Summer Cabin Recipe: Foraged Evergreen Shortbread Cookies (2024)

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Emily Han

Emily Han

Emily Han is a Los Angeles-based recipe developer, educator, herbalist, and author of Wild Drinks & co*cktails and co-author of Wild Remedies. For recipes and classes, check out her personal site.


updated May 2, 2019

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Summer Cabin Recipe: Foraged Evergreen Shortbread Cookies (1)

Makesabout 4 dozen cookies

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Summer Cabin Recipe: Foraged Evergreen Shortbread Cookies (2)

Did you go to summer camp as a kid? I didn’t, but just last week I learned that it’s never too late when I boarded a bus full of strangers and embarked on an adventure complete with campfires, bunk beds, and hands-on workshops. It was a life-changing experience, accompanied by the taste of fragrant mountain conifers.

In the San Bernardino Mountains two hours outside of LA, a group of young-at-heart adults gathered for CAMP, an innovative new conference for entrepreneurs and creatives. As a workshop leader, I taught attendees how to forage and cook with some of my favorite wild foods of Southern California, including our local White Fir and Jeffrey Pine.

Have you ever stuck your nose into the bark of a Jeffrey Pine? It’s like smelling a platter of warm vanilla-butterscotch cookies. Not to be missed — and way more appetizing than those Little Trees air fresheners that dangle from rearview mirrors.

While these shortbread cookies aren’t vanilla-butterscotch, they do evoke the warm, woodsy scent of a conifer forest. The recipe is based on the one I shared with my class, where we suffused the cookies with White Fir. At this elevation the White Fir trees are just starting to sport bright green, lemon-flavored tips. I like using a combination of tips and older needles, which have a deeper citrusy flavor.

Depending on where you are, you might use the tips or needles of any fir (Abies), Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), pine (Pinus), spruce (Picea), or hemlock (Tsuga; not to be confused with Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum, which is a completely different plant). Or simply substitute rosemary, which may not transport you to the forest but will still be delicious.

Like CAMP, the cookies are fun but have grown-up sensibilities; in other words, they’re sweet but more aromatic than sugary. If you like, you can sprinkle the tops with coarse sugar before baking. Because I developed it for cooking in a cabin, this recipe is deliberately simple and doesn’t require too much in terms of ingredients or technique. Depending on your altitude, you may need to make some adjustments; this high-altitude baking guide from King Arthur Flour is helpful.

Finally, a few notes on foraging for conifers. Once you know how to positively identify the above-mentioned species, they are all edible. However, it really comes down to personal taste. Flavors vary between seasons and individual plants, so nibble as you walk and pick what tastes and smells good to you. Never cut off the top of a tree, which can open it up to decay and disease — just pinch or cut off the tips of the branches or gather the needles (pruning shears work well). Be mindful of the health of the trees, their ecosystem, and your role in it. If you live in an urban area, be sure to avoid foraging from trees that you suspect have been sprayed with pesticides or insecticides.


Evergreen Shortbread Cookies

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Nutritional Info


  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup

    fresh conifer needles and/or tips – can use fir, Douglas fir, pine, spruce, hemlock, or substitute rosemary

  • 1 cup

    (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

  • 1/2 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 2 teaspoons

    orange zest

  • Pinch of salt

  • 2 cups

    all-purpose flour


  1. Finely chop the evergreen needles/tips using a food processor, coffee or spice grinder, or high-powered blender like the Vitamix Dry Grains Container. (You can also use a knife but be sure to chop very finely.) The mixture may be a bit sticky and fibrous. Remove any large fibers or stray, whole needles.

  2. In a large bowl, combine the evergreen needles/tips, butter, sugar, orange zest, and salt. Mix with a wooden spoon until creamy.

  3. Gradually add the flour, mixing thoroughly after each addition to form a buttery ball of dough. You can mix with a wooden spoon, your fingers, or both

  4. Divide the dough between 2 large sheets of parchment paper. Using the paper as an aid, roll each piece of dough into a 1.5-inch diameter log. Wrap in plastic and freeze for 15 minutes.

  5. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F.

  6. Unwrap the dough and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Depending on the conifer you used and the grinding method, you may see little fibers sticking out the edges of the cookies. These are harmless and fine to eat, but for prettier cookies you can take the time to pick them out or smooth them down before baking.

  7. To bake, place the cookies 1 inch apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake until the edges are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

(Images: Emily Han)

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Summer Cabin Recipe: Foraged Evergreen Shortbread Cookies (2024)


What is the secret to making good shortbread cookies? ›

Tips To Make the Best Shortbread Cookies
  1. Choose High Quality Butter. No matter what brand of butter you buy, if it's real butter, you can rest assured that it's the best. ...
  2. Keep Ingredients Simple. ...
  3. Add Flavor. ...
  4. Don't Overwork. ...
  5. Shape Dough. ...
  6. Chill Before Baking. ...
  7. Bake Until Golden. ...
  8. Add Finishing Touches.

