“The world laughs in flowers,” said Emerson, and I have a feeling chef Loria Stern would strongly agree. I first tasted her botanical-studded food at a retreat in Northern Cali a few years back, and I was struck not only by the delicious taste of her dishes, but the light playfulness she brought to her creations. In Loria’s world, food isn’t sole nourishment—it’s joy and beauty. Food is her canvas.
When I received Loria’s cookbook, Eat Your Flowers, in the mail last week, I devoured each flower-strewn page. From the Kale Caesar with Caper Flower Vegan Dressing to the Raw Cashew Floral Cheesecake, it’s clear that Loria’s mission is inspiring others to explore and get creative in the kitchen. She says, “Vibrant hues, complex tastes, not to mention added nutrition and medicine—there are so many ways to use nature’s bounty to create delicious and gorgeous foods.”
In honor of the cookbook’s launch last month, Loria came by to share the recipe that made her Insta-famous: her Flower-Pressed Shortbread Cookies. I can attest that they’re as delicious as they are beautiful. Scroll on for Loria’s tips on making these flower cookies and ideas on using botanicals of every hue.
For me, food is art and should be experienced with all the senses.
Your cooking and creative work let readers indulge all their senses. Where did this desire to go beyond taste come from?
I’ve always felt like life should be enjoyed through all the senses. We all experience feelings and feelings are inspired by the senses. I believe that’s what makes art work. And for me, food is art and should be experienced with all the senses.
You write that growing up in Ojai inspired your love of nature and approach to cooking. What are your tips for adopting this slower and more thoughtful food-centric lifestyle?
I think there is nature to be enjoyed everywhere. The desert, the snowy mountains, a tranquil lake, a peaceful park, ocean cliffs, and breaking waves. It’s about intentionally putting aside time in our busy lives to spend in nature, wherever we are.
Your book and your cooking are both a testament to the endless creativity found in food. What are small, simple ways we can find inspiration in food?
There are multiple ways. First is to try different recipes and really nail them down and then incorporate different ingredients to change up the flavors. There are so many staple recipes in my book that I use for endless combinations which yield different flavors so I’m never bored. The second is to focus on one seasonal ingredient and experiment with recipes surrounding that ingredient.
What are accessible ways we can bring flowers into our own kitchens?
I am a big supporter of heading to your local farmer’s market and meeting your farmers. Organic vegetable farmers always grow edible flowers on their farms because flowers attract pollinators and many flowers also deter garden pests! My recommendation is to go to the farmer’s market, meet your farmers (especially the cute ones 😉 and ask them if you can buy edible flowers from them. I’m sure they’d be very excited to sell you some or start growing them for you!
What are your favorite flowers to cook or bake with?
That is a very difficult question to answer! I have a few: rose petals, calendula, bachelor buttons, violas, and pansies. The reason I love baking with these is that they are brightly colored and yield vibrant bakes.
Loria’s Tips for Making Shortbread Flower Cookies
The buttery shortbread dough takes the flavors of edible flowers and herbs wonderfully. Begonia will lend a tart apple-like taste, while a viola flower amplifies the sweetness naturally. In the recipe below I’ve used an array of different botanicals, but some of my favorites are pea tendrils for a verdant look; hibiscus and maple leaves, which are reminiscent of fall; and soft green herbs and freeze-dried peppercorns to celebrate the holidays. Get creative and don’t be afraid to mix and match your favorite flowers and herbs! See [below] for some of my favorite combinations. Just remember that if you press an entire flower into your dough, it may overpower the cookie flavor, so petals, smaller blooms, and soft stems work best here.
Adhering edible flowers to cookies was a common practice of the Victorians in the 1800s. The cookies were baked and then the flowers, crystallized for longevity, were attached to the cookie with egg white. I choose instead to fasten the botanicals by pressing and freezing them into the dough, then baking the cookies with the flowers intact. This works much better to preserve the flowers and herbs rather than painstakingly painting each flower with egg white, so the recipe is easier to make at volume; it also allows me to make these beautiful treats vegan (using a vegan cookie recipe, of course). Adding fruit dusts, flavorings, and spices to the dough is a beautiful way to flavor and color this base cookie recipe and add a different dimension to the pressed flower element.
How to Decorate Your Shortbread Flower Cookies
Try these easy and flavorful alternatives for your shortbread dough! Choose pressed botanicals that complement the dough color; often contrasting colors look great.
MATCHA ALFALFA: Mix ¼ cup (20 g) matcha powder into the flour and stir until uniform in color before adding to the mixer. Use fresh pressed wheat grass (in place of the vanilla extract).
TURMERIC LEMON: Add 1 tablespoon lemon zest with the butter and use fresh lemon juice in place of the vanilla extract. Mix 3 tablespoons (15 g) ground turmeric powder into the flour and stir until uniform in color before adding to the mixer.
RASPBERRY ROSE: Use rose water in place of the vanilla extract. Replace ½ cup (63 g) of the flour with ½ cup (50 g) raspberry powder and stir until uniform in color before adding to the mixer.
BLUEBERRY: Use blueberry extract in place of the vanilla extract. Replace ½ cup (63 g) of the flour with ½ cup (50 g) blueberry powder and replace an additional ¼ cup (32 g) flour with ¼ cup (20 g) blue spirulina or butterfly pea powder. Stir until uniform in color before adding to the mixer. Add ½ cup (13 g) freeze- dried blueberries to the dough when it has almost come together in a ball.
CHARCOAL: Add 3 tablespoons (15 g) activated charcoal powder to the flour and stir until uniform in color before adding to the mixer.
Get inspired by the color and flavors of the seasons with these decorations.
FALL: Instead of colorful flowers, opt for pressing your cookie dough with edible maple or hibiscus leaves.
WINTER: Use bright greenery such as carrot tops, chervil, thyme, or tarragon and freeze-dried pink peppercorns and decorate like boughs of holly or little wreaths.
From EAT YOUR FLOWERS by Loria Stern. Copyright 2023 by Loria Stern. Published by William Morrow, An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.