DIY Gift: Balsam Fir Syrup

Foraged Gift Wrapping

Fennel Rosemary Snowflakes

DIY Tree Trimming Garland

I love the hieroglyphics of the holidays, the evergreen in the dead of winter. The ancient traditions & customs we’ve accumulated over thousands of years. Winter meant more before, before central air & heat and 70°F Decembers. Before electric ovens and take out. It probably meant fur pelts and mostly suffering. Big fires and steaming cups of hot anything. Now I burn quaint fires that I don’t need, at least not physically though it arguably meets another need, and I wrangle a balsam fir up my front steps, hands black and sticky with sap. But I can’t remember why, an historical amnesia brought on by did I get the dry cleaning and I need to swing by the bank. Brought on by having too much. Why am I doing this? Why are there spices simmering—juniper, nutmeg, cinnamon, rosemary, and slices of deep red apple in a copper pot? Why the cookies, the small army of cookies? It’s not just festive. They’re symbols. And now I remember why I bring a whole tree into my home when bare limbs are etched deep into the stark sky, when nights are their longest yet slowly dwindling. I remember that everything always dies and something green remains. The year is a wheel, not a line. And in the heart of winter human beings have celebrated rebirth & life for as far back as we can see. Winter can still mean a thing. We’ve only to remember.

Foraged Gift Wrapping

DIY Gift: Balsam Fir Syrup

Fennel Rosemary Snowflakes

DIY Tree Trimming Garland


That’s why I like to keep my festivities close to the earth—rustic modern if you will. Come the holidays you probably won’t find me in sequins & velvet. I’ll stick with my plaid and Warby Parker glasses (I favor the Lyle in English Oak but I really want these as my next pair) while I bake cookies, make simple garlands of pine cones & evergreen, infuse warm spices & tree trimmings into syrup for gifts, and wrap parcels (poorly—I have the gift wrapping prowess of a kindergartner—really, you should see the ends) in twine and brown paper with bits of cotton & greenery & berries from the yard—packages of handmade edibles & goods to be warmly given with hand written notes that actually say something.

Foraged Gift Wrapping

Foraged Gift Wrapping

DIY Gift: Balsam Fir Syrup

DIY Tree Trimming Garland + Warby Parker

Fennel Rosemary Snowflakes

DIY Tree Trimming Garland

DIY Tree Trimming Garland + Warby Parker

That said, you best believe that I don’t make beautiful snowflake shaped cookies come Christmas day. No. I make legions of Boba Fett’s, Vaders, Yoda’s and all manor of spacecraft—TIE fighters, X-wings, and, of course, the Millenium Falcon. Gingerbread men? Ha! Gingerbread R2-D2. So while I keep it classic in most arenas, we all have our soft kitschy spots. Though if anyone ever called Star Wars kitsch I might get in a fist fight with them. Epic, it’s an epic. I digress. Anyone know where I can find Dr. Who cookie cutters?

DIY Tree Trimming Garland

So if you’re like me and spending this Christmas Eve running around doing everything from baking cookies to wrapping gifts to oh…I don’t know…picking up a case of 100 oysters (yep!), I hope this inspires you. Merry Christmas & Happy holidays! I really do rather love you all.
Fennel Rosemary Snowflakes

Fennel Rosemary Snowflakes

Prep Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Yield: depends on cookies size; about 40 3" cookies

Slightly salty, buttery, and flecked with rosemary & fennel these are grown up sugar cookies for the holidays. These cookies are the best of both worlds, both flavorful & visually inspiring. You won't find bland, play dough cookies here.


  • 2 sticks (1/2 lb, 232 g) unsalted butter, room temp
  • 3/4 cup (165 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 egg, room temp
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp natural orange flavor (optional)
  • 2.5 cups (315 g) all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, ground to a powder
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary


  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer beat the sugar, salt, and butter until pale and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl half way through.
  2. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, mix flour, fennel, and rosemary.
  3. Add in the egg, vanilla, and orange and beat on low to incorporate.
  4. With mixer off add in the flour mixture. Beat on low until just incorporated.
  5. Using a spatula make sure the dough is well combined, and then form it into two disks and wrap in plastic. Chill at least one hour and up to over night. Set out for about five minutes before rolling out.
  6. Heat oven to 350°F. Line a sheet tray with parchment and lightly grease the parchment.
  7. Roll out cookies on a floured work surface. If your dough is cracking, it's too cold. Just smoosh it together and let it get to a workable consistency & temperature. Don't give up on it!
  8. Cut cookies into desired shapes (whether that be a delicate snowflake or Darth Vader's head) and place on the sheet tray about 1" apart.
  9. Bake 8-10 minutes until very barely golden around the edges.
  10. Cool fully on a rack and store at room temperature in an air tight container.


