The scents of the holidays — cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, in particular — fill the cool December air with their distinctive warmth. This trio of traditional holiday spices are also the key ingredient of homemade, but non-edible, forever holiday spice decorations.
In addition to delightfully scenting the air for years to come, these decorations will help to create fragrant holiday memories.
Easier to make than edible cookies, these decorations are cut from dough made of the three spices, applesauce and white glue. That’s right, white glue! It is literally the binder or binding agent of these inedible, but highly fragrant, creations. Although the dough does contain glue, it is non-toxic and safe for children and pets to touch. Making these festive creations is a fun family, or group, activity.
The following suggestions and hints will make this craft project even more enjoyable.
First and foremost, although tempting, DO NOT “sneak” a taste of the dough. Also, if children, especially the youngest ones, will be making the decorations, adult supervision is highly recommended.
While the children can participate in almost all of the stages of making these decorations, a couple of the steps would be more successfully completed by an adult. Those two steps would be: 1. hand-mixing the ingredients to form the dough. 2. The second step is transferring the cut decoration to the drying rack as the wet, shaped dough does crack and crumble fairly easily if unsupported or handled too roughly.
A helpful hint regarding that transfer is to transfer the cut dough while it is still within the cookie cutter. But, be sure to support it from underneath with your hand or a spatula.
As for tools needed for the project, use your well-worn versus best or new bowls, spatula, measuring cups and spoons, cookie cutters, rolling pin and pastry pad because the oils of the spices quickly permeate some materials, especially wood, plastics and unglazed ceramics.
If possible, use glass, metal or disposable bowls, measuring cups and spoons, for the project. Also, in place of a pastry pad, and to protect your rolling pin, use double layers of wax paper or plastic wrap — one top and bottom — as the rolling surface for the dough.
While the clean up is easy, requiring only a thorough washing with warm and soapy water plus a good rinsing, it should be done immediately after the project is completed to avoid the glue and applesauce from hardened onto the tools and surfaces. (See the recipe below for more details, instructions and suggestions.)
After all of the precautions and advice, it is time for the fun to begin. The decorations can be used for a multitude of creative options. By cutting a hole about one-quarter of an inch from the top of the cut-out shape when it is in its dough stage, once it is dry, a ribbon, string, wire or hook can be inserted through that hole to tie or hang the decoration from Christmas tree boughs, wreaths, packages and gifts.
Using an embroidery hoop or grapevine wreath as a base, the decorations can be attached or tied to that base with various lengths of ribbon to create a fragrant mobile suspended for the ceiling or a ceiling light fixture. The decorations can also be glued onto the hoop or wreath using a hot glue gun to create a spicy scented wreath.
With a little planning, the decorations can be used to create fragrant garlands for the tree, banister, mantel or wherever you would like to drape them. The planning part of this decorative option is where to make the holes for the ribbons, strings and such. For example, a fireplace mantel garland of spicy stars would require cutting a hole on opposite sides of each star. Once dry, the stars would be tied together side-by-side to create a fragrant chain or garland. A fun side note: the heat of the fire warms the decorations causing them to release even more of their scents.
The decorations also make great table setting place-cards by using either two decorations tied together to create an inverted “V” to stand above the plate or just one decoration set on or above the plate.
Once dry, the fragrant place-cards can be inscribed with your family or guests’ names using markers, paints or even a touch of glitter for a bit of holiday sparkle. Similar to the single place-card, the decorations make cheery gift tags tied onto packages.
All of these creative options are attractive either unadorned or embellished. Depending upon one’s preferences, they can be decorated with paints, glitter, ribbons and much more. Completely covering their surfaces will reduce and even prevent their spices from scenting the air.
For those who like a challenge, have the time and patience, the dough can be used to build a gingerbread house. It is advisable to use a pattern to successfully complete this construction project.
The gingerbread house shown in the accompanying photograph, was built in the early 1990s. Measuring 1-by-1-by-1-foot in dimensions, it is a fairly accurate replica of the Neo-Gothic architectural style right down to its fretwork—or more commonly called, gingerbread. It required six batches of the dough recipe, many hours of detail cut-out work and several weeks of drying and construction time.
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Although the pieces were turned over daily for even drying, the large wall and roof sections were less than square and even. But the glue from the hot glue gun used to assemble the house, filled in those gaps. With its construction completed, the “gingerbread house” was decorated with pearlized craft puff paint and iridescent glitter.
Every Christmas since its completion, this gingerbread house sits proudly and prominently atop a living room cabinet. As for its scent, even after 20-plus years, the fragrance of its cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg spices, albeit faint, can still be detected and enjoyed by anyone standing close by. With those wisps of spicy scents also returns an even more delightful holiday gift —memories of Christmases past.
Forever Holiday Spice Decorations
4-ounce container (about 1 cup) ground cinnamon;
1 tablespoon ground cloves;
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg or allspice;
3/4 cup applesauce, the smooth, not chunky, style;
2 tablespoons white glue, such as the “Elmer’s” brand, and
Wax paper or plastic wrap
In an medium-size bowl, combine all three of the ground spices and gently blend together with a spoon or by hand. Do not use an electric mixer or blender as the spices will billow everywhere.
To the spice mixture, add the applesauce and white glue. With your hands, work the mixture together for about 2—3 minutes or until the ingredients are thoroughly blended and the dough forms a smooth ball.
The dough can either be divided into four equal portions to be individually rolled and cut out or worked in one large portion. Place the dough to be worked on either a pastry rolling pad, double layers of wax paper or a section of plastic wrap. Gently press dough down to slightly flatten. Then place a sheet of either wax paper or plastic wrap over the dough—this will protect the rolling pin from the spice oils. With the rolling pin, roll the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness. Rolling the dough thinner than a 1/4-inch thickness will result in very brittle and easily broken decorations.
Once the dough is rolled out, carefully lift off the top sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap and discard that cover sheet. If any dough is lifted with the top cover, carefully smooth the area with your fingers.
Use cookie cutters to create the desired Holiday shapes. To make a hole for a ribbon, etc., tie, use the open end of a plastic straw to cut a small hole about a 1/4-inch from the top of the decoration. While the dough is within the cookie cutter form, carefully, transfer the cut-out decoration to the drying wire rack making sure the dough is supported from underneath with either your hand or a spatula. The drying racks are the wire racks used for cooling baked goods. Hint: Replace and discard the bottom sheets of wax paper in-between rolling out the dough portions as the dough’s moisture weakens the wax paper.
To ensure uniform drying, turn each decoration over daily until thoroughly dry. They take several days to dry completely before becoming hard enough to embellish and/or use as decorations. The actual drying time depends upon the size of the decoration and the weather.
This recipe makes about 12-14 three- to four-inch inedible decorations.