cornmeal + spruce tip shortbread

Once upon a time 1.5 moons ago, I picked a generous amount of newly-grown spruce tips while camping at Cobscook Bay State Park in Downeast Maine.

Frequently, the regenerating forest along the coast is a mixture of spruce and fir that exhibits stunted growth due to both soil conditions and the harsh climate that comes with the territory. Stunted growth, as far as I am concerned, means stouter twigs within reach of my sticky foraging fingers.

Stouter twigs means – to an optimist – more volume for less work. It’s hard to tell now that they’ve dried, but these twigs were once juicily stout. I promise.

I let my needles dry undisturbed for a goodly amount of time in a mesh bag. They don’t require 1.5 moons to dry, but I have been a busy bee as of late – more to come on that as my New Venture saga unfolds.

When dry, all twigs and any paper chaff (from buds) should be separated, and discarded. The remaining needles carry a lovely scent, and can be used in anything from aromatherapy, to the shortbread that I’m about to discuss here.

I’ve talked about shortbread on this blog so many times that it may make you frown. Which is unfortunate, because shortbread is delicious and can be made in countless wonderful ways.

For this version, I decided to amp up the savory nature of spruce needles – which have an aroma and flavor unlike anything else – by pairing them with cornmeal. “Adding cornmeal to stuff” is an endeavor that I enjoy as much as my “I like shortbread” hobby. Pancakes. Waffles. Pasta. Bedazzled jean jackets. Everything goes better with cornmeal.

Despite the savory inclination of these cookies, the end-product is still sweet. And a little bit mind-boggling. And, most importantly, good.

It’s hard to go wrong with shortbread. If anything, this is what I’m here to prove to you.

Cornmeal + Spruce Tip Shortbread {original recipe}

Makes ~ 22 cookies


1/3 c. powdered sugar
2 tbsp dried spruce needles
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1 tsp almond extract
large pinch salt (~1/4 tsp)
2/3 c. flour
2/3 c. cornmeal


In a spice grinder or mortar and pestle (of which I have neither, resulting in spruce needles that were a wee bit oversized), grind/crush the needles with the sugar. Pour mixture into a medium bowl, adding the butter, almond extract and salt, and mix/beat until well-mixed.

Add the flour and cornmeal, and mix until just combined.

On a sheet of wax paper, shape dough into a roughly 1 1/2 inch (4 cm) log. Roll to an even thickness throughout, wrap, and freeze 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cut log into 1/2-inch sections. Dough will be somewhat crumbly due to the cornmeal – press loose pieces back onto cut sections. Place cookies on a baking stone or cookie sheet covered with parchment paper, and bake 12-15 minutes, until lightly golden around the edges, and slightly firm in the center.

Allow to cool on the sheet for five to ten minutes, before moving to a cooling rack. Keep, in a wrapped container, for several days at most.



What else is new? I’ve been playing this song a lot lately. The Corrs were my absolute favorite thing to listen to back in the late 90s and early 2000s. One of my first CDs was their first CD. They were the first concert that I went to – sure, Barenaked Ladies were headlining, but…. I don’t really have much to say about them.

The Corrs make great pop music, and have an impressive arsenal of Irish traditionals. Also impressive is that many of their music videos feature the only male member of the group singing along heartily during the chorus, and yet, I can’t pick his voice out in any of the songs. He must be enthusiastically quiet.

I’ve been listening to this song to remind myself that this New Venture saga that I’ve set out upon – this concept that could so easily fail big time – is just the next step in my life. And I am still So Young – – relatively speaking.

I’ll tell you more soon!

36 thoughts on “cornmeal + spruce tip shortbread

  1. I’m an ole Girl Scout they always told us to not pick nature leave it for the next people to see. I’d try to use rosemary instead….or something in your own yard…..parks are usually protected meaning don’t pick enjoy with your eyes…..

    1. Ooh, this might be the first comment where someone has seriously chided me! It’s okay, I’m an ole Girl Scout too, so I can take it.

