Treat your friends and family this holiday with these delicious Italian pignoli cookies. Nutty almond paste and pine nuts will make these the most luxurious cookies at your dessert table!
I inadvertently started my own tradition of baking a new Italian cookie every year for the holidays. You may remember last year’s Italian almond Christmas cookies. Still a favorite! This year I took on the oh so luxurious pignoli cookie.
Pignoli—or pine nut—cookies are a popular holiday cookie from Southern Italy—namely Sicily. They are extremely soft and chewy with a nutty amaretto flavor. They’re also popular in places with large Italian communities, like New York.
Phil Cabibi, a family friend of my boyfriend’s family (try to keep up) who is from New York, makes these cookies every year. After hearing how amazing they are on a handful of different occasions, I had to try them.
When Phil was a kid, his grandmother bought pignoli cookies from an Italian bakery in Brooklyn and they would devour them. The ingredients are pretty expensive, so you generally only see them around the holidays. But go grab your piggy bank because these babies are worth every penny!
Having never made—or even tasted—a pignoli cookie before, I naturally wanted to nail them my first try. So I refused to test any recipes until I got ahold of Phil’s. I already knew his cookies were insanely good via my boyfriend’s rave reviews. Plus he inherited the recipe from his Sicilian mother. Needless to say, I trusted the quality.
These cookies are fun to make because the techniques feel slightly more sophisticated than your average cookie. They are still extremely easy to pull off. The trick to nailing them is having the right ingredients—Solo almond paste and a plethora of pine nuts. And the right tools—a stand mixer (or food processor) and a pastry bag. The dough for this recipe gets sticky, so you’ll use the pastry bag to pipe the cookies.
Very pastry chefesque.
If you have a store like Costco accessible, pick up an extra shift at work and invest in a large bag of pine nuts. You can freeze what you don’t use! The goal is to get as many pine nuts your budget allows. Phil studs his cookies with even more pine nuts than I did. And like I’ve said before, sometimes more is more.
He insists on using canned Solo almond paste (now comes in a box) for this recipe. I went to three different stores to find it because I didn’t want to deviate from the original recipe. Yes, I know I preach about ditching the recipe, but there are times not to. And that includes your first attempt at making any Italian pastry or baked good. It’s important to know what a traditional cookie tastes like before tweaking it.
I actually tested a batch of cookies with Odense almond paste after the Solo brand was gone because I already had it at the house, but the dough was very loose and the cookies turned out flat. Super disappointing. So I have to back Phil up on the brand—the life or death of this cookie may depend on it.
If you can’t find Solo almond paste at your local grocery store, you can purchase it on Amazon—it’s probably cheaper!
These cookies are extremely chewy, yet soft and delicate in texture. They have a bold, nutty flavor from the almond paste and slightly toasted pine nuts. If you’ve never tried or even heard of pignoli cookies, do yourself a favor and try this recipe—you will not be disappointed!
Princess Leona (above) agrees.
SOFT + CHEWY ITALIAN PIGNOLI COOKIES
Makes 40 cookies
- 2 8-oz boxes (or cans) Solo almond paste (brand is important)
- 1 1/8 cups sugar
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1/8 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 4 large egg whites, divided into small separate bowls
- powdered sugar
- pine nuts, large bag from Costco (or as many as your budget allows)
Pull eggs out 30 minutes before baking to come up to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
In a stand mixer (or food processor) mix almond paste and sugar until nice and crumbly. Mix in honey, cinnamon, and vanilla until combined. Mix in one egg white at a time, letting each one fully combine into batter before adding another. Dough will be sticky.
Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper. To easily transfer dough to pastry bag, set bag in a large mason jar and spread the opening of the bag over the top of the jar. Scoop dough into the bag using a spatula. You can use a gallon-size Ziplock if you don’t have a pastry bag.
Pipe cookies the size of a 1/2 dollar. Aim for 20 cookies per tray or 10-15 cookies if using smaller trays. You want 40 cookies in total. If there is dough left over after 40, build on top of existing cookies.
Sprinkle pine nuts all over the tops of the cookies and gently press into the dough. Your fingers may get sticky, so keep a small bowl of warm water handy to rinse them off. Make sure to press any stray nuts back into the cookie—they will kind of stick like glue. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and let sit out to dry for one hour.
Bake for 16-20 minutes. The cookies are a little difficult to judge when they’re done because they never get a truly golden color, but try to use your best judgement. If they look a little too doughy, leave them in a couple more minutes.
Remove and let cool slightly. Place cookies (on sheet) into freezer for one hour. Peel cookies off parchment paper or remove with a spatula if they stick. Dust with extra powdered sugar before serving..
Note from Phil: If you freeze the cookies after they are made, they will last a year in the freezer and will taste as fresh as when you made them.