christmas tree rolls

Man. I am such a dork.

This is awkward.

So, when I was visiting my grandparents last week my grandma and I got to talking about Christmas cookies…her favorite recipes and the recipes her mother used to make when she was a little girl in Minnesota.

It’s so amazing to me that despite their age, my grandparents are still so sharp when it comes to talking about the past! Once I got grandma talking recipes, she kept going on and on and ON about which desserts she served at dinner parties in the 60’s, how the oven temperature must be lower than what the recipe says or it “simply will not turn out”, and which flavor of mousse (dark chocolate or white chocolate mint) tastes best in meringue shells.

Seriously, Grandma? I can’t even remember yesterday. Where am I?

But back to these awkwardly dorky cinnamon rolls. While gabbing it with Grandma about mousse flavors and meringue, I happened to come across this cookbook shoved underneath a stack of old papers in the guest room:

Naturally, after seeing my interest in it, Grandma shoved it into my arms along with candy canes, gingerbread men, white chocolate chunk cookies, fuzzy socks, a box of white tea, new slippers and a perfectly washed apple to take home. Actually I’m lying. She didn’t exactly shove it all in my arms. She carefully set everything in a large “Save the Animals” reusable grocery bag so I could raise awareness on the plane. I love my grandma so much.

And once I laid eyes on the “Christmas Tree Cinnamon Roll” recipe in this little book, circa 1955, I knew it had to be shared.

Really, all you do is just make cinnamon rolls then press them together in the shape of a Christmas tree. You can just decorate with icing like I did OR you can go super duper fancy and “trim your tree” with candied fruit and nuts as ornaments.

If you do that, let me know.

These are tasty but are not the huge-in-your-face-30000 calories-size-of-a-plate cinnamon rolls that we typically eat today. They’re from 1955 after all! Portion sizes in the 50’s were smaller than they are today. So were people in the 50’s. Amazing.

Rather, these are mildly sweet rolls crackling with cinnamon sugar and perfect for a Christmas Eve dinner spread. I would actually go so far as to serve them on the dinner table rather than the dessert table!

Let me know if you make these—they’re a hoot!Β 

Christmas Tree Rolls

recipe adapted from the 1955 Wisconsin Electric Power Company cookbook

makes about 18 rolls

Print this recipe!


1/4 cup warm water (about 100 degrees)

1/3 cup milk

1 (1/4th oz) package dry active yeast

1/4 cup sugar

2 tbsp butter, softened

1 egg

1 tsp salt

zest of 1 lemon

2 heaping cups flour

additional softened butter for rolling buns (I just wanted to type “rolling buns”)

1/2 cup sugar + 1.5 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup powdered sugar + 2 tsp milk for glaze


Combine the yeast, warm water and a tiny pinch of sugar in a small bowl and let sit for five minutes till it gets foamy and bubbly.

Meanwhile, scald the milk over low heat (just heat until small bubbles appear all around the sides of the pot then take off heat). Add the butter, salt and sugar and stir until everything is melted and combined. Cool to lukewarm temperature then stir in yeast.

In the bowl of a KitchenAid (or just a regular mixing bowl), add the flour and lemon zest. Pour in the wet ingredients followed by the egg and mix on high for six minutes until soft and elastic dough forms. You can also totally do this by hand!

Spray a little cooking spray on your dough ball, cover the bowl with a clean dishcloth and place bowl in a warm area for 1 1/2 hours until dough has doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll out dough into a large rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Smear softened butter all over the surface of the dough and sprinkle cinnamon sugar generously over butter. Roll dough up then slice into 1″ rolls.

Arrange rolls into a christmas tree shape on a lined baking sheet, using two rolls as the trunk. Cover with dishcloth again and let rise for another 45 minutes.

Bake rolls for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Let cool then ice with powdered sugar icing.


3 hours

**You could also “decorate” your tree with raisins, candied nuts or other candied fruit… go buck wild—it’s Christmas!



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  • Debbi
    December 15, 2011 at 3:18 am

    How darned cute is that? As I’m not having a dinner party for a dozen people (my husband would eat six of them, easily), I probably won’t be making a cinnamon roll Christmas tree. But I love yours and can just imagine it all sparkly with candied fruit.

  • Brittnie (A Joy Renewed)
    December 15, 2011 at 4:16 am

    You are not a nerd. This is super cute and festive. πŸ™‚ My niece and nephews will love this for Christmas morning. Thanks for all of your amazing recipes. Love love your site.

  • Julie @ Table for Two
    December 15, 2011 at 4:34 am

    haha what a cute idea, not a nerd at all πŸ™‚

  • Kathryn
    December 15, 2011 at 4:40 am

    I love these – the only thing better than eating food is making it into fun shapes!

  • Andrea
    December 15, 2011 at 4:40 am

    This is actually a cute idea. My four year old LOVES to help me in the kitchen (she wants to open her own restaurant someday…she has even picked out a name – Potato On the Loose). I am going to make these with her on Christmas Eve, she will love it! Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

  • Bev Weidner
    December 15, 2011 at 4:45 am

    I want to adorn that tree with my MOUTH.

