Christmas Tree Dip

by Shelley · May contain affiliate links

~ This Christmas Tree Dip appetizer is a party headliner! Layers of scrumptious, bold Mediterranean flavors make it addictive … and its cute holiday “tree” shape makes it the centerpiece of any buffet. But, luckily, it’s quick and easy to whip up. (We’re talking 10 minutes here – seriously!) So, you definitely won’t mind when everyone requests that you make it year after year! ~

This Recipe Is:     Ready in 30 Minutes or Less    Make Ahead    Vegetarian    Gluten Free 

Overhead of finished Christmas Tree Dip on decorative white party platter with golden napkin and spreader in background.

Whenever I’m taking a dish to a party, I always try to figure out how to make it a real headliner. One of those recipes with automatic wow-factor.

So people just have to try it. And then sidle over, asking if they can nab the recipe.

It doesn’t have to be hard to create something unique. Especially at the holidays … when fun shapes and colors offer up tons of festive inspiration.

Take this Mediterranean dip, for instance.

I’ve been making a version of it for more than 15 years. (Of course, I tweaked and upgraded it a bit along the way.) It’s always so popular at parties!

And suddenly … it seemed so obvious

The pretty green pesto with red and gold toppings? It was like Christmas on a plate! Or … ahem … a Christmas TREE on plate (if I shaped it right).

Seriously really easy to do!

And with layer-upon-layer of great flavors, it’s a crowd-pleaser all around!

Why Everyone Will Love Your Christmas Tree Dip

So what have we got goin’ on here, in all these alluring, tree-trimmed layers of dipping joy?

Bowls and jars of ingredients and block of cream cheese arranged on wooden cutting board.

Well, there’s …

  • A backdrop of cream cheese and cannellini beans, blended together into a smooth spread that’s somewhere between a white bean dip and the typical, holiday cream cheese dip.
  • Then comes savory, herby pesto. (And all its Christmasy-y greeness!)
  • And then a flourish of decorative roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, and Kalamatas.
  • Sprinkle on some feta “snow” and maybe hang a few {darling!} Sweety Drop peppers as ornaments.

In no time flat, you’re heading to the next Christmas party with a platter full of decked-out holiday “WOW”!

Who knew trimming a tree could be so easy … or so YUMMY?!?

Let me walk you through the easy steps and give you a few handy tips along the way …

How to Make This Easy Christmas Appetizer

Step #1

Grab your food processor (I like to use the smallest, “mini” one from my Ninja set), and whir together a can of cannellini beans and an 8-ounce block of reduced-fat cream cheese with a little salt.

Ingredient Tip: Cream Cheese

Lower-fat Neufchâtel cheese (marketed in America as reduced-fat cream cheese) tastes so much like full-fat cream cheese that nobody will ever, ever notice the difference. I totally pink swear. But, you’ll save on calories, saturated fat and cholesterol compared to using “regular” full-fat cream cheese.

Process this until it’s really smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. You don’t want any bits of bean skins to ruin the velvety texture. Just like when you’re making hummus, keep going until it’s smooooooth.

You’ll end up with about 1 3/4 cup of the cream cheese mixture.

Step #2

Spread that yummy, creamy base layer on a large platter or serving tray, working it into the shape of a Christmas tree.

Overhead of serving platter on cutting board, with cream cheese spread into Christmas tree shape.

I recommend using a fairly large platter, if possible, so that this base layer isn’t too thick. (But not to worry, as I’ll explain in Step #3 below, you can adapt if your platter isn’t as large as mine, and your cream cheese base layer has to be a little thicker.)

The platter I’m using in my photos is a 12″ x 16″ oval.

Step #3

Next, spread your pretty green pesto on top of the cream cheese layer.

Ingredient Tip: Great Pesto

There are definitely some major flavor and color differences amongst store-bought pesto brands. Some are a sad green-brown color, with lackluster flavor to match. The best ones seem to come from the refrigerated section, rather than from shelf-stable jars in the pasta aisle.

My all-time favorite store-bought brand is the Kirkland brand at Costco. It’s a lovely, vibrant green with yummy, bold flavor. Another decent one is the Rana brand I find at my local grocery store.

Of course, you can also make your own homemade pesto, if you have the time and have a fresh basil plant happily growing on your kitchen windowsill this time of year. Cooking Light published a helpful article on how to make sure your homemade pesto turns out a wonderful, bright green color (which is exactly what you want when creating a Christmas tree!).

Overhead of pesto layer added on top of cream cheese.

Nudge the pesto near to the edges of the cream cheese layer, but not quite all the way up to the edges.

It’s not a big deal, but if you do happen to push the pesto clear to the edge, it may drip messily down over the side a bit.

