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  • Writer's pictureGrace Saadi

Edible Ornaments: Christmas Decorating with Baked Goods and Other Confections

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

After all the changes that occurred this year, I finally decided to do something I had hopes of doing for a while. I had always loved the concept of decorating for Christmas with cookies. I’ve made a handful of gingerbread houses and various trinkets in past years, prior to the elaborate showpieces we crafted in culinary school. Last year when I saw the blogger and multimedia artist Simply Klaire use citrus peels for her Christmas décor, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

“Edible Ornaments” is what I decided to call it. Though a quick glance will reveal that not it's not a 100% truthful title. The occasional use of hot glue and twine aside, I set off to create 7 different types of food-based decorations. Using the likes of buckwheat, sugar, molasses, oranges, spices, flour, royal icing, and more. To end this year (or begin it, depending on where you’re reading this), I’d like to share the process and everything I made.

 

Clicking on each title will take you to the process video of making each decoration!


pine tree on snowy lot of Christmas tree farm

This year provided a welcomed and unexpected first: the opportunity to cut down my very own Christmas tree! I’ve always been a stickler for real pine trees, so this has been a long-anticipated goal of mine, and thus was the choice of activity for my quarantined 21st birthday. Earlier this month, my mom, sister, and I trekked over to Wilcox Christmas Tree Farm for the task at hand. Armed with a plastic sled, 3 ft saw, 1 knee pad (sorry I claimed that Victoria), and a post-snowy day, we set off to find the perfect tree. Given the circumstances, the end decision fell on my shoulders, though that didn’t prevent my sister from making a jab or two at the new sprouts of trees destined for Christmas of 2045. With the lot filled to the brim of promising trees, I still manage to be quite the nitpicker. Coming across a 5 ft tall Canaan Fir with snowcapped branches (there was snow before it was violently shaken), we got to work and 10 minutes of cutting later (save for my mom who was filming) we had our tree. We captured the whole day, recording all the little moments, and yet somehow my brother managed to call the second the tree fell. Could use this as the opportunity to teach a lesson about journeys and destinations, but I still had plenty of work left to do so it doesn’t seem fitting quite yet. With the tree brought home and strung with lights, I got to work on decorating.


Ironically, the first decoration I made wasn’t for the tree. Anyone who has been scrolling through social media will know dried oranges, orange garland, citrus décor, etc. were a prominent trend this holiday season. Greta Gerwig’s 2019 remake of Little Women, depicting the post-civil war life of the March sisters, also features Christmas décor of the 1860s (though I’m unsure of the exact historical accuracies). The film showed slices of citrus hung on the tree and splayed across the fireplace, and with it came a universal desire to use dried oranges in 2020 Christmas décor. I see why. I created my garland, which is currently displayed on my baking station window, simply from a basket full of oranges and a spool of twine. The only challenge this posed was patience, needing to dry for a few days before stringing. With its placement, a soft light shines through each slice. It creates a small starburst with the shape, acting as natural stained glass. It is a charming addition to my station, and I hope to keep it up no matter the time of year. Maybe even make another citrus variation shortly!


Back when I was in grade school and still eagerly awaiting the newest American Girl Doll catalog (Didja know there’s one named Grace who’s a pastry chef?) I saw something rather peculiar in one of the advertisements. I believe it was a photo of Julie Albright, the blond-haired historical doll decked out in peace signs from the 1970s, staged as if she were decorating her own mini-Christmas tree. In her hand, she had a string of popcorn that was halfway wrapped around the tree. Who puts popcorn on their tree? That thought has sat in the back of my head ever since, and this year it was finally answered. It’s me, I put popcorn on the tree. When making the decorations, I logically figured the tree’s garland should come first, so I got threading. To be precise, it is technically a cranberry popcorn garland, though at this point they’re looking a bit more like raisins. This one was also fairly simple, stringing 5 pieces of popcorn, 2 or 3 cranberries, repeat and a couple of finger pricks later you have an edible garland!


