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Cheesy Pull Apart Christmas Tree Dough Balls

Dec 9, 2022 | 0 comments

These super soft pull-apart Christmas tree dough balls are stuffed with a cheesy, cranberry filling for the ultimate festive appetizer idea. They’re brushed with delicious garlic butter as they come out of the oven, making them the perfect fun snack to feed a crowd over the holiday season.

Christmas tree shaped dough balls on a lined board.

Pull-apart cheesy garlic dough balls are always a good idea, and this festive version, laced with cranberry sauce and baked in the shape of a Christmas is pretty special.

This is a really fun appetizer to serve up over the holiday season – and I promise it’s easy to make. The dough is enriched with butter and uses the tangzhong method to make sure the balls are SUPER soft, and that they stay that way. The tangzhong method means we make a quick paste from a little flour and milk, then add that to the dough base. You could also use store-bought pizza dough, to speed the recipe up.

Ingredients

You just need a few simple ingredients – plus a few fun festive ones – to make this pull-apart tree.

  • Bread flour. I’m using bread flour, but you could also use plain flour.
  • Milk. This is what gives the dough balls their super soft texture, but you could also use water, they just won’t be quite as soft.
  • Instant yeast. It’s important to use instant yeast if you’re following the recipe as written – you can use active yeast but you will need to ‘bloom’ the yeast in a little water first. This activates the yeast and dissolves the granules. If you try to use active yeast without doing this, it won’t dissolve properly and you’ll end up with dense dough balls.
  • Butter. This again gives the dough a super soft texture. Normally adding butter to dough is tricky without a machine, but I promise this recipe makes it easy. Just make sure the butter is nice and soft – pop it in the microwave for 15 seconds before you add it to the dough.
  • Mozzarella and gruyere. I LOVE this combination for the cheesy stretchy factor and for the flavour the gruyere gives. You could switch gruyere for cheddar, blue cheese or brie, but keep the mozzarella if you can. I’m using a mozzarella ball and chopping it up, but you could use grated mozzarella too.
  • Cranberry sauce. This adds a lovely festive touch, but you could make this without it or use your favourite chutney or sauce (fig and tamarind chutney or sweet chilli jam are great).
  • Garlic butter. You’ll need more butter, garlic cloves, salt and flat-leaf parsley, or switch the parsley for cilantro (coriander), rosemary, thyme or oregano.

How to make it

Start with the dough. We’re going to use the tangzhong technique to keep the dough SUPER soft. That sounds fancy but it’s basically just cooking a flour and milk paste for a few minutes. Add the paste to a large mixing bowl, then add the flour, instant yeast, salt and the rest of the milk. Mix together into a shaggy dough, then cover with a tea towel and let it sit for a couple of minutes. Add in the softened butter, then mix it into the dough. Now you’re going to get your hands in and knead the dough for about 10 minutes. It’ll start a bit rough and shaggy, then as you go, will turn into a lovely soft and smooth dough.

Pop back in the bowl, then cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place until the dough is doubled in size, about 1 hour. This will depend on the heat of your kitchen, so I like to take a photo of the dough to easily compare how it’s going.

PRO TIP: If you’re unsure about kneading, I have a whole post that guides you through how to knead dough which is worth a quick look!

Once your dough is roughly doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. You’ll need 25 balls to make your tree. I like to weigh the dough and then divide it by 25 so I know the balls will be equal, but you can eyeball it too. They’ll need to be about 1.2oz/35g.

Roll the pieces of dough into little balls, then flatten them into a small circle, about 4cm/1.5″ in diameter. Spoon on a little cranberry sauce, then a teaspoon of the cheese mix. Pinch the edges together to make a little ball, making sure to press the edges of the dough together well to seal.

Line a large baking tray with parchment paper, then you can assemble the tree. Make a trunk with 2 dough balls at the bottom of the tray, then lay out 6 balls along the tray. Continue placing the dough balls on the tray, losing 1 each time. Place the remaining 2 balls next to the top of the tree, to make a star. Brush the balls with egg wash, then bake until they look lovely and golden brown.

Make the garlic butter while the balls are baking, then brush with the butter as they come out of the oven. Enjoy with more cranberry sauce for dipping!

Got a question?

Can I make the dough ahead of time?

Yes! Mix and knead the dough, then pop it into the fridge (covered) overnight and then form the dough balls the next day.

Can I make the whole Christmas tree ahead of time?

You can – stuff the balls and form the tree, then cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge overnight. Then you can bake it from the fridge the next day when you’re ready. Remove it from the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to bake it. Get it out when you’re heating up the oven and place it on the oven to take the fridge chill off it first.

I don’t like cranberry sauce, can I use something else?

You can use any other chutney, relish or sauce you like. I love using this fig and tamarind chutney or sweet chilli jam. Caramelized onions would also be lovely, or you could leave it out completely.

If you’re looking for more fun festive appetizer ideas, here are some of my favourites

If you make this recipe, I’d love to hear from you! You can leave me a comment below.

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Christmas tree shaped dough balls on a lined board.

