The dough for this recipe can be divided into thirds: one third for rolls, another third for a Christmas tree bread, and the last for a candy cane bread. “Both the Christmas tree and the candy cane make beautiful decorative breads for a Christmas brunch or buffet. They are also popular at bake sales and as gifts.”
Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in milk, sugar, salt, eggs, shortening, and 2-½ cups flour. Beat until smooth. (You may use mixer to this point, but not later unless you have a breadhook attachment.) Mix in enough remaining flour to make dough easy to handle. Turn dough on lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes). Place in greased bowl; turn greased side up. (Dough may be refrigerated at this point for 3 to 4 days.) Cover and let rise in warm place until double (about 1-½ hours). Punch down dough.
For Rolls: Shape one third of the dough into rolls, cover, and let rise until double (about 30 minutes). Bake 15 to 20 minutes in a 375 degree F oven until golden. Brush with butter while still warm, and drizzle with a thin, quick icing, made of 2 cups confectioners sugar, 2 to 3 tablespoons milk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla.
For a Christmas Tree: Divide the second third of the dough into 17 balls the size of golf balls and arrange on a greased cookie sheet in the shape of a Christmas tree. Let rise 1 hour, then bake at 375 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden. When cool, frost with quick icing (see above). Decorate the tree with red and green candied cherries and whole almonds, or substitute maraschino cherries if the cake is for young people, but be sure to dry the maraschinos well.
For a Candy Cane: Pat the last third of the dough into a 1 5x6-inch rectangle. With scissors cut 2-inch-deep snips a half inch apart along each edge. Down the center of the rectangle spread ½ cup chopped maraschino cherries mixed with ½ cup apricot preserves. Then fold the edge strips into the center, alternating a strip from one side, then a strip from the other, crossing the ends. When it is all folded, stretch the roll until it is about 22 inches long and bend one end over to form a cane. Without letting it rise again, bake at 375 degrees F for 25 minutes, or until it is golden. Frost the top, after it has cooled, with quick icing, giving it a striped effect with the cherry filling.