Shortbread Cookies With A Novel Ingredient

These buttery shortbread cookies have candy cap mushrooms in the dough.
These buttery shortbread cookies have candy cap mushrooms in the dough.

I’ll be the first to say that my foraging experiences have been few and far between.

There was the time on an elementary school field trip hike, when our teacher had us nibbling sour grass growing in a canyon.

There was the white-water rafting trip on the American River in my 30s, when our guide steered our raft to an outcrop of wild blackberry shrubs and we reached out to hungrily pick our fill.

And there was the recent visit to the sprawling Inn at Newport Ranch in Fort Bragg, where my guide picked peppery wild ginger leaves for me to try.

So, admittedly, I am no expert.

But my friend and colleague Maria Finn definitely is. And she’s written a new cookbook, “Forage. Gather. Feast.” (Sasquatch Book) that will open your eyes to the bounty that can be foraged all around you.

Finn lives on a houseboat in Sausalito with a truffle-sniffing dog that she trained, as well as two cats, and a native oyster garden. She’s worked as a cook and deckhand on a commercial salmon fishing boat. She’s cooked at Stochastic Labs in Berkeley, an incubator for artists, scientists, and tech engineers. She’s taught seaweed foraging camps. And she founded Flora & Fungi Adventures to host wild food-centric adventures from California to Alaska.

In short, she’s a bad a–.

Let her show you how to expertly find and safely enjoy foraged foods from the coast to the forest to urban areas.

What’s more, the book includes more than 100 recipes using these inspired ingredients, such as “Seaweed, Seed, Oat, and Nut Bread,” “Flaming Pine Needle Mussels,” “Hedgehog Mushroom Dumpling Soup with Chrysanthemum Greens,” and “Wild Berry and Peony Pavlova.”

Dried candy cap mushrooms.
Dried candy cap mushrooms.

One of my favorite wild ingredients featured in the book is candy cap mushrooms. These tiny brown mushrooms are unlike any other. That’s because they boast a beguiling fragrance and taste of maple syrup crossed with a hint of warm curry.

Although our Inn at Newport Ranch guide managed to point out the remnants of one sticking out of a muddy outcrop, it was May — too late in the season for them to be sprouting for the most part.

Because candy caps are so perishable, they are most often dried to extend their life. In that form, they are ideal for infusing ice cream bases and creme brulee. Or baked into blondies. Or showcased in “Candy Cap Mushroom Shortbread Cookies,” a recipe by Marla Aufmuth, the photographer for Finn’s book.

I purchased my dried candy cap mushrooms from the Bay Area’s Far West Fungi. Even before I got the bag open, I could already smell the heady, sweet maple syrup aroma of the mushrooms. If you’ve ever baked anything with candy caps before, then you know it’s not surprising that your clothes — even your pores — can end up carrying the scent of maple syrup in the process. Consider it a fun side benefit.

The dried candy caps get pulverized into a fine powder in a spice grinder, then mixed into the flour that gets stirred into butter and sugar. That’s it — as simple as it gets for the dough.

The cookies can be made one of two ways: rolled out flat and cut with cookie cutters or rolled into a log, then sliced with a knife. I opted for the latter.

Dried rose petals.
Dried rose petals.

The final flourish for these cookies is dried rose petals ground up with a little granulated sugar that gets sprinkled on and lightly pressed into the cookies right after they come out of the oven.

Although the recipe states it makes 30 cookies, I found it made more like 18 if you do slice-and-bake, so I amended that amount below.

Buttery and crisp, these shortbread cookies hug you with the irresistible taste of maple. There’s a toastiness about them, along with a subtle floral, vaguely strawberry note. Their taste lingers delightfully long, too.

If your friends or family first balk at the thought of mushroom cookies — and believe me, some of mine have — just urge them to try one.

Because one taste is all it takes to put you soundly on team candy cap.

Want to learn more about foraging? Join Finn at 6 p.m. June 22 at Sausalito’s Spaulding Marine Works, where she’ll be preparing for an event, “Voyages: AI & The Ocean.” She’ll also be hosting and preparing a “Forage. Gather. Feast. A Wild Dinner with Maria Finn” at 6 p.m. June 26 at the 18 Reasons Kitchen in San Francisco. For info on other upcoming events, go to her web page,

Sensational shortbread.
Sensational shortbread.

Candy Cap Mushroom Shortbread Cookies

(Makes about 18 to 30 cookies)

2 tablespoons dried rose petals (can substitute dried peonies)

1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided

1 cup (8 ounces) salted European-style butter (such as Kerrygold), room temperature

3 tablespoons finely ground dried candy cap mushrooms (from 1/4 cup loosely packed dried whole mushrooms)

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Grind the rose petals and 1 teaspoon of the sugar in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.

In a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer, beat together the butter and 1/2 cup of the sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy.

In a separate bowl, thoroughly mix the candy cap mushrooms with the flour. Add to the butter-sugar mixture on low speed until it forms a stiff dough. If the dough is being stubborn, use your hands to form a ball.

Divide the dough into two rounds about 3/4 inch thick, cover each tightly with plastic wrap, and chill for at least one hour. Or alternatively, shape all the dough into a log about 2 1/2-inches in diameter, refrigerate for at least an hour tightly wrapped in plastic wrap.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Remove one round of dough from the fridge at a time. Generously dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour and roll out the dough 1/4-inch thick. If the dough feels too hard to roll, let it sit for a few minutes until the butter softens.

Cut out the cookies using a cookie cutter.

Alternatively, if you rolled the dough into one log, unwrap and slice into 1/2-inch thick rounds for slice-and-bake cookies.

Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets about an inch apart.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cookies are a light-golden color and the cookies are cooked through.

Immediately add rose petal-sugar mix and lightly press into the center so they stick.

They will get crispier as they cool.

Adapted from “Forage. Gather. Feast.” by Maria Finn

Another Candy Cap Mushroom Cookie To Enjoy: Chewy Brown Sugar Cookies with Candy Cap Mushrooms

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  • It would be fun to pass these out at a party and see what people thought they were made with. I doubt any one would guess that the maple syrup aroma came from mushrooms,

  • Hi Karen: I just brought some of these cookies to an afternoon barbecue, and you should have seen the faces when I first told people what was in them. Next time, I will take your suggestion and have them try guessing first. It would be fun to see what they came up with. 😉

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