Pro Tip: Adapting for Platter Size

If you don’t have a relatively large platter (again, mine is a 12″ x 16″ oval), you have two choices.

(1) You can choose not to use all of the cream cheese mixture, so that you still get a thin layer of cream cheese base (that doesn’t overwhelm all the other flavors). You want there to be a good balance.

• Or (2) if your cream cheese layer ends up on the thicker side, you can simply use a little bit more pesto to strike a tasty balance … probably nearer to 1/3 cup of pesto.

But otherwise, for a Christmas tree that’s about the size of the one in my photos, 1/4 cup of pesto should be enough.

Step #4

Now here’s where it gets really creative and fun!

Decorating time! (Falalalala …)

• I use a star-shaped cutter to cut the star from a large, flat side of a yellow bell pepper.

• And for the tree trunk? It’s super easy to use some of those brownish mini peppers you often see at the grocery store these days (like I show you below). But, if you can’t find those, you could also use a rectangular, brown cracker as the trunk, too.

• For the tree’s garland, I mix chopped artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers. Festoon them in swoopy, garland-y arcs that zigzag merrily back and forth across your Christmas tree.

Then, hang your ornaments!

• Horizontally sliced Kalamata olives are an ideal ornament shape. (Hint: for the best flavor, definitely use Kalamatas here, not the canned black olives you find in the Mexican or pizza aisles.)

• And for the cute little red ornaments hanging off the tip of each bough? I use Sweety Drop Peppers, which are perfectly shaped like tiny Christmas ornaments!

Ingredient Tip: Sweety Drop Peppers

You might also see these labeled as Pepper Drops, Incan Red Drops or Petits Poivrons. Look for them in jars in the Italian aisle or near other jarred peppers, in the refrigerated specialty section near other Italian antipasto ingredients like olives, or on the olive bar at your grocery store.

• For the final flourish … let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! A sprinkling of feta completes your holiday creation!

Overhead of feta cheese sprinkled over top like snow.

Making Your Christmas Tree Dip Ahead

This dip tastes best when the cream cheese mixture is softer and not stone-cold, straight from the fridge.

So, you’ve got a couple options if (like me!) you’re into making things ahead to save on last-minute stress.

Option 1: You can chop your toppings, cut out your star and tree trunk … do all the prep work on the “decorations” … in advance. Store it all in the fridge for up to a couple of days. Then, simply whir up your cream cheese layer and assemble your tree in a few easy minutes, right before serving.

Option 2: You can also make the entire appetizer dip ahead of time, cover it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for up to about a day in advance. Bring it out of the fridge a little while (maybe 20 minutes) before serving, though, to give the cream cheese layer time to soften a bit (which also makes it taste better, for some reason).

The important thing here is not to let it sit out too long, of course (for food safety).

If you’re driving to a Christmas party across town, let’s say, well then your pre-made dip should be nicely ready to go when you get there. Perfectly softened and dip-able!

Closeup of fingers reaching in with a pita chip to scoop up first bite of dip from party platter.

How to Serve Your Festive Masterpiece

When it comes to the best dippers for digging into this party appetizer, I recommend:

  • crunchy pita chips or crackers (whole grain if possible, to boost nutrition)
  • mini sweet peppers or sliced bell peppers (red and green peppers add to the festive color scheme)

FAQs At-a-Glance

Can I Use “Regular” Full-Fat Cream Cheese in This Christmas Dip?

You can, but it’s higher in calories, fat (and saturated fat), and cholesterol. Lower-fat Neufchâtel cheese tastes just as great in this recipe, and is a nutritionally better option here.

I Don’t Have a Star-Shaped Cutter to Make the Star. Any Suggestions?

You can {carefully!} use a paring knife to cut a star out of the yellow pepper if you don’t have a cookie cutter. I’d recommend printing out a little template – or at least Googling a photo of a star – to guide you, if possible. At holiday time, you can also sometimes find festive, star-shaped crackers or pretzels, which would also work in a pinch.

What About the “Tree Trunk”? I Can’t Find a Brown-ish Pepper.

That’s easy to solve! Simply place a rectangular cracker at the base of the tree instead.

Can I Use a Different Type of Bean (Instead of Cannellinis)?

I recommend sticking with cannellini beans in this recipe. They’re a bit creamier and more tender than chickpeas, yielding a smooth base for the dip. And, of course, kidney beans or black beans aren’t the right color to use here.

This year, “trimming the tree” has a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?!?

A delicious, show-stopping, party-ready meaning!

Two hands holding party tray with finished dip, with pita chips laying in background.

