Forget sugar plums. You’ll have visions of my Christmas Tree Brownies dancing in your head! These rich brownies are a chocolatey deviation from traditional sugar cookies and are decorated to professional-level perfection.
I’m always amazed by the number of people I see out Christmas-tree shopping before I’ve even fully emerged from my Thanksgiving food coma.
The first trees you’ll find at my house during the holiday season are these cute little conifers, fashioned out of rich fudgy brownies, with happy little faces and smiles almost as big as the one that’ll be on your face when you take your first bite.
Skip the holiday traffic and tree lot madness, and make these in your PJs. You’ll thank me.
This is a pretty standard brownie recipe that starts with melted butter. Melting the butter first will produce a dense, sturdy chunk of chocolate since you’ll eliminate the extra air that’s usually incorporated from the butter/sugar creaming process. Heavy is always good when it comes to chocolate, in my opinion, but a nice substantial brownie will also hold up to the decorating we’ll be doing once they’re baked.
Since you’re mixing these by hand, you’ll want to make sure you lightly beat the eggs before incorporating them into the batter. This little extra step will help make sure the whites and yolks get incorporated more evenly.
Once you start adding the dry ingredients, be sure to mix only until you can’t see the flour anymore. We want a dense but not tough brownie.
Yes, there are walnuts, and no, you don’t have to add them. I know there are some brownie purists who don’t like the texture or flavor interfering with their chocolate fix, but I’m a fan in this recipe, so I like to use them. Toasting them ahead of time is always preferable too, if you have the time.
Parchment paper’s a life saver when it comes to baking in rectangle (or square) pans. You’ll be able to lift the giant brownie out of the pan easily and place your cookie cutter right on the edges to make efficient cuts. Depending on the size cutter you have, you may get anywhere from 6 – 12 trees out of a 9”x13” pan.
All the leftover bits around the edges can be snacked on immediately (my personal recommendation) or saved to sprinkle over ice cream or some of that leftover Thanksgiving pie.
To give these happy little trees their beautiful hue, we’ll be using royal icing. Working with egg whites intimidates some people, but I promise it’s a breeze to put together. The cream of tartar really stabilizes the icing, so you don’t have to worry about deflating the mixture. Just be sure your egg whites are at room temperature for maximum fluffing power, and you’ll be all set.
We want vibrant green trees here, so I like to use the gel food colorings. There’s just no comparison to the intensity of the colors you can achieve with these vs. regular liquid dye. When I start to color the green icing, I usually begin with 3 or 4 drops. Then I keep adding and stirring well until I get the color I want. For filling in the tree, I suggest keeping a small offset spatula handy in case the icing needs a little encouragement to spread from edge to edge.
Some candied eyes and bow transfers are the only other things you’ll need to finish up the faces. Most of the packages of bow transfers I find only have about 4 red bows, so you’ll need to buy multiple packages based on the number of trees you’re able to cut with your cookie cutter. The red’s obviously festive, but you can certainly use black, white, or other colors of bows too rather than buying multiple containers just for the red ones.
One of the beautiful things about royal icing is that it sets pretty well, so you can stack these easily for storage in an air-tight container (unless they all get eaten before, of course). O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, how tasty are your brownies?!
Types of cocoa: I don’t know about you, but I usually have multiple containers of different styles and brands of cocoa powder in my pantry. So which should you use in this recipe? Well, Dutch cocoa has been processed to remove some of the acidity that goes along with chocolate (the kind that makes you either love or hate those ultra dark chocolate bars), so it’s what I pull out for making hot cocoa, not for this recipe. Sweetened cocoa powder is also strictly for steaming mugs of winter’s favorite beverage. As for the others, it’s really a matter of personal preference. You can use your Hershey’s Special Dark if you’re wanting lots of deep chocolate flavor or Ghirardelli Premium Cocoa for a lighter but nevertheless decadent cocoa quality.
Piping bags: For an extra “hand” in the kitchen, you can place them into a tall glass with the edges folded over to help hold the bags while you fill them. Zip-top bags with a small bit of a corner cut off will also work really well in this recipe, especially since there’s not a ton of intricate piping work or multiple tips to deal with.
More Christmas Treats!
Candy Cane Cookies -Peppermint or almond flavored sugar cookie dough, twisted into these charming cookies
Christmas Crack – Buttery toffee with a light, crispy crust, coated in rich chocolate and toasted pecans may just be the most addictive snack ever!
No Roll Sugar Cookies -Tender, delicate, and just a bit lighter!
Peppermint Candy Cane Kisses – tender and delicate with just the right amount of peppermint flavor!
Reindeer Oreos -These oreos are completed with a shiny red nose and sure to make a statement in the holidays!
Christmas Tree Brownies
- Unsalted Sweet Cream Butter, Softened - 1 Cup
- Sugar - 2 Cups
- Large Eggs, Lightly Beaten - 3
- Vanilla - 2 Teaspoons
- Unsweetened Hershey's Cocoa Powder - 2/3 Cup
- All-Purpose Flour - 1 Cup
- Salt - 1/2 Teaspoon
- Baking Soda - 1/2 Teaspoon
- Chopped Walnuts - 1 Cup
- Royal Icing
- Large Egg Whites, at Room Temperature - 3
- Powdered Sugar - 2 Cups
- Vanilla - 1 Teaspoon
- Cream Of Tartar - 1/2 Teaspoon
- Black/Green Food Coloring
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Spray 9x13 with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
- In a small mixing bowl whisk together cocoa, flour, salt, and baking soda. Set aside
- Using a medium sauce pan, melt butter. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
- Gradually whisk in flour mixture into cocoa just until incorporated.
- Stir in chopped walnuts.
- Place batter in prepared baking pan and bake until a tooth pick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs, about 30-35 minutes.
- Place pan on wire baking wrack, and cool completely.
- When brownies are completely cool use a tree shaped cookie cutter to cut brownies. Place cut brownies on a cookie sheet.
Make the Royal Icing:
- In the bowl of a stand up mixture, combine egg whites, cream of tartar, powdered sugar, and vanilla, mix on medium speed until stiff peaks form.
- Divide the icing into two small mixing bowls.
- To one bowl, add a couple drops of green food coloring and stir until color is even. Continue to add food coloring until desired color is achieved.
- On the second bowl, add a couple drops of black food coloring and stir until the desired color is achieved.
- Pour a small amount of each icing into its own piping bag.
- Thin the remaining green icing with a little water (around 2 tablespoons) and mix until combined. It should be thin enough to spread easily but not runny.
- Into a squeeze bottle pour the icing that has been thinned.
- Using the green icing in the piping bag, add a line around the edge of the trees.
- In the outlined area use the squeeze bottle to fill in.
- One third of the way place two edible eyes.
- On the trunk of the tree add a transfer red bow into icing and allow to dry.
- Using the icing from the piping bag, pipe an oval shaped nose under the eyes and fil in.
- Using the black icing in the piping bag, pipe on a smile and eye brows.
- Allow completed cookies to set, one hour.