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Cinnamon Christmas Trees
Yield: 2 trees (16 rolls each)

Basic Sweet Dough:
3 1/2 to 4 c all-purpose flour, divided
1 pkg Rapid Rise Yeast
1 tsp salt
1 c half-and-half or light cream
1/4 c (1/2 stick) butter
1/3 c granulated sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Filling:
2 tbs butter, softened and divided
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 tbs ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg (optional)

Topping:
3/4 c confectioners, sugar
1 tbs milk
Red and green candied cherries, halved  

Sift 2 cups of the flour, yeast and salt into a large mixing bowl; stir until well blended. Place half-and-half, butter and sugar in a saucepan; heat until butter is nearly melted. Let cool to 120 to 130 degrees.

Add half-and-half mixture to flour mixture; beat well. Add egg and vanilla; stir until blended. Add 1 cup flour; stir until thoroughly incorporated. Gradually add enough of the remaining 1/2 to 1 cup flour to make a soft dough that is rather sticky.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead 3 minutes, or until the dough is a consistent texture. Cover with a slightly damp towel and let rest 10 minutes.

Divide dough in half. Roll one half on lightly floured surface into a rectangle, 14x12 inches. Spread 1 tablespoon of softened butter on dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge. Combine sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg; sprinkle half this mixture over butter. Roll up dough from long side, jelly-roll style; pinch seam to seal (brush edge with a little water if necessary to make it stick). Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Construct a tree shape from each log: Cut a 2-inch piece from one end of the log and reserve. Slice the rest of the log into 15 slices. Line a baking sheet with foil and grease well. On the short side of the baking sheet, center one slice cut side down. This is the top of the tree. Add 2 slices, sides touching, below the first slice, then add 3 more rows of slices to form a tree shape. Complete the tree by centering the 2-inch slice, seam side down, below the last row to form the trunk.

Repeat with second cinnamon roll log. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place 45 minutes, or until nearly doubled.

About 15 minutes before end of rising time, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake trees 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. If trunk is browning too fast, cover with foil for the last few minutes. Use foil to move trees from baking sheets to wire racks. Cool thoroughly.

Prepare topping:
Combine confectioners, sugar and milk in a pastry or plastic zipper-sealed bag; cut one corner from bag. Pipe mixture on trees to create garland. Garnish with cherry halves.
Recipe featured in Bread Daily on 12/30/01.