Cheesy Pull Apart Christmas Tree Dough Balls


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  • Author: Kate Alexandra
  • Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Yield: 25 balls 1x
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

These super soft pull-apart Christmas tree dough balls are stuffed with a cheesy, cranberry filling for the ultimate festive appetizer idea. They’re brushed with delicious garlic butter as they come out of the oven, making them the perfect fun snack to feed a crowd over the holiday season. 

The recipe uses the tangzhong method of quickly cooking a little flour and milk into a paste before adding to the rest of the dough ingredients to keep the buns SUPER soft for days. Or, make it even easier and use store-bought pizza dough.


Ingredients

Scale

For the tangzhong –

  • 30g bread flour
  • 145g whole milk

For the rest of the dough balls –

  • 500g bread flour
  • 190g whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 1 egg, whisked (for the egg wash)

For the cheesy filling –

  • 1 mozzarella ball, finely diced (or use grated mozzarella)
  • 1/2 cup gruyere, grated
  • 1/3 cup cranberry sauce

For the garlic butter –

  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves (or use rosemary, thyme or oregano)
  • 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt

Instructions

  1. Make the tangzhong. Combine the 30g bread flour and 145g of milk in a small pan over low heat. Stir continuously until the flour and milk thicken into a paste (much like a roux in a cheese sauce). When a thick paste has formed, remove it from the heat and transfer it to a large mixing bowl.
  2. Make the dough. Add 500g bread flour, 190g milk, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of yeast into the bowl with the tangzhong paste. Mix really well with a large wooden spoon or spatula, until it comes together into a rough, floury dough. Cover with a tea towel for a couple of minutes while you prepare the butter. You want the butter to be soft, so I like to pop it in the microwave for about 15 seconds. Don’t worry if it melts a little, it’s totally fine. Add the softened butter to the dough, and mix really well with the spoon again until it’s all combined.
  3. Knead the dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured flat surface, then knead it for about 10 minutes. The easiest way to describe the process of kneading is that you’re going to press down onto the dough with the heel of your hand, and then push the dough away from you. Fold the dough back over itself, give it a quarter turn, then repeat that process. I have a super helpful guide on how to knead dough if you’d like more help. It will start out rough and floury, and you’ll feel it start to change as you keep working with it. Eventually, it will become smooth and supple. At this point, pop it back into your mixing bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Leave it to rise in a warm place, until it’s roughly doubled in size. PRO TIP: The time it takes for your dough to rise is going to depend on the temperature of your kitchen. Take a photo of the dough as you leave it to rise, so you can easily compare.
  4. Form the dough balls. Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. You’ll need 25 balls for your Christmas tree. I like to weigh the dough and then divide it into 25, but you can also eyeball it if you like. Form the pieces into rough balls, then flatten them with your hands into a rough circle, about 4cm/1.5″ in diameter. Spoon on a little cranberry sauce, then pile on a teaspoon of the mozzarella and gruyere mix. Pinch the edges together over the filling, forming a little ball. Press the edges together well to seal the balls, then turn them over. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
  5. Form the Christmas tree and bake. Heat the oven to 180C/360F fan. Line a large oven tray with baking paper. Place 2 stuffed dough balls at the bottom of the tray to make the trunk, then place 6 dough balls along the bottom of the tray to make the first level. Continue with the rest of the balls, losing 1 each layer (so 5 dough balls, then 4 and so on). Place the final 2 dough balls on either side of the ball on top of the tree, to make a star. Brush with the whisked egg, then transfer to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until they’re golden brown.
  6. Make the garlic butter. While the dough balls are in the oven, melt 75g butter in a small pot over low heat, then add the 2 crushed garlic cloves and stir them for a couple of minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and mix through 1 teaspoon of flaky sea salt and the chopped parsley leaves.
  7. Brush with garlic butter and serve. Once the dough balls are looking lovely and golden, remove them from the oven. Brush them with the garlic butter while they’re warm, then serve with more cranberry sauce on the side while they’re soft and warm and the cheesy centre is lovely and gooey.

Notes

PREP AHEAD: You can make the dough the day before you want to make the dough balls, and just let it rise in the fridge overnight. Then just remove it from the fridge and form the balls when you’re ready. You can also stuff the dough balls, form the tree on the tray then cover it in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge overnight to bake the next day.

INGREDIENT NOTES: Play around with your cheese – I love pairing something stretchy with something strong – so you could replace the gruyere with strong cheddar, blue cheese, manchego, brie or camembert. Keep the mozzarella for the best, oozy, melty factor though. You can leave out the cranberry sauce if you like – it’s a nice festive touch but you can just stuff them with cheese, or use your favourite chutney (this fig and tamarind chutney is great, as is sweet chilli jam). Or, level them up by adding some prosciutto, bacon or chorizo. 

  • Prep Time: 15
  • Rising time: 60
  • Cook Time: 30
  • Category: baking
  • Method: oven
  • Cuisine: american

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 3 balls

Welcome!

I’m Kate, the creator behind Dished. I love creating flavour packed, simple (ish) recipes for you, designed for every day and special occasions.

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