Monthly Archives: December 2012

Sonia’s Christmas Tree Breads

My sister used to make these beautiful and tasty loaves every Christmas; the cardamom used gives them a Scandinavian flavor.  I keep up the tradition now that we live in different parts of the state; I have her recipe–handwritten on spiral notebook paper.  They’re a bit more fussy than a regular yeast bread, but so, so worth it!  Mr18 is a big fan of them.  I was considering skipping them this year as I had just baked a couple pulla loaves, but asked him if we should have the tree breads, too.  He decided we needed them. 🙂

bake til golden

The ingredients are similar to a Finnish Pulla, challah or brioche.


  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups milk, scalded
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp cardamom (I use 1/2 tsp–LOVE cardamom!)
  • 6-7 cups all purpose, unbleached flour

For the filling:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (I use walnuts)
  • 4 tsp cinnamon
  • additionally, you will need 3 TBSP butter to brush on the dough

For topping:

  • 1 egg
  • splash of milk
  • large granuled sugar

First proof the yeast by whisking it into the warm water.  Set aside for 5 minutes–it should start to foam and have the recognizable yeasty smell by then.

proof yeast

Scald milk (Heat over low until steam rises and little bubbles form along the edge of the pan), remove from heat and melt the butter into it.  Cool to lukewarm.

scald milk melt butter

In a large bowl, add the yeast mixture, milk and butter, sugar, eggs, salt and cardamom.  Stir until combined.  You can do this by hand or use a mixer.

add sugar salt cardamom eggs

Gradually add 6-7 cups of flour, one cup at a time, mixing in between.  It was humid when I baked this, so I ended up using the full 7 cups this time.  Add until you have a stiff, but not dry dough.

add flour a cup at a time

Knead on a floured surface or using a dough hook on your mixer for 5 to 7 minutes.  If using the dough hook, stop a minute or two early and finish kneading by hand to get a feel for the dough.  Form it into a smooth ball.


Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top.  Cover and place in a warm place until doubled in size.

place in greased bowl and cover

Punch it down to deflate, cover it again and let it rise for an additional 30 minutes.

While dough rises, combine the topping ingredients: sugar, cinnamon and nuts.  Set aside.  Melt the 3 TBSP butter and set it aside as well.

mix cinnamon sugar nuts

When dough is finished with its second rise, knead it just enough to deflate it and divide into 3 equal parts.

divide into thirds

On a lightly floured surface, roll EACH part into a triangle approximately 15 inches at the base and 12 to 15 inches high.  Use your hands and the rolling pin to shape the dough.

roll to a triangle

Brush 1/3 of the melted butter on the surface of the dough and sprinkle it with 1/3 of the topping.

butter and cinnamon mixture

Roll up the triangle, starting with one side, maintaining a triangular shape.

roll from side

Flatten the rolled triangle a bit with your hands or lightly with the rolling pin.

rolled triangle

Move the triangle to a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat.  (Each tree will need its own baking sheet.  Cut gashes all the way through at an angle, about 3/4 inch apart down both sides of the tree.  Cut out the side of each bottom branch to form the trunk.

angled cuts

Preheat oven to 350F.

On both sides, starting from the top, stretch and fold/turn each section to form branches.  I pick them up and turn them away from me to reveal the layers.  Gently press the branches to help them stay put, cover the tree with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until puffy–30 to 45 minutes.

turn each branch and flatten

Brush each tree with egg wash, sprinkle with large granuled sugar and bake 20-25 minutes–until golden.

brush with egg wash and sugar

Cool on the pans. Doesn’t this look amazing?

upclose and yummy

Slice and enjoy!  Oh these are soooo yummy, and I get to think of my sissy with every bite!

yum 2

And with a “grasshopper” drink, Christmas is here!  The perfect Christmas eve treat.

yum 3

This recipe could be made any time of year, as trees, or rolled into rectangles for a non-Christmas specific shape.  Lovely for a brunch, for tea, for a hostess gift…..  Mr18 has requested we bake another batch so he can take a fresh one back to college with him.






Filed under breakfast, comfort food, dessert, food gifts, Food memories, Holiday foods, recipe