This adorable Christmas Tree Dip is a Christmas party appetizer that delivers big WOW … without stress and a big time commitment. Just what we all need at this busy time of year!

(Pssssst … want more inspiration for Christmas party appetizers that’ll win RAVES? I’ve got soooooo many ideas for ya! Try my super-popular Hummus Wreath, or check out my complete list of Cute Christmas Appetizers!)

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Dip being served by two hands at Christmas party with wooden spreader resting on platter.

Christmas Tree Dip

Yield: 3 cups
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

This Christmas Tree Dip is a yummy, super-cute party headliner! Our tips make it so easy to whip up for a Christmas Party, in just minutes!

  Ready in 30 Minutes or Less    Make Ahead    Vegetarian    Gluten Free 

Ingredients

Base:

  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can cannellini beans (preferably organic or reduced-sodium), drained and rinsed
  • 1 (8-ounce) block reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel cheese)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Toppings:

  • 1/4 - 1/3 cup fresh or refrigerated pesto (see note)
  • for the star: yellow bell pepper (or a star-shaped cracker)
  • for the tree trunk: a rectangular slice of a brownish or purple-black pepper (or a brown, rectangular cracker)
  • 1/2 cup chopped artichoke hearts (canned, not marinated)
  • 1/2 cup chopped (jarred) roasted red peppers
  • Kalamata olives, sliced horizontally into rings
  • Sweety Drop peppers (tiny, tear-shaped peppers)
  • 1-2 tablespoons crumbled, reduced-fat feta cheese or tomato-basil-flavored feta

Instructions

  1. In a blender or food processor (I used the “mini” one from my Ninja set in my photos), combine the beans, cream cheese and salt until very smooth, scraping the sides as needed.
  2. Spread the cream cheese mixture onto a large platter (mine is a 12" x 16" oval), in the shape of a Christmas tree.
  3. Then spread a thin layer of pesto over top, not quite to the edge of the cream cheese mixture. If your cream cheese layer is rather thick (for example, if you're using a smaller-sized platter), you may want to use closer to 1/3 cup pesto, but otherwise, 1/4 cup should be enough.
  4. For the star, use a cookie cutter to cut a star-shape from the flat side of the yellow pepper. Cut a rectangle from your brownish pepper for the tree's trunk. (Or, alternately, use crackers for these.) Place the star at the top and the tree trunk at the bottom (as shown in photos in our post above).
  5. Decorate your tree with artichokes, roasted red peppers, Kalamatas, and Sweety Drop peppers (refer to photos in our post for ideas). I like to combine the artichokes and red peppers into strings of garland, and place the Kalamatas and Sweety Drops as ornaments. Lastly, sprinkle your tree with feta cheese "snow."

Notes

Pesto: A good, vibrantly flavorful (and colorful) pesto is important in this recipe. To save time, we often grab store-bought pesto. Be sure to select one that is fresh-looking and really green. I find that refrigerated brands are generally much better than jarred, shelf-stable brands. A couple I regularly use are Rana (from my local grocery store), and also the Kirkland brand at Costco (which is my favorite of the two).

Make-ahead tips: This Christmas Tree Dip tastes best when the cream cheese mixture is softer and is not really cold, straight out of the refrigerator. To work on this recipe ahead, you have two options: (1) Do all of the chopping and prep of the decorative toppings a day or two ahead, and stash them in the fridge. Then, quickly whir up your cream cheese layer and assemble your tree in a few easy minutes, right before serving. (2) To make your Christmas Tree Dip completely ahead of time, wrap it in plastic up to a day in advance, but bring it out of the refrigerator 20 minutes or so before serving, to give the cream cheese layer time to soften back up a bit. (But remember, for food safety, not to bring it out too far ahead.)

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 48 servings Serving Size: 2 tablespoons dip
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 33Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 4mgSodium: 33mgCarbohydrates: 3gFiber: 1gSugar: 0gProtein: 2g

Nutrition information should be considered an estimate only, and may vary depending on your choice of ingredients or preparation. No guarantees are made regarding allergies or dietary needs. Always consult a physician or dietician for specific advice and questions.

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This recipe is inspired by one of the “10-Minute Appetizer Dip” variations published in the Kraft Food & Family recipe leaflet from back in Summer 2005. I found a link to that original appetizer dip recipe, but note that the photo they’ve used there mysteriously does NOT match the recipe.

2 thoughts on “Christmas Tree Dip”

    • Awwww, you’re so welcome! It really does turn out pretty (definitely rewarding to make)! And delicious enough that I’ve been serving some version of this dip (not always Christmas-tree-shaped lol) for about 15 years now. Always a hit! Merry Christmas! 😀 ~Shelley

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Published on
Updated on January 18, 2022
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