Should shortbread cookies be soft or hard? ›

Shortbread should always have a tender, melting texture, but be slightly crisp when you bite into it. It should not generally be damp or wet underneath. A classic shortbread recipe will also only have flour, butter and sugar as the ingredients (in a 3:2:1 ratio) and not egg, which could lead to excess moisture.

Should butter be cold for shortbread? ›

Fine Cooking explains that the butter should be at refrigerator temperature. While many cookie recipes call for softened butter or at room temperature, if your butter isn't cold when making shortbread, it's likely to turn out greasy or be difficult to roll out.

Why do you put cornstarch in shortbread cookies? ›

Cornstarch provides the shortbread with structure, but its biggest job is keeping the cookies extra soft, tender, and light. I love adding a small amount to chocolate chip cookies too. Optional Coarse Sugar Topping: For an optional sparkly crunch on your shortbread wedges, add a sprinkle of coarse sugar before baking.

What not to do when making shortbread? ›

The key with shortbread is not to overhandle it. Make the dough exactly as instructed, but don't mess around making shapes or over rolling the dough - you will end up with delicious but tough biscuits. Stretching and pulling the dough activates the gluten in the flour, making chewy cookies and not crisp ones.

What are common mistakes when making shortbread? ›

The most common mistakes when making shortbread are over-working the dough, and incorporating too much flour. The less you work the dough, the more crumbly and melt-in-your-mouth your shortbread cookies will be.

Should you refrigerate shortbread dough before baking? ›

After shaping the cookies, don't rush to the oven! Instead, chill the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so (overnight is OK, too). A short stay in the fridge will firm up the cookies and solidify the butter. This will help keep them from spreading too much.

What happens if you put too much butter in shortbread? ›

Greasy mess: Extra butter means more fat, making the dough greasy and difficult to handle. Spreading like crazy: Cookies lose their shape, spreading thin and flat instead of staying nice and round. Uneven baking: The excess fat can burn easily on the edges while leaving the center undercooked.

What's the difference between Irish shortbread and Scottish shortbread? ›

Irish Shortbread Is Distinct From Scottish Shortbread

Irish shortbread not only sometimes changes up the butter-to-sugar ratio (possibly going with 2/3 a cup of sugar to 1 cup of butter), but also adds cornstarch in place of some of the flour present in the traditional recipe.

What brand of butter is best for shortbread? ›

Spend extra when it really counts: If you're making a recipe where butter really is the star (think shortbread or biscuits), splashing out for a package of Kerrygold or Vital Farms is worth the expense. The fine differences in the flavor are most impactful in these recipes.

What happens if you don't chill shortbread dough? ›

But in this shortbread cookie recipe, it really makes a difference. Chilling the dough helps the cookies hold their shape. If you don't chill your shortbread dough, the cookies will spread as they bake.

How do you know when shortbread is done? ›

Check doneness by looking for an even, light brown colour across the top of the biscuits, with slight darkening at the edges. Begin checking at the tail end of the cooking time. Undercooked shortbread will be doughy and chewy. Slightly overcooked and it will become chalky, brittle and hard.

Why use unsalted butter in shortbread? ›

Unsalted butter is most commonly called for in baking recipes. Unsalted butter has a very neutral, creamy flavor—a great base for many baked goods. In baking, precise measurements are key for achieving the right flavor and texture. This even extends to small amounts of ingredients like salt.

Why are my shortbread cookies puffy? ›

Q: Why are my cookies so puffy and cakey? Whipping too much air into the dough. That fluffy texture you want in a cake results from beating a lot of air into the room temperature butter and sugar, and it does the same for cookies. So don't overdo it when you're creaming together the butter and sugar.

What happens if you don't put cornstarch in cookies? ›

The science is simple: According to the flour authorities over at Bob's Red Mill, cornstarch can help “soften the rigid proteins of the flour, resulting in a light and chewy dessert.” “The cornstarch complements the flour in absorbing the liquids, but won't develop gluten structure like the flour will,” stresses ...

What is the difference between Scottish shortbread and regular shortbread? ›

actually, no. "Shortbread" is just Scottish shortbread; they're one and the same. While the recipe has changed throughout its history, and there is a version of shortbread from Ireland, the original shortbread you're familiar with comes from Scotland.

What happens if you add too much butter to shortbread cookies? ›

Butter is an emulsifier and it makes cookies tender. It also adds in the crispy-around-the-edges element. Adding too much butter can cause the cookies to be flat and greasy. Adding too little butter can cause the cookies to be tough and crumbly.

Why did my shortbread cookies come out hard? ›

These proportions make shortbread a lot more dense compared to cookies, which means you could easily end up with shortbread that's hard and crunchy rather than buttery and crumbly. Per Cooktop Cove, this can occur when the dough has either been overworked or not chilled for long enough.

How do you keep shortbread crust from sticking? ›

Shortbread Crust: Lightly butter, or spray with a non stick vegetable spray, an 8 or 9 inch (20-23 cm) tart pan with a removable bottom.

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