      I could debate the merits of your comment, but instead I will just say that these trees were growing adjacent to a dirt road (infrequently traveled and next to the water, so it would have no chemicals put on to it), and that in time, they will grow into the road. At that time, workers will likely (crudely) brush saw the trees, taking off much more than this year’s growth, which may leave them aesthetically displeasing and more susceptible to injury.

      There is merit to not picking things, sure, but I think this idea should only be applicable in areas of high population, these being places where humans have already erased most traces of nature. In ‘natural’ settings, I feel that this concept builds a barrier between nature and humanity, and causes girls (and everyone else) to lose touch with the bounty that nature provides. I would choose “use responsibly and wisely” as a more sustainable motto to live by.

      1. Good call, Emma. I support your spruce-tip picking. But stay away from lady’s slippers: there’s no “right way” to pick a lady slipper. :)

        1. Thanks, Jenna. My mindset has definitely changed as I’ve moved to more progressively rural areas, learned about sustainability, and studied environmental science for, yikes, the better part of a decade already. Makes me feel old!

          No, I can’t think of any reason why a lady slipper should be picked, ever! Or most (all?) wildflowers. But if they were really delicious… I might be tempted.

  2. Emma, Spruce Tip Shortbread? Yes please. What a brilliant flavor to introduce to shortbread. I do a lot of rosemary shortbread, but spruce tip is rad! And I like that you added cornmeal for texture.
    Wishing you luck in the New Venture.

    1. Thanks Erin! I’ve done rosemary quite a bit too, but this time I felt like… branching out. Ho ho… ho… hum.

      Yes – I need your luck! Thank you!!

  3. I’m loving this flavor idea. Oh how I wish a spruce was any where near me. I’ve got prickly pear up the wazoo, but not a cool pine in sight. I’m missing shortbread too. I’m not sure I want to defile all that is good with shortbread by trying to make a grain free version. I’ll just have the real deal as a treat to myself.

    1. Poor Sarah, I keep making things with ingredients that you have no chance of getting your hands on:( Perhaps a trip to Colorado is in order?

      Is cornmeal considered just as grain-ily bad as flour? I was surprised that with half cornmeal this held up as wonderfully as it did, tasting buttery and shortbready.

      Oooh, prickly pear. That’s new to me:)

  4. Nice chat about harvesting, and good way to stretch the use of the cookware bag! These sound yummy–I’m happy about shortbread in just about any fashion. Nice segue to the Corrs. Still love their music.

    1. I was going to mention how that bag normally holds a teapot, but it just wasn’t necessary. Not that necessity often keeps me from prattling on…

      I’m happy with shortbread in any fashion, too. Unless they have licorice in them. Or maybe peanut butter. Or sardines. Ick!

      Have you found your copy of Borrowed Heaven yet? I’m pretty sure you have it, and I’m eeeeeeeeeeeeeager to listen to it, if you’re willing to burn me a disc!

    1. :) Words to take to heart. This is as close to a quote as you’ll ever catch me!

      The only part of the song that I can’t agree with is when she states that “it really doesn’t matter that we don’t eat.” Au contraire, mon frère.

  5. Bush Tucker Emma strikes again! Yay New Venture! My first album purchased was No Doubt, but my best friend loved the Corrs so we danced a lot to them too! Wheeeee!

    1. I was curious if you Aussie gals would know about The Corrs. They were very not-big in America, as in, I didn’t have any friends who knew who they were (so my sample size was only maybe five or ten people, but still). I bet they were more of a hit in Australia.

      Just when you’re thinking I’m down, planning New Venture, BAM! BOOM! Bush Tucker Emma strikes again, with laser precision!

        1. My favorite off Talk on Corners is Queen of Hollywood, but they didn’t have a video for that one. I think I like it because it’s the one song where I can hear Jim’s voice:)

          Runaway is definitely good; I’m quite sad because my Forgiven, Not Forgotten cd skips something awful these days.

