Christmas to me is all about the traditions. What you eat, what you wear, and what you do are all a big part of making memories during the holiday season. Growing up, one of my favorite traditions involves going to the movies on Christmas Eve with all of my cousins to see a Christmas movie. It started when we were young, to give our parents a opportunity to get us out of the house so they could prepare our presents for Christmas morning. Now, even with most of us well into adulthood, we still try to get together for an afternoon movie before heading to my aunt’s annual Christmas Eve party. Hanging out with my cousins on Christmas Eve is one of my most cherished Christmas memories.
Now that Brad and I are married, we wanted to start our own traditions for our first married Christmas, with the hope that these traditions would carry on for decades. In addition to cutting down our own tree, we decided to buy each other an ornament that represented something significant that happened that year. When the time comes, we’ll also buy each kiddo an ornament every year, and when they get married or move our, they’ll have a whole box of ornaments to take with them. I can’t wait until our tree is filled with years and years of memories!
Spending Christmas morning together this year as husband and wife was something that I insisted on this year. Our only dilemma was what to make for breakfast! My family always had cinnamon rolls (from a pop-tube), french toast, eggs and bacon, while Brad’s family always had monkey bread every year. Since I rarely get around to making homemade cinnamon rolls, we decided on cinnamon rolls, shaped into something a little more festive…a cinnamon roll Christmas tree! I dressed it up even more by tinting the glaze green, and dousing it with sprinkles. Not only was it pretty, it was delicious as well. I hope that someday, when we’re old and grey, and we have dozens of grandchild buzzing around the house hopped up on sugar plums, that we still have cinnamon roll Christmas trees for breakfast on Christmas morning.
Cinnamon Roll Christmas Tree
Yields: 24 rolls or 2 small trees
For the dough:
6 1/4 cups (28 oz) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
6 tablespoon granulated sugar
5 tsp instant yeast
2 cups + 2 tablespoons lukewarm milk
1/2 cup melted butter (unsalted)
zest of 1/2 lemon
For the filling:
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
About 4 tablespoons melted butter, for brushing
For the cream cheese frosting:
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream (more or less depending on how thick you want your icing)
pinch of salt
Green food coloring
To make the dough, combine the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of stand mixer. Whisk the yeast into the milk until dissolved, then pour the mixture into the dry ingredients, along with the butter and lemon zest. Use the paddle attachment to mix the ingredients on the lowest speed for about 1 minutes, or until the dough starts to form a soft, shaggy ball.
Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed for about 4 minutes, adding more flour or milk as needed to create a smooth, soft, slightly sticky ball of dough. Increase the speed to medium and mix for an additional 2 minutes, or until the dough is very soft, supple, and tacky, but not sticky. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 1 minute, then form it into a ball. Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours. While waiting for the dough to rise, whisk together the cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar and set aside.
After the dough has risen, punch the dough down, then flip onto a well floured surface. To make 2 smaller trees, split the dough in half. (I made one small tree, then used the other half to make traditional cinnamon rolls to freeze).
To make the tree, gently roll the dough out into the shape of large arrowhead. (If the dough is difficult to roll our, let it rest for 5 minutes then try again).
Brush the dough with softened butter, then cover the dough with the cinnamon-sugar. Fold the dough in half, to form a long triangle-ish shape.
Cut the lower corner of the dough off to form a straight line.
Roll the extra dough to form the trunk of the tree. Gently shape the dough into the shape of a tree. Using kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cut slits into the triangle at 1 inch intervals, stopping before just getting to the middle.
Twist each strip upwards a few times and gently pinch the hold the dough in place.
Cover the dough with a clean, dry towel, and allow to rise again for 90 minutes to 2 hours, until the dough is noticeably puffy and raised.
To make overnight: Place the rolls in the refrigerator after they are assembled, and before the 2nd rise. In the morning, preheat your oven to 250 degrees F, then turn off your oven, and place the dough inside. Allow the rolls to rise in the oven for 30-60 minutes. Then bake as directed below.
To bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for an additional 5 to 15 minutes until the rolls are golden brown.
While the rolls bake, make the topping. Combine the cream cheese, butter, and sugar in a mixing bowl. Stir vigorously for 2-4 minutes, or until all the ingredients are evenly incorporated and smooth. Add the vanilla, salt, and 1 tablespoon of the heavy cream and mix to incorporate. Add additional heavy cream, about 1 teaspoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency. If desired, use food coloring to color the glaze green to coordinate with your tree. Allow the buns to cool for 5 minutes, then top with the glaze. If desired, decorate your tree with sprinkles to add to the festive look.