Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pignoli Cookies

Aaannnd we're officially an exact week from Christmas.  This is crazy!  I feel like there were a ton of other desserts that I wanted to experiment with and share with everyone, but time just got the best of me and they didn't end up happening.  At least I did manage to bake up a ton of cookies!  Day 3 of cookie week features one of my all time favorite cookies, the pignoli cookie. 

Pignoli cookies are classic Italian American cookies made with almond paste and sugar that then gets beaten with egg whites and honey, and topped off with pine nuts.  Essentially, they're little Italian macaroons.  The texture is somewhat similar to that of a macaron, because they're slightly crisp on the exterior, yet chewy on the inside.  Since pignoli cookies have a substantial amount of almond paste and pine nuts, two ingredients that can be on the more expensive side, they're seen as special, luxurious little treats that are popular around Christmas time.  I've only ever eaten pignoli cookies around this time of year, which makes them feel like even more of a treat.  

On Monday, I went back to my former internship to say hello to everyone, wish everyone happy holidays, and offer some holiday cookies.  It had been about a month since I was in the office, and it was so nice to get to see everyone again, even if it was for just a short while.  My boss mentioned once that she loves pignoli cookies, so I knew that I had to whip up a batch to surprise her and everyone with.  When she saw the pignoli cookies I brought, her face just lit up.  She seemed so excited! The pignoli cookies went over very well with my boss and everyone else in the office.  Needless to say, the pignoli cookies didn't last very long!

Pignoli cookies are such an easy cookie to make.  This was my very first time making pignoli, and I honestly couldn't believe I had never even looked up how to make them before this past weekend.  The cookie dough comes together so fast- it only takes about ten minutes (not even) to mix up the dough and pipe it into little balls on sheet pans.  The most time consuming/annoying part of the pignoli cookie process is actually the pignoli part itself.  Sticking the little nuts onto the tops of each cookie took what seemed like forever to complete, but in reality, maybe only took me about 5 minutes, so even that part isn't really difficult or too time consuming.  The original recipe for the pignoli cookies suggests breaking down the canned almond paste with the sugar in a food processor, but after making the cookies, I think you could easily get away with breaking it up in a regular stand mixer.  When I make rainbow cookies, which also start out in a similar fashion, by mixing almond paste and sugar together, the paste itself  is beat with the sugar in a stand mixer.  I haven't tried mixing the pignoli cookies using only my stand mixer yet, but I hope to make them again soon and I will update the recipe with my findings. I found it easiest to shape the cookies by placing all of the dough into a disposable piping bag fitted with a large plain round tip (I used an Ateco 807) and piping small rounds of dough onto a Silpat. You'll end up with a small peak of dough at the top, so just use a slightly damp finger to gently push the dough back down.  I highly recommend using a Silpat or other silicone liner for these cookies, as they will ensure that the cookies won't be stuck to the baking sheet once they are baked.

I absolutely loved how these pignoli cookies came out.  They are wonderfully chewy and have such a great flavor from the almonds.  The touch of honey gives them a hint of added flavor.  These pignoli cookies are a perfect match to the authentic cookies you find at Italian-American bakeries.  If you're from New York or New Jersey, you understand what all the pignoli cookie fuss is about.  Make yourself a batch for Christmas and watch these cookies disappear!

Pignoli Cookies
recipe from Epicurious

2 8-ounce cans almond paste
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup pine nuts (pignoli)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and line two baking sheets with silicone liners (I used Silpats).  

Add the almond paste to a food processor and pulse a few times to break up the almond paste into small bits. Add the confectioner's sugar and salt, and pulse until finely ground, and transfer to a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (this can also be potentially made in a stand mixer).

Add the egg whites and honey to the almond mixture, and beat at medium high speed until smooth, about 5 minutes.  The batter will be thick.  Spoon the batter into a large disposable piping bag (if you only have small bags, keep the remaining batter in the mixer bowl covered with a lightly dampened paper towel).  

Pipe 1 inch rounds on the prepared baking sheets (the cookies will not spread very much, if at all, while baking). Use a damp finger to press down the peak that forms at the top of the cookie when the piping bag is pulled away to create a smooth ball.  Press pine nuts onto the tops of the cookies.

Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes, until the bottoms of the cookies are a light golden brown color.  Let the cookies cool slightly on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to allow them to cool completely.  

Makes about 50 cookies


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