it by adding infinitesimal amounts of water with a spray bottle. You don’t want to do that right? Betty Crocker cookie icing can be found in the baking aisle of most major grocery stores. It comes in a range of colors and sets up hard like royal icing so you can put them in treat bags or stack them. It comes with a piping tip attached that you can cut to make any size line you like. It also tastes pretty darn good! I actually prefer it to royal icing, it’s more like a corn syrup glaze.
- Any dragees will do. I like the multi-color, but I bet gold would look super tacky in an amazing way too.
- Keep your decorations simple. Do one design for each shape you cut out. It may seem boring but the consistency will make it look more “professional”. And lots of designs are deceptively hard to make look good. I know because I’ve tried and failed many times.
- Heed the directions. These sugar cookies are super buttery and have lovely crisp edges. Because of all that butter they need to be chilled in the fridge between cutting out and baking or they will lose their shape. If you can’t wait the full 15 minutes, you can put them in the freezer for 5-7 minutes instead.
- Bake one sheet at a time. This will give you the most consistent results. You want to bake them until the edges are just starting to brown, for me that’s right at the 8 minute mark but my oven is temperamental and trying to mentally break me. If you take them out too soon, they may get mushy when you add the moisture of the icing.
- Working on one cookie at a time, pipe on the trunk and branches, then add the “ornaments”. While the icing is still wet, sprinkle sparkling sugar over the entire cookie. Then tap off the excess and put on a drying rack. Let dry for at least 4 hours.
- Remember that they’re only cookies and that they will still taste good no matter how goofy they look. I get a kick out of making pretty things and taking pretty pictures and sharing on the interwebs. But cookies are meant to be eaten, not viewed, so just go for it.
Happy Holiday Baking!