As we are planning a big(ish) late birthday bash for Freya in a couple of weeks, we wanted to do something somewhat different for her actual birthday evening dinner.
David and I were struggling to think of something Freya would enjoy doing. I mean – she’s one year old. She likes milk, tiny little vegetable bits, silly faces and crawling down the hall with Papa, but one thing stood out.
Food. She really loves food. She delights in trying new things, new flavours and textures but since Crown moved our favourite affordable and surprisingly elegant restaurant, the wildly popular Kitchen Workshop buffet ONTO the casino floor, it’s no longer kid friendly. In fact they took a family restaurant and essentially banned families. Who even does that?
This little girl loves her food. Note the TWO bibs, and she still needed to have her suit changed before we put her in the car!
With the loss of our beloved Crown smorgasbord, affordable kid friendly restaurants in our area are few and far between, and there aren’t many places you can get a reservation last minute anyway.
So we decided to try Feast Ferntree Gully Hotel.
All her wildest food dreams coming true.
This place has reasonable reviews, especially for a little buffet above a room of slot machines and the range is limited but fresh and delicious, and for February, kids eat for free. In fact, my only complaint was that the drinks are outlandishly expensive ($11 for a jug of soda!?!!!!!).
JJ loves it there, though he really only eats the vegetable stir fry and then decimates the dessert bar.
The birthday girl’s verdict? Freya loved everything at the cheap and cheerful Feast Ferntree Gully Hotel. She ate all they had there and finished it off with huge cubes of orange jelly. The staff were wonderful, JJ ate all the desserts he could get his paws on, and all of us walked out full of good, fresh, healthy food (and cake).
Although it doesn’t hold a candle to Kitchen Workshop, it gets bonus points for not being in the middle of a casino. We loved the laid back atmosphere and our quiet, casual birthday dinner with our little one.
Yes, this is a cookie tree recipe post. It’s also a product review. Thing is though, you can make this beautiful tree without the Cookie Tree Kit that I’ve shown below. Read on for the recipe and instructions.
I must confess, I am an Aldi addict. I do the bulk of my shopping at Aldi and at the fresh food market in China Town, which saves me a huge amount of money every week. David loves Aldi too, and is always poking about in the miscellaneous non-food-item specials with a manic look in his eye while I rake over the produce sections.
For once, I sent David off to Aldi alone to procure something or another, and he came home with this:
Aldi Crofton Cookie Tree Set
The kit cost $2.99 on sale (originally $5), and is chock full of bits and pieces, including 6 star shaped cookie cutters in different sizes, a tree base, two different length poles, a hole punch, and some plastic piping bags for icing. This kit was exceptional value at $5. The star cookie cutters alone are worth more than that.
Of course, I offered to make it for him, but surprisingly, he refused, saying he would make it himself, as a gift to me for Christmas.
I was gobsmacked. David… My husband David… baking a cookie tree in the actual kitchen. And he did! After days of procrastination, with a lot of frustration and a little help, David baked these cookies and assembled them into a beautiful tree.
David’s gorgeous cookie tree
We were pleasantly surprised at how beautiful this little tree turned out to be, especially considering the train-wreck of a tree that they photographed for the front of the box. Seriously. Could they have made that tree look any more awful? In saying this, if you have found yourself with a boxed Crofton Cookie Tree Kit, please don’t cook the cookies until they look like the burnt, nasty ones on the front of the box. This is a shortbread recipe and should only be cooked until pale cream in colour with a little light gold underneath. The cooking time in the recipe is pretty accurate.
This recipe yields nearly double the shortbread dough required to build the tree with the “smaller” tree pole, so I made a batch of chocolate chip shortbread cookies with David’s leftover dough. Mmm…
Soft, flaky shortbread star cookies stacked on top of one another to create a beautiful, festive cookie tree! This can be made with the kit or without. If you are making this without the base and pole, you will need to make the stiff icing recipe I have included below and avoid the step where we punch out a hole in the cookies before they bake. Instead of stacking the cookies on the pole, you will be gluing them together with icing to create the tree. If you wish to make the smaller version of this tree, I would suggest halving this recipe. If you're like us though, make the whole lot and store the leftover fresh shortbread dough to make easy bake refrigerator cookies over the holidays. This recipe isn't one of mine - it's directly from the Aldi Cookie Tree box, and is much more complicated sounding than I usually prefer. Fortunately although it is time consuming, in practicality it isn't confusing at all.
Author: Elva Clarke
Recipe type: Dessert
Shortbread Cookie Stars
3 cups of self raising flour
1 cup of rice flour
1 cup of caster sugar
280g of butter (at room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla essence
Icing Recipe (for those who do NOT have a cookie tree kit or base and pole)
3½ cups of pure icing sugar
2 fresh egg whites
1tbsp of lemon juice or white vinegar
Preheat the oven to 170c
Sift the flours into a bowl and set it aside
Beat the butter and the sugar until pale and fluffy
Add the egg and vanilla essence and beat until mixture is well combined
Add the combined flour slowly, beating with each new addition until the mixture has come together to form a soft dough.
Lightly flour the surface of your counter or a large board, turn out the dough and knead quickly and lightly until smooth. Make sure not to over work the dough or your shortbread will be tough!
Separate the dough out into six pieces, wrap with cling wrap and allow the dough to chill for about a half an hour in the fridge.
When the dough has chilled, lightly flour your surface once more, flour your rolling pin, and gently roll out the dough to around 8mm thick.
Using the star cutters, cut four of each size star (for the large pole) and place on a large cookie tray covered in baking paper. If you are using a kit, use the hole puncher provided to cut a hole in each of your cookies, leaving one of the smallest star cookies whole to top the tree (If you are not using a kit, leave all the cookies whole).
If you wish to make a smaller cookie tree (David's tree is half the larger size, and still quite large), use three portions of the dough to cut out an assortment of the star sizes, leaving the rest of the shortbread dough in the fridge to bake later.
Bake the cookies in the oven for 10 minutes for the larger stars and 8 minutes for the small stars,
Remove from the oven and let the cookies "set" for about 10 minutes before gently moving them to a cooling rack. Shortbread will be very soft until it has cooled, so please be careful!
Assembling Your Tree
When all the cookies are cooked and cooled, connect the cookie base and stick as per the instructions in the kit packet. If you do not have the kit, obviously you'll be skipping this step.
Stack the cookies on top of each other, with the largest stars on the bottom and the smallest at the top until the pole is covered.
Pop the small star (the one you didn't punch a hole in), on the top, base facing down.
If you are using the base and pole, there isn't any reason for you to make the icing or to ice these cookies (unless of course you prefer your shortbread iced). We just sprinkled icing sugar "snow" over our tree.
If you do not have a kit, base or pole, do this:
Make the icing by combining the sifted icing sugar with the egg white and mix together with an electric mixer until the icing is firm.
Add the lemon juice and mix well.
Place a blob of icing in the middle of the largest star and pop another star directly on top of it, making sure that the arms of the stars are at opposing angles to create a tree like appearance.
Continue doing this with the rest of the stars from large to small, until all stars have been used.
Sift powdered sugar (icing sugar) over the top of the tree to look like snow.