Soft and chewy Italian pignoli cookies require only five ingredients, making them super easy to put together! Also, they are naturally gluten-free since they are made from almond paste and egg whites. And, of course, pine nuts, since pignoli means pine nuts in Italian!
Here is my third sweet recipe for the week, thus concluding my week of Christmas treats. For this week’s other sweet treats, check out my recipes for ricotta cannoli dip and fresh cranberry cookies!
Years ago I was looking for more Italian cookie recipes to make for Christmas, and I came across a recipe for Italian pignoli cookies. They sounded interesting, and I love trying something new, so I baked up a batch. However, that first recipe I tried only had a couple of pine nuts on top.
Not much of a pignoli cookie, yes?
It was basically an almond cookie with a little decoration. Not a bad cookie, but not what I was looking for.
A little more looking about, and I ending doing what I should have done in the first place. Which is to see if Lidia Bastianich had a recipe. 🙂 I love her cooking and she is definitely a favorite source of mine for Italian recipes.
Of course she did, and soon I had chewy, simple cookies which merited the name pignoli sitting on my cooling rack! Since these cookies were perfect already, I didn’t need to make changes to the recipe. The only difference between my recipe and hers, is that I love a little powdered sugar over the top. I think it makes them look a little more festive.
What do you think?
How do you make Italian pignoli cookies?
To make Italian pignoli cookies blend almond paste with sugar, egg whites, and orange zest. Form the dough into balls, roll in pine nuts, and bake the cookies until lightly browned.
- Break up the almond paste in a food processor.
- Add the sugar and pulse to combine.
- Add the egg whites and orange zest.
- Process to make a smooth dough.
- Roll the dough into balls and press into the pine nuts.
- Bake until golden then dust with confectioners’ sugar.
Start by putting the almond paste in the food processor and pulse until it’s broken up. You don’t want a big block of almond paste or the rest of the ingredients won’t combine properly.
Tip: Almond paste! Not marzipan. Make sure you buy the right one.
Then add the sugar and you see in the photo that it will like a bit like cornmeal once you’ve pulse the two together a few times. Now you’re going to bring it all together into a dough by adding egg whites. And orange zest for flavor!
Once you have a nice, smooth dough portion it out into 24 pieces and roll each into a ball. Roll each ball in the pine nuts on one side only. That way the pine nuts are on the top looking pretty while the bottom is smooth.
Arrange the cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 350F for about 15 minutes, or until golden.
Tip: No processor? If you have a hand mixer, add the egg whites to the bowl and, with the mixer running, add the almond paste bit by bit until it’s all combined. Then beat in the sugar and orange zest. Once you have the dough, continue with the recipe.
What is the difference between almond paste and marzipan?
There are two main differences between almond paste and marzipan.
- Sweetness – marzipan has more sugar than almond paste. Almond paste is true to its name and has almost twice the amount of almonds per ounce as marzipan.
- Texture – almond paste has a courser texture while marzipan is very smooth.
Basically, marzipan is meant to be used by itself, dyed and molded into shapes. While almond paste is meant to be used in baked goods and as fillings.
How to store pignoli cookies
Store pignoli cookies at room temperature in an airtight container for up to one week. If you need to layer the cookies on top of each other, use sheets of wax paper or parchment between each of the layers.
Can you freeze pignoli cookies?
Yes, pignoli cookies can also be frozen. To freeze pignoli cookies, set them in a single layer on a parchment or wax paper lined tray. Put them in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer them to a sealed bag or container. For best flavor, use them within 4-5 weeks.
To thaw, take them out of the container/bag and let them thaw at room temp on the counter. You can even put them in a low oven, about 250F, for a few minutes to perk them up if needed.
Christmas cookie ideas
In addition to my cranberry cookies, which I linked above, I do have a few favorite Christmas cookies here on the site.
If you love a bar cookie, I have salted chocolate bourbon pecan pie bars (which are as awesome as they sound!) and apple crisp bars with butterscotch sauce. For more traditional cookies, try my pecan snowball cookies (a perennial favorite), chocolate coated almond stuffed cookies, or my Italian ricotta cookies. No matter what, you can’t go wrong!
If you try my recipe for Italian Pignoli Cookies, I would love to hear from you in the comments with your experience and rating! And I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.
You can connect with me by subscribing to my emails (see the form in the sidebar or below the recipe card), liking my FACEBOOK page, or by following me on PINTEREST.
– Happy Baking, Annemarie
Lidia's Italian Pignoli Cookies
- 14-16 oz almond paste
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large egg whites
- 2 tsp orange zest
- 1 1/4 cup pine nuts
- confectioners' sugar for dusting, optional
- Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Break up the almond paste a bit into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the paste has been transformed into small crumbs. Add the sugar and pulse a few more times. The almond paste will be the texture of cornmeal.
