Easy Italian Pignoli Cookies (Pine Nut Cookies) are chewy and slightly crunchy Sicilian cookies. Made with almond paste, fluffy egg whites, a touch of flour, and coated with pine nuts, and baked until they are lightly golden. So easy to make and just as good as you'll find in the best bakery!
Why you'll love Italian pine nut cookies?
- Simple to make: If you're a beginner baker, this is a good recipe to try, as it's not too difficult to make!
- Better than a bakery: This recipe is truly the best pignoli cookie recipe! Baking your own pignoli cookies from scratch is better (and more econonical)than a bakery!
- Versatile cookies: Perfect for the Christmas cookie tray. But also make the best sweet treat to enjoy with a cup of coffee cappuccino, hot tea, even with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!
- Freeze nicely: Make these cookies in advance and freeze. They defrost really quickly and make great gifts!
- Nonna's recipe: The most important reason. They are nonna's recipe and they are just delicious! You may have to double the recipe. They'll disappear quickly!
- Why you'll love Italian pine nut cookies?
- What are pignoli cookies?
- What is the best almond paste?
- Is there flour in authentic pignoli cookies?
- Fluffy egg whites in pignoli cookies
- What are pignoli cookie ingredients?
- How to make pine nut Italian cookies?
- Make ahead options for homemade pignoli cookies:
- Expert tips authentic Sicilian cookie recipes:
- Variations and substitutions for soft Italian cookies:
- What to serve with cookies with pine nuts?
- How to store pignoli cookies?
- Some other cookie recipes to enjoy:
- Easy Italian Pignoli Cookies (Pine Nut Cookies)
It's taken a while to gather up nonna's recipes, but finally I get to add another classic recipe from my Sicilian childhood here with all of you! You have definitely been enjoying over the years my Sicilian "S" cookies and my Cuccidati-Sicilian fig cookies. This Italian Christmas Cookie Recipe makes a great addition to your Christmas cookie tray.
Just one bite of these delicately flavored almond cookies that are lightly crunchy with pine nuts will take you away to Sicily. These cookies are dairy-free and can be made gluten-free (recipe as it is has only a little bit of flour). Growing up, they were a staple at every Italian family we visited during the holidays.
These Sicilian recipes were all part of a sentimental collection I started when my dear dad passed away 11 years ago. If you want to check out other recipes, take a look at the Project Sicilia area of our blog.
You will find that my pignoli cookies are not overly sweet, but sweet enough. And if you've only ever bought them at an Italian bakery for $30 a pound and more, once you'll bake these, you'll never buy them again!
This Italian Christmas Cookie Recipe makes a great addition to your Christmas cookie tray. My brother took a bite of one of the cookies just baked and said, "I remember this from growing up and Christmas time. These are amazing!". Yes, these cookies truly are amazing! Let's get onto the recipe!
Before getting onto this incredible recipe, we'll go over a few things.
What are pignoli cookies?
Pignoli Cookies (Amaretti con Pignoli) are a classic Sicilian cookie made with granulated sugar, almond paste, egg whites, and pignoli. These cookies bring me back to so many childhood memories. They were always at holiday parties no matter what Italian family was hosting us.
Almond paste, egg whites and a little flour are the base of these cookies. If you search around the States for pignoli cookie recipes, they do not add flour.
What is the best almond paste?
Many Italian and Sicilian cookies are made with almond paste. Almond paste is made with almonds, sugar, and water. Be picky in selecting your almond paste. You can find almond paste in most markets and it's so easy to find online.
I have baked many cookies over the years with Solo almond paste brand and the Odense almond paste. I've been baking mostly with Odense almond paste and find the texture to be always chewy and just right.
Is there flour in authentic pignoli cookies?
If you are searching Italian blogs for biscotti ai pinoli, most of them are made with flour. Many use quite a large portion of flour and even put just a sprinkle of pignoli nuts on top of the cookies.
My mom's recipe that I'm sharing does have the base of almond flour and a touch of flour. You could use all-purpose and you could also make these pignoli cookies totally gluten-free by using a 1-1 gluten-free blend. You could even use almond flour.