  • Sarah
    December 15, 2011 at 4:48 am

    Isn’t it amazing how our grandparents remember so much detail about the past? I hope I’m like that one day. Just a little teary reading this…my grandfather is in hospice and I’m about 500 miles away. Love your heartfelt grandparent’s posts!

  • Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat
    December 15, 2011 at 4:50 am

    I have a very strong urge to take the day off JUST to make these! Aren’t grandparents the best? I remember when my grandpa was still alive, he was SO with it mentally up until the last week or so of his life. Your grandmother sounds so cute!

  • Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga
    December 15, 2011 at 4:54 am

    The Wisc Power Company cookbook…right there, worth your trip to the midwest alone. Oh, totally priceless.

    As is this:
    “Portion sizes in the 50?s were smaller than they are today. So were people in the 50?s. Amazing.”– imagine that, I know πŸ™‚

    And this tree is SO CUTE! I want to cherry-pick off the very center of the roll on the very top of the tree. Because that’s how my mind operates. Haha!

    LOVE this. And yes, Grandma’s memories of things that happened in 1961 are usually sharper than me remembering what I had for lunch yesterday!

  • Molly @ RDexposed
    December 15, 2011 at 4:55 am

    I never share grandma’s secret tips. They were her secrets and now they are mine. I don’t even mind if I appear selfish for that! πŸ™‚

  • Heather (Heather's Dish)
    December 15, 2011 at 4:59 am

    so cute! i love the tree shape πŸ™‚

  • Lauren @ What Lauren Likes
    December 15, 2011 at 5:26 am

    So cute! Hahah my grandma is practically the same! Great recipe! πŸ˜€

  • Evan
    December 15, 2011 at 5:33 am

    I love the way you describe your grandma! Aren’t grandparents the best?

    I’d totally serve these x-mas tree rolls alongside baked ham. Sweet and savory FTW πŸ™‚

  • Cait's Plate
    December 15, 2011 at 5:33 am

    I DEFINITELY want to make these! I love the idea of pressing them together in a tree shape – it’s so simple but so festive πŸ™‚

  • Steffiet
    December 15, 2011 at 5:40 am

    LOVE the Wisconsin Electric cookbook! I make sure to snag one every year (yes, they still produce them!)

  • Jen
    December 15, 2011 at 5:45 am

    Looks cute. But you’re in trouble when people actually start eating the rolls…you’ll have to keep reshaping it into something else!

  • Terri A.
    December 15, 2011 at 5:48 am

    My mom had several of those Wisconsin Electric cookbooks and many of our traditional Christmas cookies were made from them. I was sad when she died and realized that she had cut the recipes out of the books, rather than having the whole book. Oh well, at least I have the recipes.

  • Amy
    December 15, 2011 at 5:54 am

    I always look forward to your posts, Jenna– but today’s in particular made me smile πŸ™‚ …Thanks for brightening my morning — and for this yummy recipe! I am hosting a “Christmas Eve Brunch” this year, and these may make an appearance!

  • Hilliary @Happily Ever Healthy
    December 15, 2011 at 6:04 am

    I love talking to my grandmother about cooking and recipes. It is so much fun to hear the stories that come about because of a recipe. Great bonding moments.

  • kathleen @ the daily crumb
    December 15, 2011 at 6:04 am

    aren’t grandparents amazing?! my grandma can’t remember what she did yesterday but could tell you stories from 1937. i love it!

    and i love the christmas tree shape of these rolls… so festive!

  • Kristen @ Popcorn on the Stove
    December 15, 2011 at 6:07 am

    This recipe looks so easy! Waiting three hours may be tough, but it’s totally worth it for cinnamon rolls. Mmmm…

  • Evan Thomas
    December 15, 2011 at 6:32 am

    I don’t think a cinnamon roll Christmas tree is dorky at all; I think it’s awesome.

  • Rachel @ Not Rachael Ray
    December 15, 2011 at 6:32 am


  • Krystina (Organically Me)
    December 15, 2011 at 6:44 am

    Haha, this is cute, but I don’t get how it’s awkward?

  • Jenn
    December 15, 2011 at 7:00 am

    Love your dorkiness Jenna! Keep it comin’.

  • Joelle (On A Pink Typewriter)
    December 15, 2011 at 7:18 am

    Bahah I love this- I totally want to do this too!

  • katie @KatieDid
    December 15, 2011 at 7:19 am

    what an awesome book to have, I love how it’s so rustic and worn in. So many good memories were probably made with that book! Gosh I hope I remember details like that one day about my cooking adventures πŸ™‚

  • briana
    December 15, 2011 at 7:27 am

    this has nothing to do with this post…..but i made your chicken parmesean with a twist last night….and my boyfriend and i have been freaking out ever since! LOVE.

  • jenna
    December 15, 2011 at 7:30 am

    your grandparents seem so freakin cool!!!! i love this xmas tree. delicious!!

