Christmas Tree Bread from Sunset Magazine

Spiral Shaped Christmas Tree BreadLisa contacted me about Christmas Tree Bread last week after she read a Note at 9rules. In the Note, I said it’s just not Christmas without Christmas music from the Andy Williams Christmas Deluxe album that my natural father brought home from Japan around 1968, or the Christmas Tree Bread that my mom’s been baking for 40 years. I’ll bet Lisa thought I forgot about her or I made the whole thing up or something, but no. Yes, Lisa, there really is a Christmas Tree Bread recipe!

The recipe is from Sunset Magazine, and it’s really the biggest reason that I have a KitchenAid mixer. It’s a huge recipe, calling for about nine cups of flour, and it’s just difficult to do in a regular size mixer. Usually, I make the bread dough around the 23rd of December, so that I can shape it and bake it on Christmas Eve and it’s ready to eat on Christmas morning. Nobody gets one tiny bite until Christmas morning, but around the 27th, when we’ve plowed through all three loaves from the first batch, I usually make more so that we can continue to enjoy it for breakfast (and sometimes lunch) until New Year’s Eve at least. In the past, ITMan and the kids have asked me to make it for other holidays but I’ve refused, wanting to keep this a special Christmas-only thing.

Christmas Tree BreadI thought about making a batch early this year, so I could take pictures and all, but then I’d have to decide whether to let everybody dig in or freeze it until Christmas. In the end I decided not to tear holes in tradition around here, because if I do it once, they expect me to do it again, and I like tradition just the way it is! Recipe follows!

Christmas Tree Bread (Sunset Magazine)


1/2 c warm water
1/2 tsp Saffron
2 pkgs. or 2 tbsp yeast
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 2/3 c evaporated milk (1 large can)
1 1/2 c sugar
1 c melted, cooled butter
1 tsp salt
9 c flour, approx.
Whole candied cherries (optional)

Add saffron to warm water, let steep. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water (add a pinch of sugar to proof yeast). Add eggs, evaporated milk, saffron, salt and sugar. Beat with mixer or whip until saffron is diffused. Gradually add 4 1/2 cups flour, beating until dough is smooth and elastic. Stir in butter until blended. Add 4 cups more flour, or enough to make a stiff dough. Sprinkle 1/2 c flour on board turn dough out, cover with bowl, and let rest 15 minutes. Knead until smooth and elastic; add more flour sparingly if needed. Put dough into greased bowl, turn to grease top, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or longer. Divide into 3 equal portions. Makes 3 loaves.

For each tree, roll strands of dough approximately 3/4″ in diameter; shape tree on greased cookie sheet, cover and let rise approximately 25 minutes in a warm place. Decorate with dried cherries and brush with beaten egg if desired. Bake at 400° 25 to 30 minutes. *

Branch tree: divide dough for one tree into 16 equal pieces; roll each piece into a 12″ strand. Cut two 5″ pieces from first strand to form top pair of branches; curl one end of each and bring cut ends together at center to form top of tree. Save excess dough. Arrange succeeding pairs of branches so each curled end extends 1/2″ beyond last curl and just touches it. Make 8 or 9 pairs. Roll 8″ long strand of dough to vit below last row of branches – leave ends uncurled. Roll saved dough into three thin strands about 20″ long; braid for trunk.

Spiral tree: divide dough into 22 parts. Roll each piece into a 6″ strand. Turn 21 strands into snail coils; arrange coils into pyramid, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Curl remaining strand into “S” shape for trunk. **

Scroll tree: roll pieces of douch into 1 each: 6″, 8″, 10,” 12″, 14″, and 16″ lengths, reserving trimmings. Curl both ends of each strand. Shape 6″ strand into tree top with ends just slightly curled. Place next longest strand beneath first so that curled ends just touch first and extend approximately 3/4″ beyond. Repeat with each succeeding strand until all are used. With reserved dough and trimmings, make “S” shaped trunk and place at base of tree. Also curl “snails” and center between branches.

*Big note here: I bake at 375° for 18 minutes otherwise it’s overdone! I have no idea why it’s so different from the recipe, but there it is. Sub note after Mom’s comments (below): Mom bakes hers at 350° for 15 minutes!
**Another big note: The Spiral Tree is the only shape I ever make. I don’t have pics of any of the shapes, and the article that might have had pics is long gone. Maybe I can get my mom to send digitals this year so I know what I’m trying to do with the other shapes! Once I make my batch, I’ll at least update this post with a picture of the Spiral Tree.


6 thoughts on “Christmas Tree Bread from Sunset Magazine

  1. “Mom” here…. the recipe dates to 1964. It has been reframed a couple of times, to account for changing ways of making bread (such as using a Kitchenaid mixer instead of hand-kneading, and steeping saffron threads instead of ground saffron which is what used to be available “back when”).

    I too have had to change the baking time and temp lately – I don’t know if this is due to changes in flour, the altitude at which I live (7k feet), or the fact that my oven is 20 years old and has had to have one major thermostat repair – or all of the above! So my batches now must be baked at 350 for about 15 minutes in order not to get seriously dry.

    One suggestion for those who may be trying this for the first time: if you don’t have heavy duty aluminum or stainless quarter-sheet pans, either get them, or triple up the thinner ones…. I’ve not tried the silicone baking pans with this, that might be an option too!


  2. Wow, 1964! I thought the recipe was actually a bit younger than me. I truly can’t remember a year when we didn’t have it at Christmas (was there ever one?). I can’t imagine doing it “back when” and hand kneading it without the big mixer, either. The few times I had to do it with a smaller fairly good mixer were, um, difficult. Yes, I’m spoiled!


  3. Nope, there hasn’t ever been a year since 1964 when I haven’t made at least one batch. In 1964, I was of course still living at home and in high school. IIRC Mom wasn’t happy about the amount of money the saffron cost, and we had to get Alan to drive us all over creation to even find any (like to EVERY STORE IN VEGAS – not that there were that many back then!) But everyone loved the bread….

    That same Christmas issue of Sunset had some puff-pastry type recipe too, which I also made that year, and which was also good – but it used a POUND OF BUTTER, and took HOURS of rolling/folding etc. I think I made it a couple more times in other years, but really it was more effort than it was worth; I no longer have the recipe or even remember what it was called. It got shaped into a wreath and a star or something…. cut it into diamond shapes etc.

    You probably thought it “younger” than you because by the time you got to where you remember having it, you didn’t realize we’d had it the other years of your life too.


  4. Thanks for posting the darn recipe! A friend just asked me for it, and I DO NOT HAVE IT IN FILE! Scary…. I have a copy in my binder…. So now, thanks to you my darling daughter, I ALSO have it in file!



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