This time of year feels optimistic. The days get longer and we get to appreciate what is fresh and new in the world. It’s around this time that flowers and herbs have a showy growth spurt, so there’s no better opportunity to start using them in the kitchen!
Herbs and edible flowers have many virtues, and these cookies take full advantage of both their beauty and flavor. Marigold, coreopsis and leafy herbs make a beautiful presentation on this slightly sweet shortbread, but use any edible plant you wish! The best variety to use will have natural affinity for sweet things, like basil or lemon balm. Below is a list of edible garden pickings to use for this project.
Using plants and flowers in food is fun, but there are precautions to take before using them as an ingredient. Choose pesticide-free, organic flowers that you can positively identify as non-toxic. Don’t guess! If you’re not completely sure, then don’t use them.
Re-hydrated meringue powder is the edible varnish that holds the blooms onto the cookies. It has a light vanilla scent that gives the cookies an extra hit of sweet flavor. You can find it at most craft stores and online.
Bake the Cookies
You will need:
Yield: 24-36 cookies
1 pound unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
Seeds of 1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
4 cups all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla bean seeds or extract and mix again.
Add two cups of flour and the pinch of salt and mix on low speed until a dough forms. Add the last two cups of flour and mix again on low until a very stiff dough forms. Gather dough together with your hands and place on a sheet of wax paper.
Using a floured rolling pin, lightly roll the dough until flattened, top with another sheet of wax paper and roll to about 1” thickness. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. This dough will firm up in quickly because of the high butter content. If your dough is difficult to roll, let it stand at room temperature for a few minutes until it is pliable. While still cold, roll out dough to ¼” thickness. For perfectly even shortbread, use two ¼” flat dowels on either side of the dough as a guide. (Note: Rolling pin guide bands are also available in graduated sizes at kitchen specialty stores)
Cut dough into desired shapes. Bake on parchment-lined cookie sheets until lightly golden around the edges: 7-10 minutes for small cookies; 12-15 minutes for medium cookies; 17-20 minutes for large cookies. Allow cookies to cool completely before decorating.
You will need:
1 tablespoon meringue powder
2 teaspoons water
2 small, soft hair artists’ brushes
Small edible blooms and herb leaves, rinsed and patted dry
1/2 cup granulated sugar
In a small bowl, combine the meringue powder and water. Stir until well incorporated. Place the sugar in a shallow dish and set aside. Use an artists’ brush to apply a thin coat of the re-hydrated meringue to the surface of the cookie.
Arrange the leaves and blooms on the cookie and smooth them flat with a finger. Use the artists’ brush to apply a thin coat of meringue on top of the leaves and blooms.
If you are working with flowers:
The underside of some flowers (called the receptacle) are more prominent that others. This is the green leafy part at the base of the flower. The flowers need to lay perfectly flat before lacquering them to the cookie so they’ll retain their color and shape.
For this type of flower, make a small indention on the cookie’s surface with the end of an artists’ brush.
The flower base will become recessed and the petals will lay perfectly flat against the cookie’s surface.
Next, dip the meringue-coated cookie surface in the sugar.
Brush away just enough of the sugar from the leaf or bloom to make it clearly visible. Allow the cookie to dry on a piece of wax paper. Repeat process with the remaining cookies.
Store cookies in an air-tight container or a zip-top bag with the air removed.
All photographs by Heather Baird.