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These Italian pignoli cookies are so easy yet so impressive. Their crisp exterior is covered in soft, buttery pine nuts but the interior stays chewy and velvety thanks to the almond paste base, just like you’d get at an Italian bakery.
Some of my favorite holiday experiences from my childhood and adulthood center around Italian holiday traditions, since I grew up with Italian immigrant grandparents, as did my husband. When we found ourselves as two adults blending traditions, we both discovered brand new foods, experiences, and “good luck” rituals.
One of my favorite discoveries was pignoli cookies, which are an Italian classic and my personal holiday favorite that feature a chewy almond paste interior and a crunchy pine nut exterior. While they are an Italian delicacy and look like they’d be an intense cookie to make, it’s actually a really easy cookie recipe and sure to become a family favorite in your house, too!
Has all this talk of cookies made you hungry? Craving ALL the Italian sweets or looking for a new traditional Italian cookie recipe? Well you’ll be happy to know I’ve shared a few of my favorite recipes over the years.
First off, If you haven’t tried honey walnut cookie sticks (aka sfratti) yet, then today is the day, my friends! Oh, and you can’t forget about my take on tiramisu brownies, and of course a crisp and traditional Italian anise biscotti. It’s perfect for enjoying with a steamy cup of coffee.
WHAT ARE PIGNOLI COOKIES?
Pignoli cookies are a classic Italian cookie recipe that can be found in any Italian bakery worth their salt! They are chewy and soft on the inside, with a golden exterior that is encrusted in toasted pine nuts.
Made with almond paste and egg white, the soft cookie batter is rolled in pine nuts before baking just until the edges are beginning to brown. This makes for a sweet and salty cookie that has a surprisingly chewy center that feels underdone to those who have never had the pleasure of enjoying one.
This pignoli cookie recipe (known as “Amaretti con Pignoli” in Italian, translating to “Italian almond-flavored cookies with pine nuts” en English) is an authentic Italian treat. These cookies are most popular during holidays, but work well year round either on their own or with some espresso.
The truly wonderful thing about pignoli cookies is how short and simple the ingredient list is. There are just 6 ingredients needed to make this classic Italian cookie recipe, and you’ll be surprised how quickly they come together.
When you’re baking with just a few ingredients you may notice that the quality of ingredients are more important to the results when compared to a typical cookie recipe. That’s true for these too, although it’s less about the quality of a basic ingredient (like powdered sugar for example), and rather about using high-quality ingredients you may not be totally familiar with.
Enter: almond paste and pine nuts.
You’ve probably encountered pine nuts if you’ve ever made your own pesto, or if you’re particularly fond of salads with lots of crunchy toppings. They are on the pricey side and one of the most expensive nuts, but when it comes to pignoli cookies, I promise the extra cost is worth it.
That’s because pignoli cookies are typically special occasion cookies. They are very popular during holidays throughout the year, and are a staple item at Italian bakeries.
So although it can be a bit of a splurge to indulge in these tiny treasures’ expensive ingredients, it’s totally worth it and they absolutely make the cookie!
Keep in mind that by making these cookies at home rather than purchasing them you’re already saving a ton. And I promise you this: the bakeries definitely skimp a bit on the pine nuts, which we are absolutely not going to do here today.
So more pine nuts, fewer dollars? Sign me up!
Another high-quality ingredient that we use in this pignoli cookie recipe is almond paste. This can be purchased in the baking aisle of many grocery stores and is super easy to find at baking specialty shops, Italian markets, and online (of course).
Almond paste is a very common ingredient in Italian (and European) cookies, pastries, and desserts in general. It’s a soft, creamy blend of ground almonds, powdered sugar, and egg white and it really brings almond cookies to a whole new level (more so than almond extract, which you already know I love early!).
Once blanched almonds are ground, they are mixed with sugar and egg white. After they make a paste-like, consistency they are formed into blocks or logs and packaged. Those logs then can easily be cut and portioned to add to your favorite Italian desserts.
Although almond paste is sometimes confused with marzipan, the two are pretty different in both taste and texture.
The main differences are that marzipan is often used for cake decorating, as its high sugar content allows it to easily be molded. While almond paste is more typically used in the baked goods themselves, where it adds a lovely almond flavor, a bit of sweetness, and the most amazing texture.
Like I said earlier, this recipe for these authentic Italian pine nut cookies is just 6 simple ingredients, two of which are pine nuts and almond paste.
So what else goes into this easy recipe? You’ll need powdered sugar, vanilla extract, salt, and a single egg white. See? Super simple.
HOW TO MAKE PIGNOLI COOKIES
Before you get started on this pignoli cookies recipe, make sure to prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper OR a silicone baking mat. If you want to bake all of your cookies at once prep two sheets, but if you don’t mind working in two batches one is fine.
Preheat your oven to 350ºF (177ºC) and fill a small bowl with your pine nuts. This ensures they are ready to go when the time comes. And yesssss, you can totally sneak a few as long as no one is watching. But remember that they are pricey so be careful!
USE A FOOD PROCESSOR TO MAKE THE DOUGH
Although almond paste is soft, it still does require some work to break down into the smooth consistency we need to make pignoli cookies. Rather than enduring a tiresome battle with a hand mixer, I highly recommend using the bowl of a food processor to make the dough.
Using a food processor cuts out the elbow grease factor, and really makes the perfect consistency dough for these classic Italian cookies.
You basically just add all of the ingredients into the food processor and pulse until smooth. How easy is that? You can totally make these impressive-looking cookies.
