Oh, Cookie Tree…

This Past Week’s Creative Venture

Oh, Cookie-Tree, Oh Cookie-Tree…  How clueless were those instructions.  Oh, Cookie-Tree, Oh, Cookie-Tree.  Lack of organization and clarity were obstructions…

This is just one of many carols that wandered through my mind as Jim and I struggled to make a “simple” cookie tree this Christmas Eve.  As you can see from the picture, we succeeded.  The end result even looked cute and, amazingly, tasted good, too.  But there were times in the process when I seriously wanted to pull out scissors, tape, and start reorganizing the instructions.

I am, after all, a writer.

In those days of yore when I taught English Composition (aka, writing essays), I taught “process analysis” writing.  I would have given these instructions a C.  They didn’t fail because some of the component parts (like the recipe for the sugar cookies) were well-written.

But even those had problems…

As you celebrate the New Year, let me amuse you with the tale of our adventure.

The adventure of the cookie tree started when my mother bought a kit.  The box showed an ostensibly simple project.  Make twenty star-shaped cookies of graduated sizes (cutters included).  Build a stack from the bottom up, cementing each cookie to the next with a dab of frosting.  Add frosting embellishments using the included pastry bags and tips.  Add a final star at the top.  Tah-dah!

I’m one of those boring, methodical people who read instructions in advance, so the first thing I did was remove the accordion-fold brochure.  Reading these instructions was an exercise in futility.  In addition to the “basic” instructions, there were instructions for three different styles of tree.  All the instructions were in three languages.  However, the languages were not in separate sections, but in sequence for each stage of the process, so it was incredibly easy to miss a section in your preferred language.

Nonetheless, I read the instructions.  Jim read them.  Right off, we rejected “royal icing” in favor of the workhorse buttercream cookie frosting Jim has memorized.  Not only didn’t Mom have the ingredients for “royal icing” (the kit didn’t list what extra items you needed on the outside, only on the inside; since this kit looked so easy, she hadn’t opened it in advance), but also any icing that the instructions warn you will break down in certain circumstances is not my idea of fun.

(No.  I don’t remember what exactly would cause the disintegration.  Butter, maybe?  In any case, something incredibly common.)

First, I set off to make the cookie dough.  The instructions said “Do Not Chill,” so I took a section of the dough and started rolling.   I’m really, really good at rolling cookie dough thin and even.  (Want evidence?  See my Christmas WW for pictures of my cookies.)  However, even with a floured rolling pin and all the usual precautions, the dough stuck.  So I chilled it.  That helped.  But when the first round of cookies came out of the oven, rather than being the sharp-edged items shown in the photo, they were star-shaped blobs.

Deck the trays with vaguely star-shaped blobbies…

Even after being chilled, the dough was so soft that the larger cookies (say the first five sizes) had to be rolled directly on a cookie sheet.  Because the dough spread when baked, this meant the largest cookies had to be baked one at a time, because more than one cookie would merge with its neighbor.  At ten to twelve minutes per cookie, this meant hours of baking time, with someone (Jim usually) having to stay alert to the possibility of burning cookies.

Remember those “basic instructions”?  They did note that rolling on a cookie sheet “might” be necessary.  They did not include any hints on how to deal with all the flour left on the cookie sheet that would otherwise burn.  I’m an experienced baker, so I knew to clear it away.  I also found myself wondering how people would cope who did not happen to have (as we did) six or seven available cookie sheets and a selection of rolling pins that would fit within the confines of a rimmed cookie sheet.

After many hours, we had twenty-one cookies of graduated sizes and a few to spare.  (More on spares later.)  Jim had made the first batch of frosting and, using the delicate touch acquired from many years of archeological digs, he began assembling the cookies into a tree-stack.  He also figured out that a lumpy dab of frosting would invite breaking cookies as the stack grew, so carefully spread the frosting mortar over the contact areas.

While Jim was mortaring the tree together, I was rolling and baking the surplus dough.  That made at least three dozen more cookies, practically enough for another entire tree!  I found myself wondering why the kit hadn’t included a smaller recipe.

When Jim was done, we had a tree-shaped cookie stack, but we couldn’t proceed to the next step because the “mortar” was still wet, so the cookies would slide.  Thus, assembling the tree ended Day One.

Since we wanted the cookie tree to be ready for the evening of Christmas Day, Christmas morning, after coffee, presents, and breakfast, Jim and I mixed up frosting.  The pastry bags included for the frosting were so flimsy that splitting was guaranteed.  Happily, Mom had a couple of sturdier ones.

Jim tinted the icing (the kit recommended several very specific colors of food coloring but, of course, didn’t include them), and we took turns frosting the “branches” with myriad tiny icing stars.  That part was fun, if distinctly messy!  A scattering of ornamental jimmies (also not included, but Mom had some in slightly different colors) finished the task and we set the tree aside to dry.

I did resist, barely, my urge to edit the instructions…

That can wait for manuscripts, which I’ll be getting back to later this week.

Oh!  By the way, Happy New Year!  May your New Year be sweet and creative, whatever your chosen medium.

3 Responses to “Oh, Cookie Tree…”

  1. King Ben's Grandma Says:

    Health & happiness to you & yours in 2020 and beyond🥂🎆🎉🌻

  2. Harried Harry Says:

    Happy New Year!!!!
    Enjoy this time together, drink your beverage of choice and stay warm.

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