©iStockphoto.com/skynesher Image by: ©iStockphoto.com/skynesher Author: Canadian Living

Here's a new twist on the Advent calendar - a cookie tree that provides lots of family enjoyment and entertainment and will automatically answer that never-ending question, "How many days left till Christmas?" Creating one is as simple as one, two, three. First, make the stylized tree from wooden dowels and a flowerpot. Then make, decorate and number 25 spice cookies, duplicating the simple cookie-cutter shapes and decorations on thin cork. Then you're ready to hang the cookies on the tree and store the cork look-alikes in a little basket close by. Each day, as a cookie is consumed, replace it with the appropriately numbered ornament. What begins as a treeful of cookies ends up as a treeful of ornaments to cherish for Christmases to come, and in the meantime, it's lots of fun for kids of all ages.


You need:
• 46 x 61 cm (18- x 24-in) sheet of pressed cork, 3 mm thick
• Dimensional paint
• Christmas cookie cutters such as a tree, heart, star, circle, wreath or square
• 8 m narrow ribbon or cord
• Hole punch
• Ballpoint pen

To make:
1. Trace around cookie cutters onto cork. You'll need 24 to hang on the tree and a large star for the treetop. Cut out shapes with sharp scissors and punch hole in top of each one.

2. "Ice" and number (numbers 1 to 25) each cork ornament with dimensional paint.

3. Cut 30 cm (11-3/4-in) lengths of ribbon. Thread one piece through hole in each ornament. Tie ends in a bow.


Christmas Spice Cookies

• 5 cups (1.25 L) All-purpose flour
• 4 tsp (20 mL) Ground ginger
• 2 tsp (10 mL) Cinnamon
• 1 tsp (5 mL) Each baking soda, nutmeg and allspice
• Pinch Each cloves and salt Pinch
• 1 cup (250 mL) Butter, softened
• 1 cup (250 mL) Packed brown sugar
• 2 Eggs
• 3/4 cup (175 mL) Fancy molasses
• Royal Icing (see recipe below)

Combine flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and salt. In bowl and with electric mixer, cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition; beat in molasses. Using wooden spoon, gradually stir in flour mixture. Divide into 3 balls; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 1 week.

On floured surface, roll out 1 of the balls to 1/4-inch (5 mm) thickness; cut out shapes using large Christmas cookie cutters. Using small plain pastry tip, cut out circle 1/4 inch (5 mm) from top of cookie. Repeat with remaining dough, rerolling scraps once. Bake on greased or parchment-lined baking sheets in 350ºF (180ºC) oven for 12 to 14 minutes or until firm to the touch. Transfer to racks; let cool completely.

Makes about 30 cookies.

Royal Icing

After decorating the cookies, let the icing dry before threading a 30 cm (11-3/4-in) length of ribbon through each hole. Tie ends in a bow.

• 4 cups (1 L) Sifted icing sugar
• 1/2 tsp (2 mL) Cream of tartar
• 3 Egg whites
• Food colouring

In bowl, sift icing sugar and cream of tartar. Using electric mixer, beat in egg whites; beat for 7 to 10 minutes or until thick enough to hold its shape. Divide into small containers and colour with food colouring. Using piping bag and small pastry tip, decorate cookies.

Makes about 2-1/2 cups (625 mL) icing.


You need:
• Clay flowerpot, 15 cm (6-in) diameter
• 7/8-in dowelling, 32 in long
• 3/8-in dowelling, 7-1/2 ft long
• 6 wooden beads, 20 mm diameter with 3/4-in hole
• Screw-eye
• Plaster of paris
• Green and red acrylic paint
• Paintbrush
• White craft glue
• Natural raffia or twine
• Wood excelsior
• Drill with 3/8-in drill bit

To make:
1. Paint flowerpot red.

2. From 3/8-in dowelling, cut 3 pieces measuring 54.5 cm (21-1/2 in), 75 cm (29-1/2 in) and 95.5 cm (37-1/2 in) long for branches.

3. Secure screw-eye in top of 7/8-in dowel (tree trunk). Mark points 18 cm (7 in), 33 cm (13 in) and 48 cm (19 in) down from top. Drill a 3/8-in hole through dowel at marked points.

4. Insert branch dowels through drilled holes with the shortest at the top and longest at bottom of tree trunk. Centre branches and glue in place in holes. Glue beads to ends of each branch dowel.

5. Paint tree green. Let dry. Bind raffia crisscross fashion around intersection of dowels. Knot ends securely.

6. Cover hole in bottom of flowerpot with a scrap of cork. Mix plaster according to package directions and pour into pot. When almost set, press tree trunk into centre of pot. Wrap crumpled newspaper around base of trunk so it is held in an upright position until plaster hardens. Remove newspaper.

7. Stuff top of pot with wood excelsior to hide plaster. Hang ornaments on tree branches.

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Christmas is coming