Just make sure you cut or break apart the almond paste into smaller chunks, then place it in the food processor along with the powdered sugar, vanilla extract, salt, and egg while.
Use the manual pulse function to break everything down until the dough comes together. I recommend that you open the processor and scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice. This will give you the smoothest consistency possible and ensure all of the ingredients are combined.
ROLL THE DOUGH IN PINE NUTS
Once your dough has come together, you’re ready to get scooping! I highly recommend using a cookie scoop to get consistent-sized cookies– I use this #50 cookie scoop for all of my standard-size cookies, which yields about a Tablespoon of dough.
Scoop and drop one portion of dough into a bowl of pine nuts. Then use your fingers to gently roll the dough in the pine nuts. You can use your hands to place pine nuts in bare spots, but gently rolling should put pretty good placement around the ball of dough.
The sticky dough will pick up the pine nuts as you roll it, but if you’re having trouble getting them to stick, you can use your hands to place pine nuts in bare spots.
The goal is to have one side of the dough covered in pine nuts. You don’t need to roll the bottoms in the pine nuts, too.
Place each coated cookie on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining cookie dough. Just remember that you want to space these out evenly, and avoid crowding the baking sheet. I recommend placing no more than 8 cookies on a single baking sheet.
BAKE THE PIGNOLI COOKIES
Once your cookies have been scooped, coated in pine nuts, and placed on the baking sheet, you’re ready to get baking!
Bake the cookies for 16-18 minutes, or until they are puffy and lightly browned around the edges. Then allow the cookies to cool completely on the baking sheet before transferring them to a cooling rack.
Pignoli cookies are somewhat fragile when they are still very warm, so it’s best to give them a chance to cool down and set up a bit before moving them around too much. Trust me– it’s worth the wait!
You will notice that the centers may feel a bit “undone,” but this is totally ok! In fact, it’s part of the charm of pignoli cookies. They have a crunchy, nutty exterior that envelopes a deliciously soft middle. It’s how they become one of your favorite cookies. They just casually draw you in with an unsuspecting and delicious center.
If you have any leftovers (and that’s a big “if”), they store easily at room temperature. In fact, I recommend storing them at room temperature to preserve their deliciously unique texture.
As long as your cookies are wrapped tightly, they will store at room temperature for up to 5 days.
If you want to freeze the cookies instead, you can absolutely do that. They freeze like a dream. All you have to do is add the completely cooled cookies to a freezer bag, label them, and add to the freezer. They keep like this for up to 3 months– just thaw them at room temperature when you’re ready to enjoy.
WHY DOES THE INSIDE SEEM UNDERDONE?
Something that seems to surprise people when they try their first pignoli cookie is that they seem underdone in the middle. This is completely typical for this cookie, and it is part of their charm (who doesn’t love a little surprise?).
The chewy insides enveloped by a toasty, nutty exterior is the quintessential Italian experience. I assure you– it’s totally ok and you’re going to come to love it really quick. Promise.
You might even add this amazing pignoli cookie to your go-to list thanks to its ease of production, texture dream come true, and unique nutty flavor combination. And you may also have a hard time sharing…
If you’re enjoying my 12 days of cookies (so far) this year, you have to check out some of the recipes I’ve shared in years past. A few of my favorites include easy Christmas Oreos, classic snickerdoodles (I also have a chewy version), and these no chill Andes mint cookies. Which one do you want to try next?
Pignoli Cookies Recipe
- 7 ounces (198g) almond paste
- ½ cup (60g) powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg white
- ½ cup (70g) pine nuts
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF (177ºC). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and set aside.
- Cut or break apart the almond paste and place into the bowl of a food processor. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla extract, salt, and egg white and pulse until smooth.
- Place the pine nuts in a medium size bowl, then, using a cookie scoop (I use this #50 cookie scoop for all of my standard size cookies), drop one ball of dough into the bowl of pine nuts. Use your fingers to gently roll the dough around in the pine nuts. The dough will be soft and sticky, so the pine nuts should stick well, but if they don't, use your fingers to gently press them into the cookie dough. You do not need to roll the bottoms of the cookie dough balls in the pine nuts.
- Repeat with the rest of the dough, placing no more than 8 cookies on one prepared baking sheet. Bake the pignoli cookies for 16-18 minutes or until they are puffed and lightly browned around the edges. Allow cookies to cool completely on the baking sheet before moving them to a wire cooling rack to cool completely. Cookies will look and feel underdone in the centers, and this is ok. Store leftovers covered tightly at room temperature up to 5 days. Cookies freeze well, up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature.
All nutritional values are approximate and provided to the reader as a courtesy. Changing ingredients and/or quantities will alter the estimated nutritional calculations.
My Grandma used to make these cookies and I haven’t had them in years, just like hers! Thank you!
Thank YOU! 🙂
I couldn’t wait to try these cookies and knew they were going to be amazing but couldn’t believe how amazing. These cookies will be on my cookie trays for now on!
They are SO GOOD! Thanks, Julie!
I’m always on the lookout for cookies that are new to me, and these are so interesting! The flavor isn’t like any other. Thanks!
Thanks so much, Megan!
My friend LOVES pine nuts and I had to resist sending this to her so I can surprise her with a batch on her birthday. They look amazing and easy!
So so good and so simple!
Excellent recipe! Making it again this weekend!
Thank you so much!
This is the best pignoli recipe I have tried to date! I’ve made a lot of pignoli too! Couldn’t find one like my mom’s. This is it. Thanks so much for posting…..
Thank you so much, Jeannette!
Super yummy and easy!
Thanks so much, Amanda 🙂