  6. Such an interesting ingredient! I’d love me some of that shortbread. I’m happy to see beautiful ingredients responsibly foraged and being used to a good end, it takes someone special to know what to do with spruce.

    1. Part of the lag time between picking and present day is that I was trying to figure out what to do with the spruce. It makes great tea, but I know it has more potential than that. I’m sure there are some more good ideas, just waiting for me to think of them:)

      I’m sure you could mix up some needles in jars of salt or sugar, and then go from there!

  7. Love the spruce shortbread idea, but also loving the idea of you in a bedazzled denim jacket. Wait… did you mean a jacket bedazzled WITH cornmeal? Because that would be major. And animals would probably chase you. Which is good for fitness. And fitness might be useful in any New Venture. Just sayin’.

    Shortbread is awesome.

    1. So I have this bedazzled denim jacket that says “Lea” on the back in an artistic styling, but I like to pretend it says Leo and that I am just really into astrology. It used to have some additional sparkly appliqués, but they came off when the jacket sadly snuck itself into the wash one day.

      But yes, I meant a jacket bedazzled with cornmeal. I can see it working. Little lines of it on the shoulders, awash in a sea of sparkly sequins. Pretending to be tough, because it looks like I’m carrying rows of illicit strangely-colored drugs on my jacket? “No man, it’s cool, that’s just my cornmeal.”

      Fitness will be useful in New Venture! But more of the mental fitness than the physical… did I give it away yet?

      Shortbread kicks ass.

  8. I think just as entertaining as your article above is the litany of comments left below. The first one had me sniggering. People…and their damn advice. Pft!! What makes me day in this food blogging world is when I come across articles like yours that introduce me to an entire world that I didn’t even know existed…you know…like…cornmeal bedazzled jackets!! Knowledge sure is powerful!!

    1. Litany is the perfect word for it. I suppose there’s no better forum to make your opinions heard than on a comment-laden blog… I understand that. But there’s nothing like the anonymity of the internet for emblazoning folks with a bit of righteousness. Mmm.

      Know what’s really righteous? A cornmeal bedazzled jean jacket;)

    1. Aww, that’s okay:) Most people probably wouldn’t turn to trees to flavor their cookies… it’s a bit out there, I admit.

  9. I have never in my life considered adding trees to my baking. YOU ARE A CRAZY WOMAN.

    …But at the same time I am jealous. Having such options so near your location is so wonderful! Maybe I should be looking harder. Also, maybe I shouldn’t live right next to an interstate. >.>

    1. I ain’t crazy! I just live in the middle of nowhere, and need “creative” ways to keep me baking when I can’t buy simple things, like vanilla beans. Weeelll, maybe I’m a little crazy:)

      Hmm, interstate options…. hardened cheese on those papery burger wrappers – my favorite kind of cheese! Or maybe a tsp of Frost Glacier Freeze Gatorade from a discarded bottle? I hear that goes well with blueberries…

  10. OK – I LOVE these!! They look so creative and delicious! I always make rosemary shortbread at Christmas (in the shape of trees), but this year I think I’m going to switch it up and use spruce – it would be so festive!!

    1. Thanks Amy! I in turn love your idea for making rosemary shortbread in the shape of trees at Christmastime:) What a great idea to do that with spruce, I love it. SO festive!

  11. You may not see this comment since it’s been a while after it went up… but I just tried your recipe using flour and spelt instead of flour and cornmeal, and it was delicious!
    I used dry needles off my own Christmas tree (which I bought at the grocers and know is food-quality), so no worries about picking things, though honestly it’s hard for me to see in the first place what could possibly be wrong with foraging, as long as you only take what you need and don’t harm the plant. In fact, I have been buying books about foraging in order to learn more about how to go about it — and reading recipes by people like Rene Redzepi, who forage almost everything for unusual tastes in their food! But, in any case, what I really came here to say — thank you for the recipe, which is great.

And now I'd like to pass the mic / So you c'mon and do anything you like ...aka, Leave your reply.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s