Thursday, December 1, 2011

Pignoli Cookies ("Pine Nut Cookies")

Pignoli Cookies (Italian for "Pine Nut Cookies") have a lot of meaning in my family for two reasons:  my Italian mother-in-law makes an incredible pignoli cookie as a Christmas tradition AND they are my 97-year-old grandmother's favorite (my mother's mother--see what bringing two families together can do!).  As my mother-in-law has a more difficult time cooking now, I tend to make more of the family recipes (not all, just more often).  However, as she makes her food without recipes, this is a recipe that I had to find (after watching her bake) and create into my own.  I am still "tweaking" this recipe, but this is what I have been able to "recreate" so far:

Needed:  To make these cookies, you will need a food processor (easiest) or a mixer (still works well).  You will also need parchment paper (which doesn't tend to work well for me, but it might work well for you), a sharp-edged spatula (or the edge of a butter knife might work well), and for some reason, these cookies work best for me when the cookie sheet is newer rather than older (which is why I only make them once a year). 

Ingredients (for 20-24 cookies):

        1  8 oz. can almond paste (made without liquid glucose or syrup)
        1  cup of white granulated sugar
        1/2 cup flour OR powdered sugar
        2 egg whites
       1/4 cup pine nuts (pignoli)

Directions:  1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchement paper (do NOT use foil) or use a newer ungreased cookie sheet. 
                 2.  Break the almond paste into small pieces and either put it into a food processor (if using that) or in a large bowl (if using a hand mixer). 

                               For food processor:  Cover and blend the almost pieces until smooth, then add white
                               sugar gradually.  Add egg whites, process until smooth.  Add flour or powdered sugar
                               gradually until it thickens up the dough a bit. 

                          For hand mixer:  Add egg whites to the bowl of broken up almond paste pieces.  Beat
                          with electric mixer until smooth.  Gradually add sugar, and then either the flour or powdered
                         sugar until combined into a soft dough.

              3.  Although most recipes do not say this, I find that if you let the dough sit for about 15 to 30 minutes, most likely in the refrigerator due to the raw egg whites, the cookies "set up" better. 

               4.  Drop dough by slightly rounded spoonfuls onto the cookie sheet.  Press a few pine nuts into each cookie.  Bake in 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until the edges are firm and the bottom edges are slightly browned.  You don't want these cookies to turn too brown on top.  Take them out when they are a little soft still; they will continue to harden up as they cool. 

               5.  Cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, then use sharp metal spatula (if they stick on parchment paper, dip spatula in hot water first) to slide under the cookies and remove them to another plate to further cool and harden up.  (They have a tendency to fall apart when you first are taking them off of the cookie sheet.)

These cookies are best on the day they are made and can only be out in the open for one day.  You can chill them in the refrigerator for three days or freeze them in layers of wax paper for up to 3 months. 

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