Steph Blackwell's Iced & Spiced Tear and Share Christmas Tree

Steph Blackwell's Iced & Spiced Tear and Share Christmas Tree - Credit: Archant

Great British Bake Off star Steph Blackwell’s Christmas recipe



How is it December already? I seriously don’t know where the time has disappeared to this year. While I’m not a fan of the dark mornings, shorter days and the wintery chill, I am welcoming the essence of the season, warming spices, zest, the odd tipple, cosy nights spent by the fire, candles and obviously the Christmas decorations. This year, Christmas, and December in general, may look quite different for a lot of us, however, I’m desperate not to let the events of 2020 dim my sparkle and, I hope, yours too. We may be limited by the circumstances, but that won’t stop me beavering away in my kitchen creating bakes for friends and family to enjoy, even if it is just as a gift.

This year, I have recognised the importance of human connection. Being deprived of the freedom to see people, as and when I wish, has made me appreciate friends, family… even strangers more than ever. I could have done any manner of decadent dessert for this December issue: a trifle, a pavlova, or steamed sponge, but I was conscious that these desserts, as wonderful as they are, may not be practical with smaller family gatherings. I also thought it was only right that I finish the year off with a bread recipe – because bread is my favourite – and yes, I’m being selfish... These pull-apart buns can hopefully be shared with your nearest and dearest over a cuppa. The pillowy soft buns are studded with spices, marzipan and fruit, arranged in the shape of a Christmas Tree and served with the most epic brandy butter. What’s not to love?



450g strong white bread flour; 7g dried active yeast; 8g table salt; 65g golden caster sugar; 110g sultanas; 50g cranberries; 1 large egg; 260ml whole milk – lukewarm; 50g softened unsalted butter; 3 tsp ground cinnamon; 1.5 tsp mixed spice; ¼ tsp freshly grated whole nutmeg; zest of 1 small orange; zest of 1 lemon; 150g marzipan (chopped into small cubes)

For the water icing

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200g sifted icing sugar; 2tbsp water; red and green gel food colouring

For the glaze

1 star anise; 1 whole nutmeg; 5 cloves; 1 cinnamon stick; 50g caster sugar; 50ml water

For the brandy butter

150g butter; 150g soft light brown sugar; 40-50ml brandy (for alcohol-free, substitute with 1tsp festive spice)


1. Measure out the milk into a jug and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds. Meanwhile, add the flour, sugar and spices to the bowl of a free-standing mixer, combine well. Next, sprinkle the salt on one side of the bowl and the yeast on the other. Make a small well in the centre of the bowl and pour in the milk and egg. With the dough hook attached, mix on a medium speed until the mixture comes together to form a shaggy dough, gradually add the softened butter and mix for around 5-8 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Once well kneaded, add the dried fruit, orange and lemon zest to the dough and mix for a further 3 mins, before adding the chopped marzipan and mixing for a final couple of minutes – you just want to make sure the marzipan is incorporated. When ready, turn the dough out into a large, lightly greased bowl (it’s a pretty wet dough). Leave to rise in a warm environment for 2-3 hours or until doubled in size.

2. Line a large baking tray with baking parchment. Once the dough has proved, knock back slightly. Divide into 11 pieces of approximately 95g, and one piece slightly larger – ie the remaining dough – mine was about 110g. Roll each chunk into a neat ball and place on the baking tray in a Christmas tree pattern – ie 1 ball at the top, then 2, 3, 4, and finally the ‘stump’, which will be the larger piece of dough. Flatten this one into an approximate square shape – try to leave a little space in between each dough piece to allow for them to rise*. Leave to prove for another 1 hour or until doubled in size.

*You will notice – as I did… that my maths is terrible and you have a remaining (95g) piece of dough – luckily, this works in your favour – bake this little baby off on its own and you get to ‘test’ your handy work before others dive in!

Meanwhile, prepare the glaze. Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan, place over a low to medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, once dissolved, bring to the boil and simmer for around 3-5 minutes before removing from the heat, it should reduce a little. Add the whole spices and set aside to infuse.

3. Prepare the (optional) brandy butter. Beat the butter and sugar until fluffy – 2-3 minutes. Add the brandy and beat until well combined – restrain yourself from eating this stuff on its own...

Preheat the oven to 220C/200 fan/gas mark 6. Once proved, bake the buns in the oven for 17-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from the oven and carefully transfer the Christmas tree to a cooling rack, brush liberally with the sugar syrup. Allow to cool fully before icing.

4.While the buns are cooling prepare the icing, combine the icing sugar and water in a bowl, mix to a thick paste. Cover with greased clingfilm until ready to use – ie when the buns have cooled.

Once you are ready to decorate your Christmas tree. Split the icing into four bowls. Use one bowl of icing to spread over the tree trunk – use the back of a spatula to ease it smoothly across the bun – spray with glitter if you want to be snazzy. Transfer the icing from one of the remaining bowls to a piping bag fitted with a small round nozzle. With the remaining two bowls, use gel food colouring to colour one green and one red. Transfer each to piping bags fitted with small round nozzles.

5.To decorate, use the white icing and pipe in a haphazard fashion from left to right. Dot the red and green icing to create baubles. Add some pistachios, and extra cranberries across the top – be as creative as you like.

When you’re happy, serve with the brandy butter and a cup of warming spiced chai tea.

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