Fluffy egg whites in pignoli cookies
Just like my very popular almond cookies, the egg whites are room temperature and are whipped to fluffy clouds. They then are gently folded into the cookie batter. I have found vintage Italian American pignoli cookie recipes and recipes in Italy that use whole eggs. I have never made them with a whole egg.
Whip the egg whites with a stand or hand mixer. You could even use a fork or a whisk. The fluffier the egg whites are, the better!
What are pignoli cookie ingredients?
Here is all you need to make these pine nut cookies. Full printable ingredients is below:
- Almond paste: Be sure to use almond paste, and NOT marzipan. Marzipan cannot be used in this recipe.
- Granulated sugar: The cookies are not overly sweet. This recipe has less than other pignoli cookie recipes. The almond paste also has some sugar.
- Almond extract: Use more or less to your taste. If you don't have any, you could leave it out. The almond paste does have a strong almond flavor.
- Eggs whites: Large egg whites and make sure they're at room temperature
- Sea salt: Just a pinch is needed to whip the egg whites nice and fluffy.
- All purpose flour: A little bit of flour is used to help bind the dough. You could even use 1:1 Gluten-free flour.
- Pine nuts: Besides the almond paste, they are the star of these cookies! They will toast up lightly golden as the cookies bake.
- Powdered sugar: To dust the pignoli cookies and it is optional.
How to make pine nut Italian cookies?
Here are the steps to make these delicious homemade pignoli cookies. These are just brief steps. Full printable recipe is below:
- Gather all the ingredients and preheat oven to 350F. Prep baking sheet with parchment paper and baking spray.
- Step 1 + 2 + 3: Whip egg whites into soft peaks.
- Step 4: Cut the almond paste into small pieces.
- Step 5: Break up almond paste in food processor or in a stand mixer until it looks like wet sand with the sugar.
- Step 6: Add in the flour and combine.
- Step 5: Combine slowly the egg whites, mixing with a spoon or a spatula. The dough will be slightly sticky, soft, and should not feel too wet. If it seems too wet and sticky, add a little bit more flour and stir to combine.
- Step 6: Begin to roll out cookie balls like meatballs and roll in the pine nuts.
- Step 7: Place the cookie balls on your prepped baking sheet 2 inches apart and bake for 15-17 minutes.
- Step 8: Cool down and dust with confectioner's sugar. ENJOY!
Make ahead options for homemade pignoli cookies:
- Chill dough overnight: Prep the cookie dough, shape into balls, and roll in pignoli. Place the cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Leave overnight in refrigerator. Next day when ready to bake, remove plastic wrap and bake in heated oven according to recipe.
- Bake and freeze: Bake the cookies according the recipe and let them cool completely. Once cooled, store in an airtight container for up to 1 month. Defrost cookies at room temperature.
Expert tips authentic Sicilian cookie recipes:
- Room temperature egg whites: Be sure to have the egg whites at room-temperature.
- Fluffy egg whites are key: There is no baking powder or baking soda in this recipe, so you do need to whip your egg whites. You could even use a hand whisk. So just like our amaretti cookies, the fluffy egg whites are a key ingredient to get the most perfect pignoli cookies. Then they get folded in gently.
- A bit of all-purpose flour: Many pignoli cookies do not use any flour. This is nonna's recipe and she does use a little bit of flour, as it helps the dough to come together. You can also use gluten-free 1-1 flour, to make these totally gluten-free.
- Almond paste: Make sure you do NOT use marzipan. Almond paste can be find in most markets in a baking section. You can find it online and there are brands even from Italy.
- If you don't have a food processor: You could use a paddle attachment with your stand mixer to break up the almond paste. Cut it into cubes and add into your mixer bowl . You could use also use a hand mixer.
- Coat only top: If you're running low on pine nuts, you could just coat the top of the cookie balls. Pine nuts are expensive, so shop around to find the best deal.
- Pine nuts do not need to be toasted: The pine nuts will toast up and get a golden color while baking in the oven. It's ok if a couple of the pine nuts brown a little, but they should not all be dark brown.
