Bunya Nut Shortbread
This recipe for Bunya nut shortbread draws on a bush food Australians aren’t terribly aware of. Many people who have Bunya pines in their yard will throw out the cones because they don’t recognize their food value. Others may have tried roasted or boiled Bunya nuts and found them bland. But Bunya nuts are Australia’s equivalent to the chestnut and deserve a similar level of appreciation. The shortbread recipe given here uses a coarse meal of boiled Bunya nuts, along with butter, flour and some sugar. It is something you can prepare yourself with a little effort if you have a Bunya pine, can forage for nuts in a public space or are able to buy some.
Learning About Bush Foods
Bunya nuts are an Indigenous Australian food from the Bunya Mountains of South-East Queensland. Bunya pines (Araucaria bidwillii) have also been planted as ornamental species in other parts of Queensland, across New South Wales and as far away as Perth. They can often be found in public parks. Once mature, Bunya pines will drop heavy cones every two or three years. The cones contain large nuts in a tough shell, and a single cone can contain up to 1.5 kg of nuts. Instructions for removing nuts from the cone and shell are available here and here. The nuts can be boiled or roasted and resemble small firm potatoes. After shelling, you could include them in a casserole or, as here, boil and process them to a coarse meal to use in baking.
To flavour this shortbread recipe, I used roasted and ground emu foot (Cullen tenax) seeds as flavouring. Emu foot seeds are another Australian bush food, which you can buy here. But you can also grow emu foot as a ground cover in your garden and collect the seeds. If you do that, you may also find you attract the lovely chequered swallowtail butterfly to breed on it. Alternately, you can use another spice to flavour the Bunya nut shortbread, such as ground wattleseed, cinnamon or cardamon.
200 g Bunya nut meal
200 g softened butter
100 g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
10 g emu foot seeds (or other spice of choice)
300 g plain flour
To prepare the Bunya nut meal for the shortbread, first remove the tough shell from the nuts. One option is to crack the shell in a vice, then use long-nosed pliers to pull off the shell. You will need around 20 nuts for this recipe. After shelling, boil the nuts for 30 minutes until soft, then rub off any remaining dark skin and allow to cool. Optionally, you can cut the nuts lengthwise and remove the inner seed leaves. Use a food processor to process the cooked nuts to a meal with the approximate consistency of breadcrumbs. Dry-roast the emu foot seeds in a pan for 1 minute, then transfer to a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder and grind to a fine powder. For best flavour, this should be done just before use.
For the shortbread dough, blend together Bunya nut meal and softened butter in a food processor to make a paste. Add icing sugar, vanilla bean paste and emu foot seeds and process again. Add flour in small portions until the mix comes together as a soft dough. Divide dough into two portions and roll each into a sausage shape about 4 cm in diameter. Alternately, if you have a biscuit forcer you can use the uncapped tube to help you shape the dough into an even cylinder. Wrap dough in cling wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour to firm, then cut into 1 cm slices and place on a baking sheet. Bake 18 min in a pre-warmed oven at 160 ºC (fan-forced) or until just slightly coloured. Let cool for a few minutes before moving to a wire rack. Makes about 30.