Memories taste sweet and one of the sweetest memories I have is of my Mom’s PIGNOLI COOKIES. Hers were not unique but they were hers and that’s what makes them special. I treasure her recipe box which was really not how she cooked, only certain things were committed to a written recipe. Her cooking was mostly recipes in her head…I wonder where I get that from. This was one of her written ones..the PIGNOLI COOKIE which is the GRAND PRIZE if you landed the one or two that are in all ItalianAmerican cookie platters at the end of a special occasion. Almond paste and Pignoli, the two main ingredients have always been wildly expensive. Most bakeries today sell them for 29.99-35.00 @ lb. Making them at home is much cheaper, but not cheap. Here’s Mom’s recipe card: As with all her written recipes, they are incomplete. Her philosophy was , if you know how to cook, you can fill in the blanks. So there you go. I wanted to make them and went by memory. Too lazy to look for Mom’s card. I remembered it right down to the measurements…pretty scary. I did add 2 other items away from Mom’s recipe, one was 3 tbs. of sifted Unbleached flour and 1/2 tsp. of Pure Vanilla (have we had this talk yet..go to your pantry..if your extract says Imitation, throw it out…buy a bottle of PURE Vanilla. Why are you cooking with fake stuff? Unless you are baking everyday in big quantities the additional cost of the real item is not a burden.) The flour just helps stabilize the mixture, the vanilla I use in baking like one uses lemon in savory cooking. It seems to carry the other flavors and enhance them. That almond essence is just fantastic in these chewy almond macaroons (yeah, they are a form of macaroon).
So what’s the history of this cookie? Marzipan is a very well loved and used ingredient in European confections, North, Central and Southern. In Italy the region that Marzipan or PASTA REALE really is King is Sicily. Certainly the Salento and Puglia have their share of Almond Paste treats, but in Sicily it’s almost a religion. Almonds are a crop for the region and Sicilians include almonds in both their sweet and savory foods. No one knows for sure where this pignoli (which is another hallmark of Sicilian cooking) topped almond macaroon came from. The cookie is also made with slivered almonds on top. Since all research I’ve read points to Sicily, I’m going with that premise.
Notice 2 things in my pictures that I don’t want you to do. First is the foil on the baking sheet. I had no Silpat, no parchment paper. I improvised with lightly greasing a foil lining. In a pinch it works, but you SHOULD use silpat or Parchment. The texture will be better. They are also just a touch darker than they should be. I received a work related call while I was baking them and that extra 2 minutes in the oven created a crispy sort of bottom. They should be soft yet browned so, shut your phone off when you are cooking or risk a potential disaster. Had I not pulled them out when I did they would have become AMARETTI, those toasted almond macaroons, delicious, but not what I was making. Seconds count in cooking and baking!!!
TIME: 45 MINUTES YIELD: 18 COOKIES
8 oz. ALMOND PASTE, cut into small pieces then broken up with a mixer into small pieces
2/3 CUP SUGAR
3 TBS. SIFTED UNBLEACHED FLOUR (omit this is you are looking for GLUTEN FREE)
2 BEATEN EGG WHITES at ROOM TEMPERATURE
1/2 TSP. PURE VANILLA EXTRACT
1 CUP PIGNOLI (PINE NUTS)
CONFECTIONER’S SUGAR FOR DUSTING (Check the labels as not all Confectioner’s Sugar is Gluten Free if you are in need of this to be GF, if not, omit)
SILPAT or PARCHMENT PAPER (Mom used Waxed Paper, but I think Parchment is a better choice)
Let’s start baking. Pre heat oven to 325 F. To the already mixed up Almond paste (you can use a food processor too) add the sugar. Mix well, Then add the flour. Mix well. Should look like this: Now add the eggs and vanilla and mix just until the mixture comes together. It will be a sticky dough so don’t be alarmed at that. It should hold a small ball shape. Empty the nuts into a bowl. Now, roll 18 equal sized small balls, i guess a teaspoon full is good. Eyeball this folks, just keep them equal size. That’s also how things bake properly and at the same time. Dip one side of the ball into the bowl of Pignoli. Then place them on the Silpat or Parchment Paper lined baking sheet. Use heavy baking sheets if you can. Less chance of burning will occur. When they are all lined up, with room in between place them into the oven on the middle rack. looking at the foil is killing me. But, honesty in cooking and blogging so there you go.. DON’T USE FOIL!! Bake them for 15 minutes. Then place them in the top rack and bake for addition 5 minutes only. USE YOUR HEADS HERE!! If they look too brown or brown enough don’t do the 5 extra minutes. Every oven is calibrated differently…so use the common sense adjustment for making these. Your eyes are your biggest cooking implement. When you remove them let them sit for 3-4 minutes, then gently transfer them with a spatula to a cooling rack. Let them cook for 1/2 hour. My phone call created those over toasted pignoli on the cookies and the darker ring around the base. No phone calls.. Let it ring. That’s what voicemail is for. Now dust them with Confectioner’s Sugar. If not serving them right away no sugar dusting until you are serving. MAKE SURE THEY ARE STORED IN AIR TIGHT CONTAINERS!!! You will get that wonderful soft and chewy texture then. Like that!! Even with my extended accidental baking time they were wonderfully PIGNOLI COOKIE textured. I can hear my Mom exclaim ” AI’PIGNUL” spoken as Ai PEENYOOL…dialect Italian… That makes this blog and recipe much more personal for me, and so, for you too. You are baking an HEIRLOOM recipe, as much as that overused buzzword can be thrown around, it makes perfect sense here. With anticipation I would watch my Mom remove the Marzipan (Almond Paste) from the plastic covered tubes (Odense was the brand she used) and steal a chunk or two of it before she continued with the rest of the recipe. Food memories make for better tasting food. GRAZIE MOM for this gift, her recipe is like a million others but I have the proof in my hands and her handwriting. And now I pass it on to you. Happy Baking! Happy Eating!!