Juniper Berry is simply divine. For those who have never encountered the juniper berry, imagine the spicy exotic notes of eastern spices like nutmeg and allspice, and the scent of fresh-cut evergreen branches combined. Aromatic and perfumey, it is just the perfect spice for a buttery cookie. But how to best capture their flavour? Baked right in? Added to icing? What would best compliment? Chocolate, Gingerbread or a classic Sugar Cookie?
Well, I tried all three cookie variations, and all had their virtues. The chocolate was deep, dark and delicious, the gingerbread spicy, but it was the simple butter base of the sugar cookie that allowed junipers unique enchanting flavour to truly shine.
Dried Juniper Berries
Growing on Vancouver Island, and all over the world, junipers gorgeous blue-black berries (actually tiny cones) are best known as the taste ingredient of gin. Traditionally juniper berry is used across Europe to brighten game, venison, pork, stuffing stew, sauerbraten or sauerkraut. The berries are quite high in sugar and are also added to bread and cakes. In alpine regions, dark syrup is made from the berries and served as a dessert with warm cream. Yum. And not incidentally, the berries bitter resins help stimulate digestion and support the digestion of heavier fatter foods!
But let me tell you, whatever the cookie I baked, making the juniper sugar was practically a religious experience! Whirring the dried juniper berries in my spice grinder filled the air with a delicious, resiny, foresty aroma. And breathing it in, I could completely understand why it’s fragrance has been part of spiritual ritual since ancient times.
Renowned for its cleansing, clearing and protective qualities, the berries were burned as a purifying incense by ancient Egyptians and Greeks, and as a smudging herb by Siberian shamans. Both our local First Nations and Europeans used the boughs for cleansing the air, tossing it on fires along with pine and cedar during Yule and Winter Rites. And interestingly, considering its reputation as a purifier, recent studies show juniper contains the potent antiviral compounds which inhibit many different viruses and flu.
Indigenous peoples also used its medicine to help colds, heart trouble and breathing problems, and herbalists today consider the berry an effective remedy for many conditions. Its bitter resins support digestion and oils are drying and antiseptic and particularly good for the lungs and urinary tract. Recent research has discovered that it contains compounds effective in the treatment of breast cancer. And apparently, juniper tea is a centuries-old hangover remedy! One safety note, due to its potent medicinal properties juniper should not be consumed excessively or long term (more than 6 weeks). But a little during the season of feasting is good for soothing over-indulged tummies!
You can buy Juniper berries at herb stores and even grocery stores, but if you want to harvest your berries you’ll be looking for Juniperus communis, the common juniper. It has very prickly, needle-like leaves arranged in whorls along the branch, and they have a silvery band in their center.
It is found all over the Northern Hemisphere, as well as Asia, Europe and North America and is a sprawling semi-erect shrub, which can grow several feet tall along dry woods, gravelly areas, stone outcrops and mountainous areas.
The bluish-purple berries appear on female bushes only and are technically cones made of the branch’s fused needles. The berries of other juniper species can be used, like Rocky Mountain Juniper provided they’re not ornamental junipers which are often toxic like J. sabina and J. oxycedrus . So to be safe, I’m recommending staying with the common juniper as it’s distinct characteristics make it easy to identify, not to mention its berries (cones) are the tastiest.
Today juniper berry is enjoying a culinary revival in restaurants which are using it as a seasoning for game dishes, venison, squab, pheasant and rabbit. At home, you could try mixing juniper berries in a dish made with red wine and beef, pork, lamb (duck is especially nice) or in ferments like sauerkraut, or even to infuse vodka (for a homemade gin!). Or of course, you could also make these aromatic Juniper Sugar Stars. Magical and medicinal, they are indeed a festive Yuletide sweet! If you have a favourite sugar cookie or shortbread recipe I encourage you to use those…the star of the show, after all, is the juniper sugar!
Juniper Berry Sugar Stars
Makes about 2 dozen small stars.
- 4 cups cake flour (sifted)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder (fresh)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 8 ounces butter
- 1 cup sugar (granulated, for cookies)
- 1/2 cup granulated golden cane sugar (or just plain) for juniper sugar
- 1 large egg (beaten)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 5 tablespoons dried juniper berries
- 3/4 cup cream (some for cookies, some for glaze)
- 1 cup of icing sugar
- (1/4 cup dark cocoa powder if you want a chocolate cookie – add bit more butter to compensate)
Juniper Sugar: Grind 2-3 tablespoons of dried juniper berries in a spice or coffee grinder until it is a fine soft powder. Sieve out any large bits if necessary. Mix with a half a cup of sugar. Place in a jar and let sit overnight.
Juniper Glaze Icing: Grind 2 tablespoons of dried Juniper berries in coffee or spice grinder until fine. Sieve off any large bits. Grind again, sieve again. Place in a small saucepan with 1/2 cup of cream. Bring to almost a boil. Take off heat, cover and place in the fridge overnight. OR just mix cold coffee or espresso (in place of water) with icing the sugar and juniper berry powder for coffee juniper glaze – delish!
- Let all the ingredients come to room temperature before you begin. Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Cream butter, sugar, and salt on low speed. Add the egg, cream, vanilla and mix until blended.
- In a separate bowl, sift the flour and baking powder together.
- Mix dry ingredients with wet ingredients until combined.