- Cookie scoop: A tablespoon size cookie scoop will really help to portion out the cookie dough. This cookie scoop is a great one to try! In pinch, you could use an actual measuring tablespoon or a spoon.
- Prep your hands: Wet your hands with a touch of water or spray with baking spray to roll out the sticky dough balls. You are rolling them like meatballs. It is a sticky dough and it is messy. If you find your hands have too much dough on them, you'll have to rinse them off and start again, or you won't be able to get clean cookie balls rolled out.
- Do not overbake: Be sure to set a timer and not overbake the cookies. Keep in mind that the baking time will vary depending on your oven. Check at 15 minutes. They will look as if they're not quite ready, and that is fine. All ovens are different, but they should be done between 15-17 minutes. They do firm up more as they cool down. The nuts will be a lightly golden brown (you do not want them to fully brown).
Variations and substitutions for soft Italian cookies:
- Nuts- Without the pignoli (pine nuts), these won't be pignoli cookies. In case you need to substitute the pine nuts, use chopped blanched almonds or blanched hazelnuts. There is no need to roast the nuts before adding to the cookies.
- Almond Paste- Almond flour could be substituted for the almond paste. It will be a little bit of a denser cookie.
- Zest- You could add the zest of one organic lemon or orange to give the cookie a fresh citrus taste.
- Extract - Vanilla extract or almond extract could be added to the cookies.
What to serve with cookies with pine nuts?
These cookies are delightful just as they are. But here are some ideas for how to serve them.
- A hot cup of tea or coffee
- Cappuccino or espresso
- A scoop of vanilla ice cream or your favorite gelato
- Fresh berries (such as raspberries or strawberries)
- Whipped cream
How to store pignoli cookies?
These cookies keep nicely on the counter in an airtight container or cookie jar.
- Airtight Container: Place cooled pignoli cookies in an airtight container or a zipped lock bag. Store at room temperature for up to 1 week. You could also store in the refrigerator, but let them come to room temperature before you take a bite (you don't want any chipped teeth!).
- To freeze: Once cookies have completely cooled, transfer an freezer safe airtight container or zipped lock bag. Freeze up to 1 month. Defrost at room temperature before enjoying.
Yes, they can be stored in a zipped lock freezer back for up to 3 months. Be sure to seal it tightly and date the bag. If they taste rancid, they are no longer good, so need to be tossed out.
You can use a mixer. Beat the egg whites until they are fluffy. Separate them to a bowl. In the same mixer, start to beat almond paste broken up in small chunks with the sugar. Add in the flour and mix to combine. Stop the mixer and stir in the egg whites to combine with the almond paste mixture until you get a sticky dough. Continue on with the rest of the recipe.
There are two main differences between marzipan and almond paste.
1- Texture – almond paste is more coarse than marzipan. Marzipan is very smooth and can be used on its own to be molded into shapes to decorate cakes. Almond paste is used as a filling and is used as part of recipes (like these pignoli cookies).
2- Sweetness – almond paste has less sugar than marzipan. Almond paste is composed mostly of almonds, and has about twice the amount of almonds per ounce as marzipan.
Yes, you could sub the all-purpose flour with King Arthur's Flour or Bob's Red Mill 1-1 gluten-free flour.
If you go to any Sicilian or Italian bakery, you will see pignoli cookies and they are not cheap! They cost starting $25-30 a pound. Almond paste and pignoli nuts are expensive. Of course it is more economical to make your own from scratch pignoli cookies.
As I was just discussing, the almond paste and the pine nuts are expensive. It takes a lot of work to collect and process pine nuts, which makes them costly at markets.
Yes, pignoli cookies should be chewy on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside. The longer you bake them, the crispier they will become. Keep in mind, they do firm up more as they are cooling down. Do not over bake them or they won't have that soft and chewy center.
You will take the cookies out of the fridge and leave on counter on baking tray while oven heats. Baking time will be the same.
