Pignoli cookies

2013-12-09
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  • Yield : 3 dozen cookies
  • Prep Time : 20m
  • Cook Time : 18m
  • Ready In : 50m

My very favorite Christmas cookie

I first discovered these cookies over 20 years ago at a little restaurant/bakery in London, that my friend Bene introduced me to. One bite and I was hooked. Crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and oh so delicious.  I searched my cookbooks and back issues of Gourmet and Bon Appetit, but could not find a similar recipe. This was back in the day before the internet and researching a recipe was much more difficult than it is today.

Forward 10 or 12 years, and I rediscovered these cookies when I took my daughter Lauren to school in Boston. We found them at Mike’s Pastry, a legend of an Italian pastry shop on Hanover Street. Turns out these are very traditional Italian cookies. I just did not have much of an opportunity to discover them, living in Southern California and Honolulu.

The best recipe I have found came from the December 2002 edition of Gourmet magazine.

A bit pricey to make

These cookies are incredible, but they are not cheap to make. The almond paste is expensive and so are the pine nuts. Consequently, I usually make these only as a special Christmas treat.

Almond paste not marzipan

Make sure you buy almond paste and not marzipan. The original recipe recommends canned almond paste, but until recently I have not been able to find canned almond paste in southern California. So I have been using Odense Almond paste from Denmark. It comes in a tube and I think it works well. Solo makes a canned almond paste that is highly recommended. I recently found it on Amazon and have four cans coming in the mail to try. Note: if you use Odense, it comes in 7 ounce tubes, and the Solo product comes in 8 ounce cans. Use two tubes or two cans, depending on the product you are using. The 2 ounce variation will not make a significant difference to the recipe.

Simplified original recipe

I use the same ingredients as the original recipe, but have modified the process considerably. A good food processor is critical. The almond paste needs to be broken down and a food processor is the best way to accomplish this. I mix all of the dough in the food processor and skip using a mixer. I always love it when I reduce the amount of pots and pans that need to be washed!

The dough is very sticky and can be difficult to work with. I don’t pipe the dough. I get my hands wet, use a spoon to scoop up a bit of dough and gently work it into a ball. You need to re-wet your hands about every three cookies or the dough starts to stick.

Gluten-free and dairy-free

As a bonus, these delicious cookies happen to be gluten free! The recipe does call for egg whites, if you are working around allergies.

Try them with a cup of coffee or espresso!

Ingredients

  • 2 7-ounce tubes or 2 8-ounce cans of almond paste
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, unsifted
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 2 egg whites, slightly beaten
  • 2 T honey
  • 1 cup pine nuts
  • Parchment paper

Instructions

Step 1

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Break the almond paste up into small chunks with your hands and put it in a food processor. Using long pulses, whirl the paste until the it is broken into fine pieces. Add the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time and the salt. Whirl after each half cup. Sugar, paste and salt mixture will look like fine meal.

Step 2

Add the egg whites and honey and continue whirling using long pulses until the mixture is well combined and smooth. At this point the batter will be thick and sticky.

Step 3

Spread 3 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Put the pine nuts in a shallow bowl.We your hands and using a spoon, scoop up a large teaspoon of batter. Use your hands to form a ball of dough. Dip half the dough in the bowl of pine nuts and then invert the cookie, pine nut-side up onto the cookie sheet.

Step 4

Bake cookies for about 18-20 minutes, until they are puffed and golden. Sometimes I make larger cookies and need to add a few minutes to the cooking time. If your oven has hot spots, you may need to turn the cookie halfway to get uniform browning.

Step 5

Allow cookies to cool completely before removing the parchment paper. Store in a well-sealed tin.

Recipe Comments

  1. Posted by Lauren Pawell on December 10, 2013

    I love these cookies! Who knew they were gluten and dairy free? Now I can make them. And Mike’s Pastry is oh so delicious. Maybe we need to go back there for some SNFD research : )

      Reply
    • Posted by Kim on December 10, 2013

      Primary research is always a great idea!

        Reply
  2. Posted by shelby on December 17, 2013

    Dear Something New,
    Did you mean your recipe to call for two 8 ounce cans of almond paste? I’m afraid my cookie dough was quite runny and the texture not quite right.
    Shelby

      Reply
    • Posted by Kim on December 18, 2013

      Thank you to Shelby for pointing out an error in the original recipe. The recipe now is correct. My apologies!

        Reply

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