I use Alton Brown's ratio for royal icing. You can find it here Adapted from Food52

DIY Gift: Balsam Fir Syrup

Balsam Fir Syrup

I can't imagine anything that tastes more like Christmas than this pine & warm spiced syrup. The acid in it cuts the sweetness making it the perfect mixer for cocktails (especially gin), tea (hot or iced), and it makes a wonderful instant soda mixed with sparkling water. But don't stop there! You can also pour it over baked goods, drizzle it on yogurt, make marshmallows with it, make a sweet +savory glaze for fowl or game... sky's the limit!


  • 8 cups of water
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 cups light brown sugar
  • 3 cinnamon sticks, crushed
  • 1 nutmeg, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • pinch of ground cloves or 6 whole cloves lightly crushed
  • pinch of mace (optional)
  • pinch or two of salt
  • 2 tsp citric acid or 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1.5 cups balsam fir or other edible conifer needles, roughly chopped


  1. In a large saucepan bring the sugar and water to a boil together, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in all the other ingredients. Let steep at least until the mixture is completely cooled. I prefer to steep mine over night. Stir occasionally. The next morning strain through a cheese cloth lined mesh strainer into bottles. Store in the fridge. Should keep a few months due to the acid.


Make sure you wash your trimmings very, very thoroughly unless you are certain you have a tree that wasn't sprayed with chemicals.

DIY Tree Trimming Garland

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57 Responses to A Local Milk Christmas: Balsam Fir Syrup + Fennel Rosemary Cookies

  1. heather says:

    These photos are so incredibly beautiful. I want to print them all out and hang them on my walls and pretend I live in them. Hehe.

    Happiest holidays.

  2. Sanda says:

    Beautiful Beth. Have a great holidays!!!

  3. Is that you in the photo?! I love your longer hair! And the Warby Parkers, of course. And I’m so in love with these pine and fir flavored goods you have these days. Fir syrup sounds out. of. this. world. Hope you have a perfect Christmas, Beth.

  4. Allie H. says:

    Making your Lapsang Souchong Carmel has become a new holiday tradition for my family. Blessings on your holiday season!

  5. Rikki says:

    This very well may be my most favorite post of yours, Beth. Your rendition of the holidays seems of the purest and honest. I deeply admire that, as it has been a goal of ours (since having kids) to maintain that sense of, as you say, rustic modern plaid wearing, feel-good type. Merry Christmas to you and yours! I look forward to reading along with you into the new year!

  6. Tawney Weir says:

    I’ve only recently discovered your site, with it’s moody photographs filled with nature, vintage, and delicious food. This post was particularly lovely…your holiday musings resonate. Cheers and happy yule things!

  7. Sara says:

    Your words always paint such a gorgeous picture in my mind. Your pictures, grand icing on the cake. Thank-you for sharing. Merry Christmas!

  8. Jen says:

    What a beautiful post to read on Christmas Eve – but – reality check time… your gift wrapping is out of this world lovely. I know whereof I speak since I got to open not one but two packages from Sweet Gum Co. recently. I am almost tempted to order something else just to get another one. No “poorly” anywhere in sight!

  9. Joy says:

    Great recipe. Merry Christmas to you too!

  10. Vickie says:

    I love that you make Star Wars shaped cookies – those would go down very well in this household. Dr Who ones even more so – might have to start looking for some cutters :)

    Merry Christmas!

  11. Aww merry christmas to you too! And I love the syrup!

  12. Nicole says:

    I mean, your photos are awesome and tell a story by themselves. Awesome!

  13. molly yeh says:

    there’s just an extra umph in these photos knowing that the cards have messages that actually say something. i love it! and that garland. as soon as i get myself a fireplace, that is going up. merry christmas to you, beth!

    ooh and a random question: where did you get those scissors?? i have been looking everywhere! i’ve seen joyce chen ones online, which are a similar shape, but only seem to come in such bright colors. i like the metal ones that you have!

  14. Margherita says:

    Everything is so warm…

  15. Emily Brock says:

    You in those warby parkers is the cutest pic evahh.

  16. Kirsten says:

    Just found your website and can I just say WOW. So much photo inspiration here. Love the moodiness of the scenes. Can’t wait to spend some time going through your blog!

  17. Erin Orr says:

    I love your writing. I so appreciate how genuine, thoughtful and generous you are in sharing your reflections. Also, someday I hope to live somewhere where I can wander out and gather some edible conifer needles to make this syrup. I sounds perfect!

