Italian Pine Nut Cookies
Pignoli, an Italian tradition, are not ordinary cookies. They are made of mostly almond paste with very little flour, are chewy and dense and intensely flavored of almonds, and are lavishly encrusted with pine nuts. Make them small as they are very rich – and the ingredients are costly.
8 oz. almond paste – not almond filling, not almond paste from a tube
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup flour
dash of salt
2 egg whites
1/2 tsp almond flavoring
1/2 pound pine nuts (or blanched chopped almonds)
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Mix the almond paste and the sugar in a mixer or food processor until blended. Add the egg whites and mix again until thoroughly blended. This dough is difficult to handle, but if you keep it cold it is much easier to handle. Place dough in the freezer, and cover it if it will be in the freezer more than a few hours. Remove the dough from the freezer and scoop it out in rounded teaspoonfuls onto a plate. They do not need to be spaced apart, and you can pile them on top of each other up to two layers deep. Re-freeze. Remove from freezer and roll each bit of dough between your palms into smooth round balls. Re-freeze again. Put the pine nuts into a bowl and a fresh clean plate next to it. This is your work station. Have a fork ready to pull the dough balls off the plate if needed. Bring the frozen dough balls out of the freezer and place at your work station. Re-roll the balls if needed to round them up a bit, then drop into the bowl of pine nuts. Press the nuts onto the surface of the ball, pressing firmly to be sure they are embedded, then put the pretty nut-studded ball onto the plate. Repeat until all the balls are thickly coated with pine nuts. You should have about 1/4 cup of pine nuts left over, which you can use for other purposes (sprinkle over salads, etc.).
Refrigerate until firm. Cover them if they will be refrigerated for more than a few hours.
To bake, preheat oven to 350, bring the cookies out of the refrigerator and place on a cookie sheet (return the remaining unbaked cookies to the refrigerator). The cookies do not spread much while baking, but you want to be sure to give each one plenty of room. Immediately place the cold cookies into the oven. Bake for 18-21 minutes until edges just begin to turn brown – the center should still be soft. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.
Baked Pignoli Gems can be frozen for up to 3 months.
Makes 24 Pignoli Gems.
Use small cellophane bags and cut off the bottom so it becomes a tube. Put one cookie inside and tie off each end with a rubber band. Cover the rubber band with a ribbon, and finish with a scallop, diamond or oval tag.