Did you make this? Please RATE THE RECIPE below:)
Some other cookie recipes to enjoy:
- Sicilian Pasta with Ground Chicken
- Sicilian Sesame Seed Cookies
- Sicilian Scacciata with Cauliflower
- Sicilian Pignolata-Italian Honey Balls
Easy Italian Pignoli Cookies (Pine Nut Cookies)
- 2 baking sheets
- 1 Stand Mixer use stand mixer if you don't have a food processor
- 7 oz. package of almond paste NOT marzipan
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp almond extract use more or less to your taste (you can even omit, as the almond paste does have a strong almond flavor)
- 2 large eggs whites room temperature
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ cup all purpose flour or 1:1 GF flour (see notes below)
- 1 ½ cups pine nuts
- Powdered sugar optional
- Preheat oven to 350F: Prep baking sheet with parchment paper and baking spray.
- Whisk egg whites: In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites and the salt until soft peaks form. You could use an electric mixer, a hand whisk or a fork. Set aside the egg whites.
- Cut almond paste into chunks: Use a sharp knife to cut the polenta into chunks. If you have a food processor, place in the bowl with the sugar and almond extract. If you have a stand mixer, place in the bowl and use a paddle attachment. Pulse in the food processor until it looks like wet sand.
- Bread up the almond paste with the sugar: If you have a food processor, place in the bowl with the sugar and almond extract. If you have a stand mixer, place in the bowl and use a paddle attachment. Pulse in the food processor until it looks like wet sand.
- Add flour: Pulse the flour into the almond mixture a few times to combine. If using a mixer, add the flour and combine with the almond paste.
- Combine egg whites: Add the almond mixture to a mixing bowl. Begin to add some of the whipped egg whites in portions, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula after each addition. The dough will be slightly sticky, soft, and should not feel too wet. If it seems too wet and sticky, add a little bit more flour and stir to combine.
- Roll out cookie balls: Place the pine nuts in a casserole or a bowl. Using a tablespoon, a spoon, or a small scoop, take out portions of the dough and use your hands to form the dough into 1-inch balls. You'll be rolling them like meatballs, so your hands need to be clean without any sticky dough on them. Wipe off your hands after rolling each cookie ball and slightly wet your hands to make it easier.
- Roll in the pine nuts: Start to roll the cookie balls in the pine nuts, coating the top bottom and sides. Place the cookie balls on your prepped baking sheet 2 inches apart.
- Bake: Place the tray in your heated oven and set the timer for 15 minutes. It could take 15-18 minutes to bake. Bake until the pine nuts are lightly golden brown, and the cookie pale and soft in the center. Do not overbake and make sure you do not brown the pine nuts. The cookies at 15 minutes should be soft and chewy. Every oven is different, and you may need to bake another 2-3 minutes. They will continue to firm up as they cool down.
- Transfer to wire rack: If you have a wire rack, when they're cool enough to touch, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Dust with confectioner's sugar (optional)before serving. ENJOY!
Please keep in mind that the nutritional information presented below is an approximation and may vary depending on the exact ingredients used.
- Food processor: A standard-sized food processor with blade attachment is ideal way to break up the almond paste for the pignoli cookies.
- Hand mixer: If you have a stand or hand mixer, place the almond paste chunks in the bowl. If you have. stand mixer, use the paddle attachment to break up the almond paste until it is like wet sand.
- Almond paste: Make SURE you use almond paste and NOT marzipan.
- Flour: A little bit of all-purpose flour is used. Make it gluten-free using your favorite 1-1 gluten-free flour blend. King Arthur's or Bob's Red Mill works great.
- Egg whites: I used grade A large eggs and you only need the egg whites. It should be a total of 1/4 cup of egg whites.
- Dough texture: The cookie dough is wet and sticky, but tacky. If you feel it's too wet, add a little bit more flour.
- Cookie texture: Set the timer for 15 minutes. Every oven is different, so set a timer and it make take a few more minutes. The pine nuts need to be lightly golden and the cookies will be soft and pale. They are chewy. They will firm up more as they cool down. DO NOT BROWN the pine nuts.
- Store cookies: Keep the cookies in an airtight container for up to a week. Freeze them in an airtight container (or large zipped lock bag) for up to a month.
- To thaw the pignoli cookies: Allow them to thaw at room temp on the counter.