Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Cookie To Pine For - Lidia's Pignoli Cookies

Since I am enjoying an uncharacteristically good run of baking success (remember our Apple Cheddar Hand Pies?), I figured I might as well go for broke. This means ... it's test kitchen time! Today, we're baking a classic Italian sweet - the Pignoli Cookie, and it may as well be the ONLY Italian Cookie in the world, because it is just THE BEST. 

Classic Italian Pignoli Cookies, Photo: NK

The word "pignoli" means pine nuts in Italian, and these little nuts provide the key ingredient for our truly sinful cookies made of sweet almond paste and sugar. The combination is pure simplicity, and the taste and texture - well, they're indescribably good. Once I decided to set out to make pignoli cookies, my next conundrum was which recipe to use. What better source to turn to than one of my favorite classic Italian cooks, Lidia Bastianich? She's my go-to for most authentic Italian recipes. 

What To Know:
Almond Paste from Kalustyan's, NYC Photo: NK
As you may have gathered, I consider pignoli cookies to be insanely delicious, but it does bear mentioning that the ingredients required to make them are quite pricey - the pignoli nuts themselves a major culprit in driving up the cost. Buying pignoli nuts in bulk is a good tactic, as they are super versatile in both sweet and savory dishes (use them to top salads or even as an addition to pasta sauces). Lucky for me, my mom hooked me up with a sweet half-pound box of nuts from Pastosa in Brooklyn. The cost was ten dollars, but that's actually a pretty competitive price for these little guys. You can find some good deals on Pignoli Nuts on Amazon. I've also used the Trader Joe's Brand Pignolis available there

The second major ingredient, almond paste, which I purchased at Kalustyan's (an NYC treasure in the form of an amazing spice superstore), wasn't cheap either. Nine dollars a tube to be exact, and this recipe requires two of them! For those of you not located in the New York City area, almond paste (the same stuff used to make marzipan), is readily available in gourmet and specialty food markets. So - pignoli cookies are expensive indeed - but you must trust me that they are worth it. Just a few ingredients and basic steps also means that these cookies are easy to make - even for the baking challenged like myself! Soft and chewy in the middle and studded with crunchy, savory nuts on the outside, they really offer something for everyone. Oh, and they're versatile too; you'll find them a welcome accompaniment to your breakfast coffee as well as a tasty component of any light dessert. A side of hazelnut gelato, anyone? Better yet, their shall we say "special" ingredients make these cookies a fitting hostess or even holiday gift. Did I mention they're the ultimate Christmas cookie? 

Results, Tips & Changes:

Equipment-wise, you'll need a stand mixer with a deep bowl or a large mixing bowl with a hand beater. With Lidia's guidance, my cookies came out positively delectable, however I will note that I cooked them a bit longer than she recommends, as mine seemed a bit less than "springy to the touch" after 15 minutes. I also cut the sugar in half (a half cup of sugar total) and they were perfect. I let them cook about 16 minutes but I would recommend checking them around the 13 minute mark since ovens can vary greatly. When the pine nuts turn golden, they're probably ready. 

Additionally, make sure to let the cookies cool a good 10 minutes before trying to remove them from the parchment paper or the middles will stick. Allowing them to firm up on a drying rack is also key. You could certainly bake these longer for a crunchy cookie if that suits your tastes, but for me, half the goodness of a pignoli cookie is that it is slightly chewy inside. Optionally dust the finished product with confectioners sugar for a more beautiful look! Ok - now we're ready to bake! 

Lidia's Almond Pine Nut Cookies
~Yields up to 30 cookies 
~Text and Recipe from Lidia Bastianich
Original Recipe from - Lidia's Italy

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