Melt in your mouth Pine Needle Shortbread Cookies. This twist on traditional shortbread is delicious with a hint of piney, citrusy flavor. Delicate, fragrant, and sure to impress!
Did you know that pine needles are edible? Cue a twig and leaf-eating vegan joke.....I walked straight into that, didn't I?
But seriously, they are, and they are so good in shortbread cookies! They give this Pine Needle Shortbread a subtle and delicious piney, citrusy flavor that is so festive.
You need no special equipment to make these cookies. Just a bowl, a fork, and a baking tray. A cookie cutter is nice to use but if you don't have one the top of a mason jar or the rim of a cup or glass does the job too. A Christmas tree-shaped cookie cutter is perfectly suited to the pine needle flavor though and they look so pretty!
Harvesting Pine Needles
I'm not usually much of a forager, but as far as I know, you can't buy pine needles for cooking anywhere. As I live in Canada, I am surrounded by more pine trees than you can imagine so sourcing them is easy. In fact, pine trees are pretty common wherever you are, so you shouldn't have much of a problem finding a willing donor.
Be sure to choose needles that aren't on branches really low to the ground (for obvious reasons) and be sure to choose trees that you know have not been sprayed with anything nasty. I would also recommend not using needles from your Christmas tree or wreath as they are often sprayed with pesticides or flame retardant prior to harvesting.
Choose a 'wild' tree away from busy roads and I would recommend tasting the needles (yes you'll be the crazy person in the forest tasting the trees). They all taste really different. Fir and spruce tend to have the best flavor and are the most fragrant and citrusy which works really well in my Pine Needle Shortbread Cookies.
Younger needles are best as they are more tender although they soften up when you cook them anyway so don't worry too much.
Be sure to read my notes about the trees you should not be harvesting needles from under "important - please read".
Important - Please Read
All varieties of pine needles are edible except Norfolk Island Pine, Ponderosa Pine, and Yew trees. They are easy to distinguish as their foliage is different to other pine trees. Norfolk Island Pine doesn't really have needles at all, its foliage is more like fronds or fern leaves. Yew trees have flat, wide needles that aren't sharp and they have red berries instead of pine cones, and Ponderosa Pine has very long, 4" - 12" long needles which because of their length makes the foliage look like fox tails. Avoid these varieties and be sure to stick to the traditional, short, cylindrical, pointy needles.
More Christmas Recipes
If you try this recipe, let me know how you like it by leaving a comment and rating below! And be sure to join my mailing list for more deliciousness!
Pine Needle Shortbread CookiesAuthor:
- ⅓ cup (42 grams) powdered sugar , plus more for sprinkling
- ½ cup (100 grams) vegan butter , or refined coconut oil
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon fine sea salt (see recipe note) *
- 1 heaping tablespoon pine needles (washed gently while attached to the twig and allowed to dry then stripped off the twig so only the loose needles remain - read my tips on harvesting these in the post above or the notes below)
- 1 ⅓ cup (165 grams) all purpose flour (plain flour in the UK)
- Preheat oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Put the flour and pine needles in a blender. Make sure the top is on tight and blend until the pine needles are chopped into little pieces throughout the flour. Don't be alarmed by the really strong pine smell. Once cooked it becomes very subtle. Using a blender is the easiest method for chopping the pine needles. You need the flour in there with them as otherwise it's such a tiny amount they would just fly around and not get cut. I found chopping the needles with a knife pretty tough (literally!). Scissors would be a better option if you don't have a blender.
- Combine the powdered sugar, salt, and butter in a bowl. Use a fork to mash together very, very well until you can no longer see any powdered sugar and it's light and fluffy.
- Pour in the flour and pine needle mixture and mix by hand until everything is combined. I start by mashing with a fork then stir together with a spoon at the end a bit. Do not over mix or use electric beaters here. Too much mixing will affect the texture of the finished shortbread.
- When done it should be slightly crumbly but hold together if you squeeze it tightly together in your hand. The drier you can get away with keeping the dough, the better the texture of your shortbread and you should not need to add any liquid at all.
- If the dough is starting to get a bit soft, stop and put it in the fridge for 20 minutes before continuing.
- Lightly dust a surface with flour and shape your dough into a ball. Roll out to about 3 - 4 mm thick then use a cookie cutter or mason jar lid/rim of a glass to cut into shapes. Place each one on the prepared baking sheet.
- Bake for 10 - 12 minutes or until they start turning very lightly golden around the edges and on the bottom. Keep an eye on them in the last few minutes as they can turn from ok to overdone very quickly. They will still feel slightly soft in the middle but will firm up as they cool.
- Leave them on the tray for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
- I like a very slight salty edge in these cookies so used half a teaspoon of salt. If you are sensitive to salty flavours then just use 1/4 teaspoon.