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Pignoli cookies

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Easy and quick

My very favorite Christmas cookie

I first discovered these cookies over 20 years ago at Clarke's, a now-famous restaurant and 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 challenging 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.

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.

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Almond paste not marzipan

Make sure you buy almond paste and not marzipan. The original recipe recommends canned almond paste. I have used two kinds of almond paste: Odense Almond paste from Denmark. It comes in a tube, but can be a little stiff to work with. Solo makes a canned almond paste that is very easy to use and has good results. Note: if you use Odense, it comes in 7 ounce tubes, and the Solo product comes in 12.5 ounce cans and 8 ounce packages

Simplified original recipe

The best recipe I have found came from the December 2002 edition of Gourmet magazine, but I have made some significant changes to the method to simplify the process. 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 as the original recipe recommends. 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 bother piping the dough, it just makes a mess. 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!

Pignoli cookies

Yield 3 dozen cookies

These traditional Italian pignoli and almond cookies are easy to make and utterly delicious. Gluten-free and dairy free, they are a perfect holiday cookie that almost everyone can enjoy.


  • 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


  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.
  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.
  3. Spread 3 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Put the pine nuts in a shallow bowl. Wet 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.
  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.
  5. Allow cookies to cool completely before removing the parchment paper. Store in a well-sealed tin.






  1. Lauren Pawell says:

    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 : )

    1. Kim says:

      Primary research is always a great idea!

  2. shelby says:

    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.

    1. Kim says:

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

  3. Stephen says:

    These Pignoli Cookies are the Original and Correct variety that is sold in True Italian Bakeries in Brooklyn NY. I’ve made these numerous times with unmatched results, In fact the Wife and I are finishing up the latest batch recently made, They Are Adictive for sure,, Worth the Expense. Thank’s for posting this recipe, hope everyone will try it, they won’t be dissappointed

    1. Kim Pawell says:

      Thanks Stephen, I am so glad you enjoy the cookies. It took me a long time to track down the recipe. I agree, they are 100% addictive!

  4. Anders says:

    How many cookies does this recipe make please?

    1. Kim Pawell says:

      About three dozen, depending on size. I tend to make bigger cookies. That way I delude myself into thinking I only had three!

  5. Anders says:

    I an, confused about how much almond paste to use in this recipe after seeing another post with a correction, is it 2 7oz tubes of almond paste or one?

    1. Kim Pawell says:

      Hi Anders, use either two 7-ounce tubes or two 8-ounce packages. I personally prefer the solo as I like the consistency better.

  6. Anders says:

    Thanks for the feedback, there is an Italian bakery near me that has the most delicious pignoIi cookies and I was planning on buying some to send to my sister in California for Christmas because she can’t find them there (or Italian bread either!) but I decided to save money and try my hand at making my own since they are about $30 a pound. I’m trying this recipe tonight! I’ve seen several versions including a few using flour, but this is the only one that has honey on the ingredient list. When I was shopping for the pignoli nuts there was an older women reaching for them too and I asked what she was using them for. She told me she was making the same thing so I asked about her recipe. She said she uses honey and never adds flour, she seemed knowledgeable so worth a try! I’m going to try both versions so I’ll be sure to let you know, just wondering if you know the difference between a recipe that calls for flour and your version? Thank you again and Happy Holidays!

    1. Kim Pawell says:

      Hi Anders, I don’t think a recipe that used flour would result in the traditional Italian pignoli cookies, which rely on almond paste instead. If you discover a recipe you like that uses flour I’d love for you to share it. I’m guessing it would be a very different cookie, but maybe a very good cookie.

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