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!
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.
– 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.