- Pat and press the dough into a ball. Wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
- Transfer chilled dough to a lightly floured (or sugared) work area, roll out the dough out quite flat: about one-eighth of an inch thick.
- Cut out cookies, placing them on an ungreased baking sheet.
- Bake 8-10 minutes or until the edges and bottoms of the cookies are barely beginning to turn golden brown.
- When the cookies are cool enough to handle but still warm, remove them from the pan and cool them on a wire rack. Let them cool completely before icing.
- Dip one half of each cookie in the juniper berry glaze, then dip again (while still wet) into a bowl of juniper sugar.
- Let the glaze dry before serving.
37 thoughts on “Aromatic & Spicy Juniper Berry Sugar Stars”
these looks amazing. i have often used juniper in my kombucha with is quite lovely,but these here cookies are next up on the uses of juniper berries. thank you!
Oooh! Juniper Kombucha sounds amazing!
Those sound delightful! I have never cooked with juniper berry.
Definitely worth a try!
Can I have some cookies please? 😉
Hello, lovely Danielle and Gather!
I was going over the ingredients for your Juniper Berry Sugar Stars so that I could make them later on this week – but am wondering – – how do I weigh 4 cups of cake flour? How much is it supposed to weigh? Thanks in advance!
Sorry! That was totally unclear – just sifted really. If for some reason you’ve sifted out large clumps of flour just make sure you still have the 4 cups. Rarely happens but just in case.
Fluff up flour with fork. Dip cup to overflow, level with straight edge….never pack.
It is always such a delight to visit your blog, Danielle. I love your sensuous photos and the delightful combination of research-based information and your own interpretation and experimentations with the wild plants you work with.
Why thank-you so much for taking the time to say so! Much appreciated. 🙂
Can’t wait to make these cookies! We have Juniperus virginianus here; just harvested a huge bowl of the berries and have been looking for recipes. Thank you!
Yes I’ve heard they are quite sweet and tasty! Remember the recipe calls for dried so you can put in oven at lowest setting till they are dry enough to be ground in a spice or coffee grinder. Good luck!
I haven’t baked in years. Remind me, please: cake flour is what exactly, and icing sugar is? These sound perfect for our local Fruit and Nut Club holiday gathering!
Cake flour has a little cornstarch added but you can easily make your own by taking one cup of all purpose flour, remove two tablespoons, and then add two tablespoons of cornstarch back in.
Icing Sugar is the white powdery stuff, not granulated, almost a cornstarch texture as well. Just buy at the local grocery – will plainly say “icing sugar”. Good-luck!
I love this recipe. I also add some juniper berries to my pickling brine
I’m actually planning to try that with some carrot pickles…what do you like it with?
Danielle – I had the pleasure of attending your Culinary Conifers event, lucky me! The cookies were delicious. I’m surprised that you managed to post this recipe already – your posts are always so thorough, interesting and photo-rich. I appreciated the lessons in many-things Juniper. Moreover, I LOVED the focus of holiday spirit – cookies as the little cakes that were (and are) ritual gifts to the goddess (and her lovelies). Hugs to you and Jennifer for the love and passion you clearly impart to and with Gather.
PS: I’m eagerly awaiting Jennifer’s Grand Fir Scottish Oatmeal Shortbread recipe.
Thank-you! Such lovely things to say, and so very meaningful to both of us. It really makes the work & effort so worthwhile. And yes, I will remind Jennifer about the Grand Fir Oatmeal Shortbread! That was dreamy!
I have harvested my grand fir needles. Will Danielle obligé with the Grand Fir Oatmeal Shortbread recepie?
Reblogged this on hocuspocus13 and commented:
When you say. “Add the milk”, do you mean the 3/4 c cream?
Yes, milk or cream, but I prefer cream!
The recipe calls for 3/4 cup of cream: 1/2 for glaze, 1/4 cup for cookies….
Reblogged this on Carolinasea's Herbal.
If you use the cold coffee to make the glaze, how much coffee to icing sugar would you recommend using? Thank you!
Hi Emily, Just use as much as you need – i.e. until you reached the right consistency of icing/glaze you like…you can more to make a thin glaze or more less to get more of an icing…hope that helps!
Yes, thank you!
I recently enjoyed a delicious juniper latte. The coffee drink was made from a medium roast bean, and included juniper simple syrup, the milk foam was lightly sprinkled with juniper sugar. The coffee was finished with a fresh sage leaf that had been sprinkled with juniper sugar. It was elegant and heavenly. I set out to find a recipe in an attempt to recreate this delicious drink and discovered your blog. I am so excited to find the community and your recipes. I look forward to exploring your blog. Many thanks, Lynne
Is the icing sugar only in the coffee version? If not, when so you add it to the regular version of the icing?
You use plain icing sugar to make a basic glaze to dip the cookie into….otherwise the juniper sugar won’t stick!
Is the icing sugar not necessary if you are making the glaze with the cream and spice, rather than the coffee?
H! I used icing sugar with a pinch of finely ground berry powder and then used coffee instead of milk or cream…generally you do need to use icing sugar to make a cookie glaze….
I made the juniper sugar and gave some to my daughter who then made cookies for her co-workers. She said, and I quote, “They lost their God-damn minds!” They’ve been asking her for more. I love making flavored sugars and recently gave her lavender and rose. Next I’m making a pine needle sugar (great for cocktails too).