Blueberry Spruce Cookies and Ancient Alchemy
Some things in this world seem particularly ancient. Big, grand trees, their roots stretching down far below the earth, the branches soaring above… shimmering gemstones buried deep underground, waiting to be uncovered so they can shine in the light… the song of cicadas on a dark night, as old as time itself it seems. Right now during the coldest part of winter is a time for dreaming. It’s a time for going, deep, deep, deep into the origins of the beauty of the world, a time for slow days in the kitchen and long nights bundled up cozily beneath heavy blankets thinking about the stars.
I believe that every season has its own kind of magic. Spring magic is about fertility and new beginnings and everything glowing green; summer magic is the golden stillness of warm days and the buzzing of pollination; fall magic is about community and coziness and settling in; but winter magic is about the long stretches of time and the line between dream and awake. Now we think about our origins, our connections, and the ancient magic that runs through our bones.
“The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago. For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.” -Neil deGrasse Tyson
The next time you are feeling low about yourself or listening to your own negative self-talk, remember this: you, my dear, are made of stars. You are deeply and intrinsically connected to all of the beauty that surrounds you. The rushing in your veins has been part of the largest waterfalls, the deepest oceans, the most delicate dewdrops. There is magic in your very essence, and so many others see and cherish it. When you look in the mirror, delight in the miniature galaxy contained in your eyes and know that you are worthy and you are made of the purest kind of magic: life.
These beautiful cookies are a celebration of ancient magic; a marriage of animal, vegetable, and mineral encased in rich shortbread and juicy blueberries. They get their colors completely naturally and taste of cold forests and summery afternoons. They're the grown up version of shortbread: rich, flavorful, and extra fancy. The addition of matcha and spruce needles tempers the sweetness with a bit of bitter - I personally love it, but those with more sensitive palates may want to omit the matcha or cut down on the spruce.
The grandfathers of our forests gaze down on the underbrush below. The most resinous and intense of conifers around here, spruces can be spotted from a ways off by their ethereal blueish tint. They were used by local Native Americans and First Nations for everything from medicine to spiritual ritual. Today they are often used by herbalists for respiratory complaints and colds, as well as a general immune system boost. Every tree has a slightly different flavor; my preferred method of foraging is to wander about, nibbling on a needle from each tree until I find the one that speaks to me. Then I harvest gently, only taking a small amount. (If I need a lot of spruce needles, I’ll just keep wandering until I find another suitable tree.) Even better: keep your eyes peeled for fallen branches below. As always, make absolutely sure of your identification (the only poisonous look-alike in the Pacific Northwest is the yew tree.) Gather Victoria has a wonderful write up on spruce here, which is also where I got the inspiration for the frosting!
Lapis lazuli speaks of some of the most ancient civilizations on earth. Its name means “blue stone” in a mix of Latin and Persian. It’s been mined since 4,000 BC in Egypt and has been prized by traders for centuries. It accompanied Egyptian pharaohs into the afterlife as well as graced their eyelids as some of the first cosmetics while they were alive. Now lapis is said to stimulate wisdom and judgement… like the judgement that you should only eat one of these cookies, but this wisdom that you’re going to eat far more. ;)
Cicadas have been featured in literature since the time of Homer’s Iliad, and in motives in decorative art in China since about 1700 BC. Periodic cicadas spend most of their lives as underground nymphs, only to emerge every 13 or 17 years. Because they seemingly “raise from the dead,” they represented spirituality or immortality to many civilizations all around the globe. They may also seem immortal in another sense: fossils of their recent ancestors can be found that are millions of years old (even hundreds of millions.) They have been on this earth far longer than anything even remotely resembling humans have. To many, they are a symbol of survival and defiance against death. These edible confectionary cicadas are completely optional, but take these cookies up a notch. Exercise your art muscles and spend a couple of hours crafting these beauties. Even the transparent wings are edible!
For the edible cicadas:
white candy melts
piping bag or squeeze bottle with a very fine tip
gold luster dust
edible transparent sheet (see below for recipe if you’d prefer to make them yourself, or buy here.)
- First, make the edible transparent sheet. You’ll need to make this a day ahead of time as it will dry overnight.
- Melt some of the white candy melts and stir in a bit of matcha to make a light green color. Transfer to a squeeze bottle or piping bag.
- Cut a small piece of your transparent sheet and pipe on the wing design. I find it helpful to print off an image of a cicada, then place some waxed paper over the top of it, and then place the edible sheet on top of that. You’ll be able to see the lines as guides through the papers.
- Once you’ve piped the wing designs, very carefully cut them out with sharp scissors, being careful not to smudge or smear the white chocolate. Keep all of the wings attached, leaving a bit of un-decorated edible film between them.