Note to self: make sure the rolled dough is completely frozen (chilled for 30 mins at least), only release the parchment from one side, dip cutter in vegetable oil before cutting, remove small details once the cookie is on the baking pan, do not over bake, and pray for the best. These were the first to frustrate me in the whole decorating process, and ironically the only thing that broke on the tree (only 1 fallen solider). Knowing I wanted to keep the piping simple, I purchased these special snowflake cookie cutters to help with the process. Little did I know how tricky they would be. With so many nooks and crannies, the dough loved to stay nestled in the cutter, and turned into an obtuse shape once finally (and desperately) removed. The bright side of making these, I now know how to tackle this problem in the future. I would also like to thank Amber Spiegel for her incredible spiced gingerbread and royal icing recipes from her book Cookie Art – Sweet Designs for Special Occasions. I never craved iced cookies until I used her recipes.

Back to something a bit more simple! The addition of the individual orange ornaments on the tree, which is located adjacent to the orange garland window, really tied the whole room together. Though, these caused a bit of debate about the title. Truth be told, I would love to make everything again in the future, making it 100% edible. But with everything that was going on, I took a couple of shortcuts with hot glue. But hey, we did that occasionally with the showpieces made in culinary school, so I see no harm done! The star anise reminded me of the Star of Bethlehem, really wrapping up (pun intended) the Christmas theme AND meaning quite nicely.


More recently, I’ve found myself wishing that candy canes were instead called “shepherd's hooks”. Many have argued the history of the "J" shaped confection, typically linking it to biblical teaching. Yet more recent findings, such as those provided by Smithsonian Magazine, reveal that “…it’s unlikely Christians invented the candy cane, but they might have perfected it,” (Rose Eveleth). She reports how Christians can take credit for the machine that helps shape the candy, not the actual shape nor color. I experienced the same issues they did, as my pulled sugar would crack when shaped. A simple change in station, this time operating right out of the warm oven rather than at a table 10 paces away, did the trick. While I’ve had some experience making hard candies from school, I found myself tweaking the methods to best suit the equipment I had at home. And being what some chefs call a “yeast sniffer” (one who specializes in bread), I was rather proud of how these turned out in the end.


Dead dough? Dough that's dead? That correct! It’s an old fashioned, unleavened “baker’s clay” made out of edible ingredients such as buckwheat, rye, sugar, water, and spices for coloring. I have more projects planned for 2021 and hope to go more in-depth about it in the near future! I went back and forth when creating these ornaments, originally wanting to make a full set inspired by The 12 Days of Christmas. But as time went on, I found myself less and less enthusiastic about the idea, realizing that it would be far too many ornaments for this tree. Then I remembered another equally (if not) more Christmassy tale that was filled with edible items. My former ballerina mom essentially bred my sister and I to love the Nutcracker from early on. Now in my 20s and still loving the Tchaikovsky ballet, it made the perfect theme for these ornaments. I had sculpted a collection of 5 unique pieces: a moon, the mouse king, ballet slippers, a sugar plum fairy costume, and of course, the nutcracker. These most likely will not last until next Christmas, but I still loved making and enjoying them this holiday season.


Every tree needs a topper, so I finished off this series by making a star. Throughout crafting the previous decorations, I had several ideas of what I was going to do. Some were 3D, others were abstract, some made out of cookie dough, others made entirely out of sugar. Eventually, I settled on a mix of dead dough and poured sugar. Once assembled, I brushed the frame with edible gold paint to finish it off. After attaching it to a lollipop stick, I wrapped twine around it and the highest branch and the tree was done!


 

My Final Thoughts


When I first got the tree, I stated “this will be a fun challenge for me.” While making and assembling everything was tricky at times, the real struggle behind this (for me, at least) was sharing something without knowing how the final product would turn out. I’ve never posted something before without having already finished and seen the final product. I oftentimes struggle with not wanting to share things I’m not at least 90% happy with. But this certainly helped with overcoming that self-made rule. It was especially fun to utilize techniques new and old, some things I learned in culinary school, some I already knew, some were brand new. I would also love to remake this again in the future, trying new concepts and using different ingredients. I also hope to create full in-depth tutorials of how to make everything, the history and significance behind each decoration, and my process of making it like I’m sharing now. Nonetheless, I hope you like the finished tree as much as I do and had a happy holiday season.


Cheers to 2021!


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