This project is part of the Baker’s Dozen Ultimate Cookie Exchange. Thirteen bloggers are joining up to share cookie recipes, and there are six giveaways sprinkled among the posts so be sure to visit them all.
I decided to take a literal interpretation for my Christmas cookie project, and I also wanted to try making a cookie that stands up on its own. A partridge in a pear tree was just perfect.
The good news is that I have found you one kick ass structural gingerbread recipe. The bad news is that while it’s technically edible, you wouldn’t want to eat it as it’s very tough and could potentially do some damage to your teeth.
I’ll be honest here, I wish I could do this over. It was my first time working with serious royal icing and I didn’t quite get the hang of it. After way too many batches of gingerbread that couldn’t hold up under it’s own weight I ran out of time and the icing technique suffered.
I made separate pears and used royal icing (recipe below) to glue them on.
Besides the pears there are only three pieces:
I’m trying to show how they fit together:
The tree pieces fit together to hold everything up, and the bird perches on the branch that extends out front. The tallest part of the tree is just over nine inches tall.
Here is an overhead view:
Gingerbread recipe, printable pattern, tips, and many, many pictures when you click MORE.
I have created a zip file of four PDF pages of patterns for you to download. Print it on cardstock, if you have any, and cut out to use templates on your dough. One of the pages has 3-inch pears which you can make using a more edible gingerbread recipe (this gingerbread cookie recipe at marthastewart.com is delicious) and serve next to your pear tree.
Download the zip file by clicking right here.
This makes thin and fantastically stiff and strong dough. The recipe is Loreta’s Favorite Gingerbread Dough, with a few changes made by notmartha.org. You can double the recipe for more dough. To make it more fragrant double the spices and use Blackstrap molasses.
Favorite Gingergread Dough for Making Things
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons molasses
1 egg, beaten
In the bowl of a stand mixer combine flour, salt, and spices. Mix with a wisk to combine. Put the dough hook on the mixer.
In medium saucepan, melt shortening on stove over low heat. When shortening is half melted, remove from heat and continue to stir until completely melted. Add sugar, molasses and beaten eggs. Mix well and quickly (to prevent eggs from cooking). Add molasses mixture to flour mixture, running mixer on low speed. Dough will be soft. Divide into two halves, flatten into discs and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, overnight if possible.
When dough is firm enough to handle, remove from refrigerator and let sit until room temperature (about an hour). Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
To prevent aluminum foil from slipping, wipe counter with wet sponge then smooth aluminum foil over damp counter. This will prevent the foil from slipping while dough is being rolled out.
Working with one half of the dough, roll onto aluminum foil that has been sprinkled with flour. Sprinkle dough with flour to prevent dough from sticking to rolling-pin.
You’ll be first cutting out the two tree pieces and baking them at the same time, then roll out and cut the partridge and pears to be baked together as they won’t need as much time in the oven.
Roll dough to about 1/8” thickness. Sprinkle more flour on the dough. Place the two tree pattern pieces onto dough and cut-out dough pieces. Remove excess dough pieces, knead together and wrap in plastic, you’ll be using it in a moment to make the bird and pears. If your pattern has stuck to the dough at this point, refrigerate for 15 minutes, it should be easier to remove the pattern pieces. Lift entire piece of foil and place on large cookie sheet. Place cookie sheet in fridge for 15 minutes to allow dough to firm up again.
Place cookie sheet in oven. Check frequently to prevent burning. Bake until golden brown. Large pieces may bake as long as 14 minutes. Smaller pieces might take 6 – 7 minutes. Unused dough may be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 weeks (bring to room temperature and knead briefly to use again). For the Partridge In A Pear Tree I baked the large tree pieces for 16 minutes, and the bird and pears for 8 minutes.
When dough pieces are done baking, remove baking sheet from oven. Make sure the slots are still straight, fixing them now if needed while the dough is soft enough and still on the cookie sheet. Quickly lift foil from baking sheet and place on a wire rack to cool. If pieces have curled up during baking, while still warm, gently push edges down to lay flat. When gingerbread pieces are completely cool carefully peel the tin foil off the bottom.
I did my best to get photographs of making the gingerbread, but photographing shiny things on top of shiny things in the weak Seattle winter light was a challenge. Here goes.