- Knead a bit of matcha powder into your marzipan to the desired color of green. Break off a small piece (a little bigger than a marble) and roll it into a log. Pinch the top to form the head and taper the bottom to make a pointed abdomen. Use the toothpick or another tool to create the indentations in the abdomen. You can add little eyes with a small bit of brown marzipan, made by mixing cocoa powder into it.
- Flatten the thorax (upper part below the head) of the body just a bit, and place your wings on top. Take a small amount of green marzipan and form it into a disc, then place over the wings to secure them in place. Use a toothpick to add indentations where appropriate.
- Decorate your cicadas by mixing a small amount of vodka or extract (I used almond) with some cocoa powder to create a thin paint. Paint this around the eyes, and in the indentations on the body. Then do the same with gold luster dust and use that to highlight anywhere on the body and wings that you think needs it. Let dry while you bake your cookies.
Spruce Matcha Shortbread:
Note: This makes a fairly small batch of cookies, while the frosting recipe and recipe for edible sheet make more. You may want to double this batch to use up all of the other components.
1 Tbs. spruce needles
2 tsp. matcha powder (optional - gives a more greenish color and rich flavor)
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 c. cornstarch
1/2 c. icing sugar
1 cup sifted flour
3/4 c. butter
- Finely grind your spruce needles in a spice grinder. Add a bit of the icing sugar to the mixture and grind until you get a fine paste.
- Sift the matcha, cornstarch, icing sugar, and flour into a bowl. Add the spruce needle mix, lemon zest, and the butter and mix with your fingers or a wooden spoon until it is thoroughly mixed.
- Roll the dough out 1/4” thick and cut into shapes. Place on an uncreased cookie sheet and bake at 300F for 15-20 minutes. Let cool on the pan, then remove with a spatula.
Lapis Blueberry Icing:
1 Tbs. spruce needles
1/3 c. blue cornflower petals
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
1/2 c. blueberries (fresh or frozen and thawed)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 c. icing sugar
edible gold leaf, optional
- place the cornflower petals and the spruce needles into a spice grinder and grind them as fine as you can. Add in the granulated sugar and continue grinding, scraping down the sides occasionally. (The texture of the sugar helps everything break down more.) Keep grinding until you have a fine powdery paste.
- Add the paste and the blueberries to your blender, along with the baking powder. Blend until very smooth. The coloring in blueberries is pH sensitive, so adding a bit of baking powder keeps it blue. It’s not enough to taste in the finished frosting. If you’d prefer a more purple tone, you can add some lemon juice instead!
- Pour this mixture into a bowl and whisk in powdered sugar until you reach the desired consistency. You’ll need about 2 1/2 cups.
- Ice your cookies and sprinkle with a bit of edible gold leaf if you’d like. It’s easiest to do this by prodding at the sheets with a food-safe paintbrush (dry), then very very gently tapping the surface of the brush on the frosting while it is still wet. Once the gold is in place, place a completed cicada on top before the frosting sets.
2 packets gelatin
1 Tbs. lemon juice
5 Tbs. water
1/2 tsp. almond extract
about 1/2 c. fondant, optional.
- Prepare your cookie sheet: you’ll need to use a non-stick cookie sheet for this technique. I find it is easier to get the liquid to spread out evenly if it has something around the edges to stick to - I use a bit of leftover fondant rolled into a thin snake and squished around the edges. If you don’t have a non-stick cookie sheet, you can use a piece of smooth plastic in a regular cookie sheet and use the fondant to seal the edges.
- Put the lemon juice and water into a small saucepan over low heat and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Stir gently until the gelatin is all dissolved and the liquid is clear. Remove from heat, and add the almond extract. Gently skim any bubbles off the top of the mixture, then pour onto the prepared sheet, tipping it carefully to spread the mixture out over the entire surface. You want it to be as thin as possible. It’s okay if there are a few holes where the liquid doesn’t stick to the sheet.
- Put the sheet somewhere with good air circulation to dry overnight. Once it’s dried, trim the edges with sharp scissors.
- Note: The ratio is 1 packet gelatin : 3 Tbs. water, so if you’d like to adapt this recipe to make more or less you can easily do so. The lemon juice and almond extract add a bit of flavor, but are entirely optional.
Note: If you don't have access to spruce needles, you can substitute any other edible conifer. If you don't have access to that, use rosemary! The blue cornflowers are completely optional; they just add a subtle flavor and texture to the icing.
I hope you enjoyed these recipes for magical cookies! As always, if you'd like to support me in my mission to share everyday magic and wonder, please consider contributing to my Patreon program (patreon.com/thewondersmith) You can contribute a set amount per month, anything from $1 to $100! Every little bit helps. :)