If I were being walked to my execution tomorrow morning and had to choose one type of cookie to eat tonight, it would be Italian pignoli (pine nut). Soft in the middle and chewy outside with the strong flavor of almond paste that is its main ingredient, this cookie is special – and very much like a good macaroon. As a German-American, I grew up eating marzipan in various animal and fruit shapes, and this is also close enough to that confection to hit home with me.
I used to buy these in Italian bakeries in Queens, and recently asked my friend, Tonina, who still lives in Astoria, if she had the recipe. Lo and behold I am now able to enjoy pignoli cookies again – and without spending $18 a pound!
The downside is the cost of ingredients. If you cannot make your own almond paste, you must find a reasonable source, because you’ll go broke buying those dear little packages in the supermarket. If you live in my neck of the woods, know that Berkeley Bowl sells it in bulk for $6.95 a pound, which is an incredible price. I buy the pine nuts at Costco and store them in the fridge. You should do the same, else they will be pricey and go stale, respectively. If you buy those tiny packs of pine nuts you’ll be spending a fortune, so do find a source of bulk nuts. Also, this recipe has only a few ingredients, so make sure they are of a high quality!
Pignoli Cookies (courtesy of Tonina Derosa)
8 oz almond paste
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 medium egg whites, lightly beaten
8 ounces pine nuts
Extra confectioners sugar to finish (note that I don’t do this)
1) Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
2) Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper, or use silicone linings
3) Place the pine nuts in a bowl
4) In a food processor, break the almond paste up into small pieces and then pulse with the sugars and flour until mixture is finely ground
5) Add the egg whites a little at a time, until dough comes together. Depending on the humidity, or the size of your egg whites, you may not always need the entire quantity of egg whites
6) Using a teaspoon and slightly wet hands, scoop up a spoonful of the dough and form into a round with your palms
7) Drop round into pine nuts and roll until lightly coated
8) Arrange on baking surface 2 inches apart
9) Bake 20 to 25 minutes and then cool (note that the baking time may vary depending upon the size of your cookies and how you like them)
10) Dust with confectioners sugar, if desired