  • Brooke @ BittersweetBrooke
    December 15, 2011 at 7:37 am

    Food in the shape of a christmas tree? Brilliant! I use to love hearing stories from my grandmother too, it was so interesting to hear about her younger years and hearing about recipes that can be made again and again is such a special gift.

  • Audrey
    December 15, 2011 at 7:49 am

    Your grandma sounds awesome. I love that she gave you a “Save the Animals” bag to “raise awareness on the plane.” Awesome!

    I’m pretty sure my mom made/makes this. I think she decorates it with maraschino cherries and almond glaze. We have it for Christmas brunch after opening presents.

  • emily (a nutritionist eats)
    December 15, 2011 at 8:05 am

    I grew up in Wisconsin and my Aunt has that same cookbook! They would give one out every year. I’m currently coveting a cookbook from my Grandparents – The Congressional Club Cookbook – so many fabulous retro recipes!

  • Gina @ Running to the Kitchen
    December 15, 2011 at 8:11 am

    So cute! I like the idea of decorating it with some dried fruit or nuts. That would be a fun thing to do with kids. Not that I have any of those…

  • Katrina
    December 15, 2011 at 8:19 am

    haha these are awesome!

  • Ashley
    December 15, 2011 at 8:28 am

    How cute! I love cinnamon rolls, they look delicious.

  • Liz @ Southern Charm
    December 15, 2011 at 8:33 am

    Adorable! Love this!

  • Jacqueline @digintobooks
    December 15, 2011 at 8:33 am

    LOVE this!!! How adorable! Sometimes I think that food made into shapes just looks even more delicious than it usually does, especially when in Christmas shapes!

  • tasha - the clean eating mama
    December 15, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Making these this weekend… how i love cinnamon rolls!

  • Hannah R.
    December 15, 2011 at 9:08 am

    I just love your posts! I especially like this one because every Christmas my Mom makes cinnamon rolls for breakfast and there is always a pan that has the rolls shaped like a tree;)

  • Leslie Means @ Her View From Home
    December 15, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Love this idea!! How fun to serve with a tasty soup on Christmas Eve. LOVE IT!! I think I must DO this! πŸ™‚

  • R @ Learning As I Chop
    December 15, 2011 at 9:38 am

    What a great idea! Your grandmother sounds awesome.

  • HRCK
    December 15, 2011 at 9:42 am

    YUM that sugary cinnamony dough looks scrumptious. Wish I were baking that now and could enjoy the scraps πŸ™‚

  • R. Chandra
    December 15, 2011 at 10:07 am

    oh those look like the most perfect cinnamon rolls EVER mmmmmm

  • Steph
    December 15, 2011 at 10:42 am

    HOW do you get your stuff to show up on pinterst? I have an account but find it so confusing to use (maybe because i use the mobile app version) anyways, i love getting recipes off there but would love to share some of mine!! Fill me in!!

    P.S. This looks SO CUTE!!!

    PINNED (through here haha)

  • Sabrina @ Radioactive Runner
    December 15, 2011 at 10:46 am

    You have me missing my Grandma now.. aren’t Grandma’s the best?
    These look so good!

  • carly {carlyklock}
    December 15, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Can’t wait to see what else is inside that cookbook!

  • Pallavi
    December 15, 2011 at 10:58 am

    I’ve been following your blog for a while and loved your cinnamon rolls recipe :o) curious.. what do you eat before your run in the mornings?

    • jenna
      December 15, 2011 at 11:08 am

      I haven’t run in the morning in about two years now…so nothing! πŸ™‚ The only running I do now is to the kitchen.

  • Kelly
    December 15, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    I live in Wisconsin – and you should know that the WE Energies Christmas Cookie Books are still a hot item! I love the one I received as a gift last year, and they hand out new ones EVERY SINGLE YEAR. πŸ™‚ How fun!

  • KF
    December 15, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Hi Jenna – I came across this article the other day and it seemed familiar. I eventually realized it was reminding me of your blog and sentiments!

  • maddy
    December 16, 2011 at 7:53 am

    you got a gem! those wisconsin electric company cookbooks are seriously *renowned* for their vintage cookie/dessert recipes. its a classic!

  • Sarah
    December 16, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    That is adorable. I actually was trying to figure out a way to make cinnamon rolls for a cookie exchange….and this would have worked perfectly! I love that your grandparents are still around and sharp, that is such a blessing!

  • DessertForTwo
    December 18, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    I found an old electric bill book with recipes in my grandparent’s stuff too! Isn’t it funny how everyone used to cook and exchange recipes? We seem like the minority here on blogs, but we used to be the majority!

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  • Loredana
    December 24, 2012 at 3:43 am

    Well this was my first bake ever, they turned out great! Happy to have found your recipe πŸ˜€
    Happy holidays!

  • Allison
    December 24, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Hi Jenna,
    Not sure if you will see this in time, but is it ok to let this dough sit overnight? I would love to make the dough tonight and then assemble the rolls and bake for breakfast in the morning, but not sure if that will work? Let me know what you think!
    Merry Christmas!

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