Pignoli cookies are some of my husband’s favorite cookies. We buy them at Italian pastry shops whenever we are on the East Coast, but I wanted to learn to make them at home. There are many variations on this cookie depending on whether you want them a little more cake like or more crisp on the outside and soft, chewy and airy on the inside. This recipe is a variation on one made by mother’s childhood friend in New Jersey. I like to make the cookies on the smaller side because they are rich. I get 60 cookies out of a batch when rolling them into marble size balls. You will get fewer cookies if you want them bigger. You can serve the cookies sprinkled with confectioners sugar but for the photo I left them plain so you can see the color you are looking for when baking them. If you are unable to find reasonably priced pine nuts, you can top the cookies with sliced almonds. The cookies will keep just a few days at room temperature but they freeze well between layers of parchment paper. You can defrost them as needed.
Italian Pignoli Cookies
1 (8 oz.) package or can almond paste (I use Solo brand)
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided in half
1 tablespoon flour (plus a little extra for your hands while rolling dough into balls)
pinch of fine salt
2 drops almond extract or to taste
1/4 cup egg whites (roughly 2 eggs depending on their size)
6-8 oz. dry toasted pine nuts (pignoli)
confectioners sugar for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line 3 half-sheet baking pans with parchment paper. Begin by breaking up the almond paste into small pieces and putting it in a food processor bowl. Add to the almond paste half of the granulated sugar, flour, a pinch of salt and almond extract to taste. Pulse until you get a granulated mixture with no almond paste lumps. Transfer the almond paste mixture to a separate bowl. Place egg whites and remaining sugar in the food processor bowl and process until whites are foamy. Then return the almond paste mixture to the food processor and process until the mixture comes together. Place pine nuts in a bowl. Very lightly flour your hands and roll almond paste mixture into marble size balls. Dip dough lightly into the pine nuts and coat one side only. Place pine nut studded cookie dough on baking sheet with nuts facing up. Lightly flour your hands as you continue rolling dough into balls. You can put 24 cookies on each baking sheet. Bake at 300 degrees for 15 minutes then rotate the pan and continue baking 10 more minutes until the cookies are light golden and have spread slightly. Transfer baking sheet to a rack and let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 1-2 minutes. Then transfer cookies to a rack to cool completely. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar just before serving. Makes 5 dozen cookies.