Cookie Nativity with Cream Cheese Cookie Dough

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As a child I was often enticed into requesting a gingerbread house when I would see them at a friends or in bakery shops. I could sympathize with Hansel and Gretel. If we could have a gingerbread house in our home for Christmas, everything would be perfect. My dreams of having a gingerbread house did not come true in my childhood. The closest I came was helping a friend eat some of one her father bought for her {which was already assembled with elaborate decorations}. After tasting a bit of that dream, I was actually very satisfied that my mom had never bought a gingerbread house for us. It was a fanciful treat for the eyes, but left me not wanting to enjoy the taste of one again anytime soon. Maybe the gingerbread had too much of a licorice flavor or perhaps the icing and candies were hard and dried out. That experience helped me to realize that I would probably enjoy something a little more pleasing to kinder palates.

When I had children of my own, instead of a traditional gingerbread house, I helped them decorate mini graham cracker houses. They are easy. They are inexpensive. And they are great for parties. Just set out graham crackers, icing and candies. My children loved these. As my children have grown, they still enjoy making the graham cracker houses, but I think some of the older ones would enjoy something different.

I saw this adorable picture of a 'gingerbread' nativity. It reminded me of the graham cracker houses and I think it would be delightful for the children to make, but it actually inspired another idea. Visions of cookies cut to animal shapes and stars, I imagined a nativity scene made of cookies. And, it was quite different than a gingerbread house. Instead of the colorful decorations and heaps of frosting, I envisioned a simple monochrome scene. Something that was more peaceful instead. Any embellishments would be simple. Just a few sprinkles on the stars and and perhaps some lights as a backdrop. And the figures would be few.

I began with a soft and velvety cookie dough~ cream cheese cookie dough {see recipe at end of post}. The dough is perfect for children to work with. It has no raw eggs. It is easy to shape even without cookie cutters~ roll into balls or sticks.
I like to double the batch to have extra, especially if kids will be decorating {have a few extra cookies on hand for mistakes}.

Roll out the cookie dough, working in small batches. Cut out the stars. Place a skewer on a cookie sheet and place star at one end. Lightly press onto skewer. Sprinkle sugar crystals over top before baking.

Next, work on animals and figures. In a traditional nativity scene there are three animals {a donkey, sheep and a cow}, but I had to settle for two. I could not find a donkey cookie cutter. Use animal cutters for cow, sheep and donkey {if you have one}. For the figures, I used an exclamation cookie cutter. Just turn it around and it is Mary or Joseph in a robe or the Wise Men.

For the manger, use a round cookie cutter. After it is baked but still warm, move it to a rolling pin to cool. It will take on a curved shape. This will be place on a 'frame'.

Make a support for each piece {except the stars} in the nativity scene; the manger will need two supports. Do this by cutting a long rectangular shape divided into two triangular shapes.

Once cookies have cooled completely, work on assembling the nativity. I used a small rectangular block of Styrofoam wrapped in plastic wrap with double sided tape on the bottom and back. The tape secures it to the surfaces it will be on and against. {I set up our scene in a wall niche but it could also be set up on a table against a wall.} If desired, hang a piece of sheer material from the wall and over the table surface to hide the Styrofoam. Place the stable in front of the Styrofoam piece {you could make one from sheets of cookie dough; I used one found at Target for $2.50}. Tie a couple of strands of ribbon onto the skewers just below the star. Stick the skewer into the Styrofoam so the star is visible above the stable.

Spread fried rice noodles over the floor of the stable.

Now, work on attaching supports to back of the figures. Use any decorator frosting to 'glue' the supports on. Then set the figures in the nativity scene.

For the manger, attach two supports to the convex side.

Then fill the concave part with toasted coconut before placing the baby inside.

Adjust your figures to complete your cookie nativity scene. For the shepherd, I added a skewer to his side using frosting.

Cream Cheese Cut~Out Cookies
8 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 c butter, softened
1 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 c flour
1/2 tsp baking soda

Using a mixer, blend cream cheese and butter together. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and cream til fluffy; it will look like icing. Combine flour and baking soda; add to cream cheese mixture and blend well.

Shape dough into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling out.

Preheat oven to 325F. Roll dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out shapes and transfer to ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-18 minutes {smaller cut cookies such as stars will need less time, while larger ones like the trees need more} until edges begin to brown. Cool on pan for one minute than transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Tips and Tricks~
*When working with cookie dough, sprinkle the work surface with powdered sugar instead of flour.
*To help keep pin from sticking to dough, place a sheet of plastic wrap over the dough while rolling.
*If you would like to make a traditional gingerbread house, here are some helpful instructions for gingerbread with templates

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  1. Now I see why the dog ate Mary, this looks so festive and delicious. So much like decorating a gingerbread house but with so much more meaning!

  2. Anonymous5:33 AM

    Very creative and well done cookie natavity! Where can one find an exclamation cookie cutter?

  3. The exclamation cookie cutter came from this package of letter cookie cutters:

    Thank you for the compliment!


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