It’s beginning to look at least a little bit like Christmas over here! There isn’t all that much snow compared to the last couple years, and November was unseasonably warm. No matter what the weather is doing Christmas is on its way and I’ve got a great sugar cookie recipe to share with you!
Where I live Douglas-fir trees are one of the dominant features in our landscape. You can see a whole bunch of them in the panorama shot below of my old backyard view. Pseudotsuga menzesii aren’t a true fir tree at all, and come in a couple varieties - one coastal, and the other inland. The latter ‘Rocky mountain Douglas-fir’ (or pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca) is what we typically find in our area. They have a few different features, but their uses are the same. I haven’t had a chance to taste the coastal Douglas-fir, so I can’t comment on the difference, but this recipe could be made with either. The main thing I’ve observed is that the cones are slightly different shapes, and there are a few other differences in the overall growth habit of the trees.
There are very few naturally occurring coniferous trees in the BC Interior that are poisonous - and in fact all trees in the family Pinaceae which includes the Douglas-fir are completely edible. The main danger you might come across the Western yew. This is not actually a coniferous tree, but it is an evergreen and is very toxic, so make sure you know what you’re gathering. You can tell it’s yew because of the way the needles connect to the branches, and the little red “berries” called arils that grow on it. These arils themselves are technically edible, but the seed inside them, and the branches they grow on are one of the most toxic substances growing in nature. I don’t say this to scare you off foraging from trees, but rather to encourage caution and that you’ve studied enough to feel confident on your ID. Eat the Weeds has an excellent article about yew that covers much more than I have time for here, and the Provincial Government of BC has a really great online guide to common native trees in this area.
The flavoured sugar I made this spring/summer was using the green cones of the Douglas-fir. I really loved the way the sugar turned out, and was already dreaming of making Christmas cookies in the shape of Christmas trees, using actual Christmas trees as one of the ingredients! These are really easy to identify if you’re a little nervous about your tree identification skills. If the cones you’ve gathered look like my photo below you can be fairly confident that you’ve not gathered anything poisonous, but please don’t rely on my photos alone for identification purposes. Pick up a reputable field guide (like the BC Government one I linked to above), and use more than one feature as your basis for identification. Douglas-fir cones have these little bracts that stick out which makes them easy to spot. There is a legend that a little mouse tried to hide in the cones from a forest fire and got stuck there. When the cones are fully dried (like in the wreath I have in my shop) you can see how the bracts look like the hind feet and tails of little mice! This makes them really easy to identify.
This sugar cookie recipe is great using the flavoured sugar (and I’m already thinking about making some lilac or rose flavoured ones with the floral sugars I made earlier this summer too), but it would be equally as good as one done with just plain granulated sugar. I also want to go out and try to make some sugar with the mature needles of the tree and see how that tastes. I was kind of hoping that the sugar and the resulting cookies would be greener, but as you can see the outside of the cones were a very light green, and when you cut them open they are white inside, so what I ended up with was a very light coloured sugar that actually turned more yellow in time, and didn’t colour the resulting cookies at all. I also want to do a taste comparison with the mature needles because I think the taste would be stronger, and I want to know if that would be a good thing, or an overpowering thing! Most of the advice you find online about using pine/fir/spruce needles for food is that you usually gather the immature tips in the spring when they are the most tender. If I end up doing a follow up experiment I’ll definitely be posting the results either in a follow-up post, or editing this one to reflect it!
As it is, the taste of the fir cones is fairly subtle, but it comes through such a simple recipe like this in a really pleasing way. You aren’t going to raise any eyebrows if you include these on your holiday cookie platter, but they still have a little extra something in their flavour profile that sets them apart from your average sugar cookie. The flavoured sugar when it is fresh tastes almost like a Sour Patch Kids candy - acidic and almost citrusy. This is because Douglas-fir naturally contains a lot of vitamin C. I found that over the months of storage the brightness in the flavour mellows somewhat and you notice more of the resinous tree flavours that were more of a backdrop when the sugar was fresh.
You don’t need anything special for this recipe, although I highly recommend GRAIN flours. They’re not paying me to say this, but I so appreciate what they are doing, and the quality of the flour they produce. I know exactly which place in Canada (Etzikom, AB) the wheat for my flour was grown in and that makes me very happy.
I also like to use a marble rolling pin (because of the weight of it, and because you can throw them in the freezer to make them really cold for rolling out pastry), and I love the shape of this vintage cookie cutter I found in an antique store even if the handle and backing part make it a little tricky to see if you are overlapping your cookies when you cut them.
I also found that chilling the dough for this recipe was really important. It helped the flavour from the sugar seep into the dough more, and also helped make it easier for rolling. It ended up being a bit on the sticky side for sugar cookies, so you’ll need to flour your rolling/cutting surface, but try not to add too much or else that’s all your cookies will taste like. Just use the bare minimum to keep things from sticking. Also please note that the temperature in the recipe below is not a typo! I used to think that you were supposed to cook sugar cookies at a hot temperature for a very short time, but my pastry chef friend showed me another way that in my opinion results in a much nicer cookie. You’ll need between 20-25ish minutes per batch in the oven, but it is so worth it in the end for the overall texture so just trust me and give it a try. You’ll also need to rotate the tray in the oven, and what I mean by that is halfway through the baking time (after 10-13 minutes) you’ll pull the tray out and turn it so that the cookies that were in the front of the oven are now in the back. This was another step that no one really taught me before, but it helps ensure the cookies are all baked evenly.
Douglas Fir Sugar Cookies
- 1 cup butter
- 1 cup Douglas fir Sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 cups flour (plus more for dusting when rolling dough)
Takes , serves 5 dozen.
- Preheat your oven to 250˚F.
- Cream butter and sugar in mixer until butter is light and fluffy, and no granules of sugar remain. This step is particularly important for these cookies because the homemade flavoured sugars tend to be on the coarser side and you don’t want big sugar crystals in your finished cookies.
- Add the egg and vanilla and cream until emulsified and the mixture is homogenous.
- Sift dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, and add slowly to the egg/sugar/butter mixture.
- Chill dough in the fridge for a minimum of two hours or up to two days. Dust counter with flour roll to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes. You can choose to re-roll the scrap dough as many times as you like but the more you do it the more flour will be incorporated and the quality of the cookies will suffer some, but not to the point of making them less delicious. I chose to use all my dough since my flavoured sugars are a bit precious and I wanted to make as many cookies as possible without wasting.
- Place on parchment lined baking sheets in preheated 250˚F oven. Bake for 10-13 minutes, rotate cookie sheet so the cookies in the back are now in the front, and bake for another 10-13 minutes until cookies are baked through but have not begun to colour on the edges.