- Add the egg whites and orange zest. Process to make a smooth dough, about 30 seconds.
- Pour the pine nuts into a wide bowl. Divide the dough into 24 portions, each will be about 2 tablespoons.
- Roll each cookie into a ball and then drop it into the pine nuts so that one side of the cookie is covered in pine nuts and one side has none. Flip the cookie out of the pine nuts and onto the baking sheet so that the side with the pine nuts faces up.
- Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes and then transfer the cookies to a cooling rack.
- Once the cookies are cool, dust them with confectioners' sugar.
- Cookies will keep for up to one week.
- The nutritional information is an estimate and is included for informational purposes only. Please make your own calculations using your specific ingredients if you need an accurate calorie count.
- I include a range of amounts for almond paste since I find either 8 oz cans or 7 oz tubes, depending on which market I'm visiting. Either works just fine in the recipe.
- Make sure you use almond paste and NOT marzipan.
- Don't skip the parchment! The cookies are sticky and will stick to your baking sheet.
- Recipe adapted from Lidia Bastianich.
I followed the recipe to a “T”. The cookies came out just like the cookies from my favorite Italian bakery at home.and the cookies I got when I was in Italy.
Just made these and here is my experience, suggestions and request for advice.
I don’t have food processor. So I tried to McGiver it by using a blender. Don’t try it. Epic fail. It’s okay. I tried using my mixer next. Almond paste started flying at me and around my kitchen. Ahem, another fail. But I don’t give up easily. I tried to break up almond paste by hand. But it behaved like playdoh. But, I knew I was on to something. Added all the sugar and broke up almond paste between my fingers making sure sugar was always coating it. Ding, ding, ding! A winner. It took a while. But eventually, I had a full bowl of coarse grainy almond meal that wasn’t turning back into a solid hard block when I pushed in together. But, it was moldable. Then, I added the eggs and used the mixer to incorporate. When I saw mixer did as much as it could do, I pulled the mixture out of the bowl and kneaded it a few times between my hands to see if it felt uniformly mixed. I’m sure before the days of all these appliances, this is what people did. So, I went with it. Recipe states it makes 24 cookies. Okay. I put dough on a nonstick cutting board. And if you are asking, dough is soft, a little gritty and a little sticky. But, it doesn’t stick to your hands like it does to everything else it touched. I gently pressed dough into an even rectangle and scored it into 24 equally sized cubes. Then, I just picked each one up and rolled them into balls. Then, I went back to following recipe as stated… except for cooking time.
My oven cooks everything faster. Not these cookies. It took 28 minutes before they reached that pretty golden-edged color that pignoli cookies achieve. The pine nuts barely had color on top. So, use your eyes to judge when cookies are ready. At 15 minutes, mine were still dropping out of that balled shape into the nice flat-bottomed dome-topped beauties they should be. DO let them rest in pan for five minutes before moving. They will release perfectly from parchment. DO use almond paste and DO NOT use almond paste filling. Two completely different things.
I would like to know if anyone has tinkered with recipe adding vanilla and/or almond extract or even frangelico to the mixture. I want more almond flavor. Just personal taste.
I wish I could post photo. These looked beautiful and hubby says they are the best pignoi cookies he ever had. And pignoli cookies are his favorite. So, high praise. Thanks for the recipe.
My family loves them. I only had small processor so I had to half the recipe. I put dough in fridge about 15 mi utes to make it a bit easier to work with. I also sprayed parchment paper with non stick spray and the bottoms came out crisp and didn’t stick.
Autumn Colley says
They only had 7 oz tubes of almond paste at $8 a pop. I bought only two, tho the recipe calls for 16 oz. But being so expensive, I figured I’d just cut a little sugar out. But I forgot to cut part of the egg white out. My dough ended up being sticky and slimy, so much that I had to just wing it. They turned out. But I know next time, that I’ll just have to suck up those extra 2 oz out of another $8 7 oz tube to make it right. I think that’s why people’s dough probably was sticky. Too much egg white. They still taste good tho.
Huh. Maybe. I’ve never once had a problem with the recipe, but people seem to be having more issues recently than they had in the past. Maybe it’s egg whites or maybe manufacturers have changed their almond paste. I unfortunately don’t have time to troubleshoot the recipe right now but it’s on my list for after Christmas.
I made two separate batches this year, with two different brands of almond paste. Exactly the same recipe otherwise. The first batch was perfect – the second was way too sticky and stayed that way in the middle even after baking. It’s definitely the almond paste! Unfortunately I don’t remember the brands used, but some definitely are too moist.
I’ve made this recipe in the past and I think you are right about the almond paste changing. Mine did not crumble at all in the food processor this time. The paste was very sticky out of the package and did not crumble. They still came out ok, but it was a huge mess to deal with the dough.