I gathered rolling pin, pattern pieces, tin foil, all-purpose flour, 1/8th inch rubber bands for my rolling pin, a pairing knife, and (not essential) a small flat-head screwdriver (carefully cleaned) and a blunt pattern marking tool.
Why aren’t we using a silicone baking mat? Mostly because we don’t want to nick it with the paring knife when taking care of small details and risk cutting through to the glass fibers inside.
The sewing pattern marking tool is like a very small, not sharp pizza cutter. This is not essential but was really handy to have as I made about six versions of this tree. I found it at Joanns, I think it’s made by Dritz, and there was another one in the usual blue plastic as well.
Use a generous amount of flour to keep the dough from sticking, you cannot overdo it here. I used a small strainer to dust the flour, again not essential but fun and gets less flour under your fingernails. Roll the dough out onto tin foil. I made a few versions rolled out onto parchment and found that the parchment allowed the dough to bubble and curl as it cooked. Not sure why, but tin foil worked great.
Before you put down the pattern pieces sprinkle more flour. It’s really frustrating to have everything cut out and discover your pattern pieces are stuck down. If they do get stuck, refrigerate for a while, it should be easier to lift off.
I found I could fit both tree pieces fit onto the first piece of rolled dough. Cut these out and bake them together.
A note about the tree pattern: If you decide to make a fancier tree I do recommend using the slot sizes I’ve created here, they work nicely together and I went through a bunch of trial and error to get the right sizes that didn’t create a tree that wiggled too much. Let me do the hard part for you.
The pattern marking tool in use. I used the paring knife for smaller places.
The screwdriver is not essential, but it was handy to use to get the end of the slots nice and square.
Pull the excess dough off the foil while the pattern pieces are still down, this helps keep the shape of your cookie from distorting. Ball up this dough and wrap in plastic, it’ll be enough to make the bird and pears.
I used a dough cutting tool to square up the slots and the bottoms of the trees. Pay extra special attention to making sure the slots are straight.
I mainly used the paring knife to cut out the pears and the partridge. Use the paring knife to straighten the birds legs.
You can use the dough left over from the tree pieces to make the partridge and the pears. If the tin foil is too large to fit well onto your cookie sheet trim it down with your kitchen scissors.
Once the tree pieces are out of the oven, quick, use the dough cutter to make sure the slots are straight and wide enough (1/4 inch). You can also square up the bottoms now. Ok, now you can slide it onto the cooling rack.
When the pieces are cool, overnight if possible, it’s time to decorate. I used this royal icing recipe from marthastewart.com
1 pound confectioners’ sugar
5 tablespoons meringue powder
scant 1/2 cup water, more if needed
With an electric mixer on low speed, beat ingredients until fluffy, 7 to 8 minutes. Use immediately, or transfer to an airtight container (royal icing hardens quickly when exposed to air) and refrigerate up to 1 week. Stir well with a flexible spatula before using.
Thin icing as needed by stirring in additional water, one teaspoon at a time. For piping designs, add just enough water that icing is no longer stiff; for floodwork, add water until icing is the consistency of honey.
Decorate one side of the large tree and the partridge, and both sides of the branch piece that will hold the bird. Be careful not to use too much decoration over the areas where the pieces connect or you might not be able to fit them onto one another. After so much work it will be very upsetting. Just trust me on this one.
I wish I had a chance to do the icing over. The pears and leaves didn’t have as much contrast as I hoped, and I’d rather do the bark detail in a lighter color.
And, yes, I know actual partridges don’t have the little curly thing on their heads. But when I was drawing the shapes out I was thinking of a quail Scott and I came across when hiking on the Marin coast once. It was adorable.
I used these small squeeze bottles with a coupler to create the designs. It was easy to create detail but I discovered too late it was nearly impossible to get the icing back out to thin it later for filling in color. And I didn’t make enough colored icing to use in halves. Don’t do this. However, if you’re only doing line decorating, or only doing one color, it’ll be fantastic. Like so:
This was a trial tree. In just white icing it was a bit boring on it’s own but I like it when surrounded by color.
update: I nearly forgot to mention the very perfection of a partridge and pear tree cookie that is this linzer cookie creation from Dessert First:
Now, go and see what other cookies are part of the Baker’s Dozen Ultimate Cookie Exchange, the others are probably actually edible.