  18. […] balsam fir syrup. UM. can you say winter […]

  19. Joe says:

    Long live Star Trek, Captain Kirk, Spock and Bones. Live long and prosper.

  20. With the craziness of the holidays, baking took a back seat. Now with a cold snap filling the emptiness of the holiday, this is just perfect to fill the air with winter. Thanks!

  21. Chelsey says:

    Love everything about this post Beth…especially the self portrait!

  22. Rikki says:

    So I just made these, completely unsure what to think, and the savory contrast is out of this world. Topped with homemade buttercream frosting delicately trimming the cookie was the perfect balance. These are going to be ringing in the New Year with us and our closest friends. So excited to share these!

  23. Your work is inspiring. And your words are beautifully arranged like images themselves. Have a wonderful new year. I do look forward to getting to know you better in 2014. c

  24. You have such an amazing blog. Great pics and delicious recipes. Keep up the good work!

  25. Amy Johnson says:

    This is so pretty and really embodies winter. I love it! Thanks for posting such beautiful photos. Happy New Year!

  26. Linda says:

    This syrup recipe is fabulous. Do you know if you can use another type of fir? Not sure if our tree is fraser or douglas or noble or?

  27. Elizabeth says:

    I am so so so inspired. Thank you for these gorgeous photos and recipes. Also, I love to wrap gifts like that, only it just now occurred to me that now I can use red berries from the neighborhood. I had forgotten that I live in a place where I can gather them up.

    I actually just read a post where someone had a Dr. Who cookie cutter for cookies and included a link. If I find it again, I’ll let you know.

  28. Babou says:

    Thank you so much for those recipes.
    Every winter I infuse olive oil with balsam fir to make balm, but it’s the first time I use it for cooking. Made the syrup this week and put it on everything lol

  29. Lovely photos! The recipe sounds delish :) Your new glasses are gorgeous as well, I’m such a fan of Warby Parker and love my own pair dearly. Hope the holidays were swell, and your new year is off to a good start!

  30. Helen says:

    Such a beautiful, atmospheric post. As for Doctor Who . . .
    Have a wonderful 2014!

  31. em says:

    you are such a constant source of inspiration, to make and create in ways weird and imperfect

  32. Jess says:

    Wow what a delightful celebration!

  33. […] comes from Local Milk, check it out here. Plus Beth’s photography is absolutely stunning, if you’re not familiar with the site, […]

  34. Ellie Gross says:

    Thank you so much Beth for an inspirational post. I am assuming one could use 8 cups maple syrup for this recipe instead of 8 cups sugar and water. What do you think?
    Take care, Ellie

  35. […] {middle right}: Gift wrap via Local Milk […]

  36. […] 1 // Image 2 // Image 3 // Image 4 // Image 5 // Image 6 // Image […]

  37. […] & Co. via Remodelista  Image 6: Going home to roost Image 7: Lucy says I do Image 6: Local Milk Blog Image 7: Oh Happy Day Image 8: Cherry Blossom World Blog Image 9: Miki Duisterhof in Country […]

  38. […] Balsam Fir Syrup inspired by traditional Regency recipes and this one from Local Milk […]

  39. […] DIY kraft paper gift wrap By Local Milk. […]

  40. stephanie says:

    oh man, my sister-n-law won over my four boys last year by having them over to make Christmas cookies with our pooled collection of Star Wars (me) and Dr. Who (her) cookie cutters…

  41. […] 1. von The Pretty Blog 2. von Simple Blueprint 3. von Kotipalapeli 4. von Andrella liebt Herzen 5. von Design Sponge 6. von Local Milk […]

  42. Honey Duggan says:

    I’m pretty sure we’re long lost sisters. Our first Christmas living in France we wanted to forgo buying a bunch of mass produced ornaments, so our ornaments were either procured at local christmas markets or handmade by us out of salt dough. And they all happen to be made with Star Wars cookie cutters…much to my mother in laws chagrin. :)

    There are tons and tons of Dr. Who cookie cutters on etsy! (And Sherlock (BBC) too, if you’re into that sort of thing.

    Happiest of holidays!!!

  43. […] syrup and half homemade Noble Fir Syrup that were amazing- recipe inspired by Local Milk’s Balsam Fir Syrup and adapted to use our Pacific NW […]

  44. […] a little holiday decor inspiration that I’m loving . . . . Picture Sources: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 Posted on November 13, 2014June 24, […]

  45. MOntse Barahona says:

    …….so so so beautiful

  46. Angie says:

    Hi Beth,
    Loving this post too! And another request if you could share where those white beaded edged plates are from? So love them!!

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