Milo's dad says
Ended up being a really sticky, oozy mess of a dough. Batter seems more of an appropriate word. After some trial and error I used spoons to get the batter onto parchment paper and then spooned some pine nuts on to each puddle of goo. Thanks to the consistency of the batter I think the cooking times were off so with the recipe time as stated, the insides were raw while the outsides were cooked okay, I left the other pan in a little longer in order to cook the insides but the bottoms were definitely burned with this method. They tasted okay when dusted with powdered sugar.
I think the issue lies in the brand of almond paste. I used Odense almond paste off Amazon. When I pulsed it in the food processor I noted that the consistency was definitely not like dry cornmeal. Instead it was more putty like. I suspect the added moisture messed up the pre-cook consistency and then affected the cook time. I think the key to getting this recipe right would probably be to add almond flour to the mix as someone else asked or to more likely use different almond paste. Quite frustrating to see expensive ingredients not make a highly rated recipe as others have clearly enjoyed, but a lesson learned.
Good luck everyone.
Can I cut down some of the sugar?
I never have so I can’t give you any advice, sorry. If you try, let me know how it comes out.
Great recipe easy to make I may want to reduce sugar to half see if that calms sweetness thanks again
Wonderful! It is very sweet though I’m not sure how less sugar will affect the mix. Good luck.
Help! This is my second time trying this recipe and I’m using almond paste but the dough is so liquid! And, yes, my first try turned out really sticky and we couldn’t eat them. Help! Should I add almond flour?
I have no idea. I’ve made this recipe dozens of times over the years and it has always looked like the photos in the recipe – not at all liquidy. Are you doing anything different? Any changes in ingredients? What brand of almond paste are you using?
Same experience here. “Dough” is a sticky liquid. Had it in fridge for an hour but still runny, no way i could roll this into balls. Used Solo almond paste from a can, saw that brand recommended elsewhere. Will try putting it in the freezer to see if I can make use of it. Pine nuts were $9 a bag, this kind of sucks.
Solo is what I usually use (the paste not the filling right? – you need the paste) Did you make any changes at all to the recipe? I’m scratching my head. As for the pine nuts, you haven’t used them in the cookies yet so you can put them in the freezer for the future.
Must be an ingredient missing. These were so gooey and sticky even after baking I couldn’t get them off the parchment without completely mangling them. I waited 5 minutes before doing so as the recipe stated. Most expensive cooking mistake I have made. Pine nuts and almond paste are quite expensive.
I’m so sorry you forgot an ingredient! I can’t think of which it would be to cause such a mess.
Can it be rolled in another nut vs pine nuts?
Certainly. Try chopped walnuts or pecans if pine nuts are not your thing.
These are absolutely delicious!! They turn out great every time. My family loves them. My husband said he’d rather have these than a cake for his birthday!
I’m glad everyone enjoys them! 🙂
Peggy Pellicano says
These were the best Pignoli cookies! Recipe is spot on! I am originally from the Bronx & have tried many recipes – this is the real deal! Thank you for sharing! They came out absolutely perfect!
Awesome! And thanks for the feedback.
Carolyn DeBellis says
Just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed making and eating the Pineoli cookies.
I make struggle, honeyballs,rainbow cookies every Ch And Easter.
I don’t have any fancy machines only my hand mixer ( about 40+ years old) and I was so pleased you had a hand mixer side note.
Thank You very very much for the side note.
Again, thank you the cookies were delicious!!
My husband family comes from Naples, Calabraze and mother Siciliano.
My father in law taught me to cook, his Aunt to bake.
Yes, they had machines!!
God’s Blessings and healthy new year 🙏🏻🌹
I know not everyone has a mixer and I grew up using only a hand mixer myself! Blessings to you too. 🙂
Sheila Olcott says
I’m so excited as pignoli cookies are my favorite. I tried making these a few years back with a different recipe and they were a complete expensive fail. I made these tonight and followed Lydia’s recipe exactly and they are fabulous!! I wouldn’t change a thing!!
Wonderful! I’m glad you enjoyed them!
Can you add cocoa powder to this recipe or something to make chocolate pignoli cookies? I want to make these original ones as well but wondered if I could.also make chocolate ones.
Maybe?? I’ve never tried it myself, but it is certainly worth mixing in a tablespoon or two of cocoa and see how it goes. Thinking about the recipe, I’d probably reduce the almond paste by a bit to keep the dough about the same. If you try it, please come back and let me know how it goes!
Taryn Mele says
These were very easy to make and tasted great! I used a small cookie scoop and rolled into 1-inch balls and cooked them for about 10-11 minutes. I got about 35 cookies out of it. A new favorite for my husband.
Wonderful! I’m glad you and your husband enjoyed them!