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Baking, mad to glad. (PIGNOLI COOKIES)

May 20, 2009

pinoli_baked

Baking has always been frustrating to me. It seems especially annoying if there is any sort of time constraint on the project, and in this town there is always some sort of time constraint… even on days filed as ‘leisure’. Take for example the single day I interned in a pastry kitchen, I botched not just a small batch of custard, but in haste wasted a week’s worth of the stuff by accidentally adding dozens and dozens of eggs at the wrong time. I felt horrid! I don’t take kindly to botching up in the kitchen and I really really really abhor wasting ingredients. This is why baking and I don’t get along, there are just too many places for irreparable error and that ain’t cool.

For the most part I leave pastry to the patient ones and once in a while, just to get my hands dirty, I make something sweet…but not without much cursing and drama. I have a small collection of great dessert recipe that I can actually handle. I stick to those and people don’t realize that I am a fumbling intern when it comes to your birthday cake, some holiday cookies or the finishing touch on a five-course meal. The criterion of these recipes is: delicious, easy and foolproof little numbers that don’t make me bang my head against the wall. Simple. In a recent mission to complete one of these desserts I, of course, got to the part where you stick the blobs of dough on the sheet pan and realized that I should have halved the recipe (but didn’t) because I only started with a half quantity of the main ingredient. Classic!

The cookies were a traditional Italian bakery almond paste and pine nut confection often called pignoli cookies, pignoli being the Italian word for pine nut. They have very few ingredients, most of which are costly, and the resulting cookie is a soft, sweet fragnipane filling encased in toasty, crisped pine nuts that just pop pop pop when you eat these addictive things. The main ingredient is canned almond paste/filling, not to be confused with the kind in a tube which will not work for this recipe. The price of an 8-10 ounce can of almond paste is usually $7 or higher, not to mention pricey pine nuts. The recipe called for two (8 oz.) cans. I had one 10 oz. can, I figured by reducing the other ingredients by half everything would work out.

For a minute it seemed like baking and I were making nice as I dropped the ingredients into the food processor and buzzed my way to a nice, thick dough. But somewhere in there I forgot that I was using less almond paste and proceeded to use the full amount of everything else. Bad, bad. Bad Ori! The terror set in when I was scooping out the dough and realized it was a little stickier than I remembered from pignoli cookies past. I buried my frustration in a couple of deep breaths and instead of flinging the sheet pan across the kitchen, I crossed my fingers and continued to conscientiously pat pine nuts onto each little mound.

The result was the best batch of pignoli cookies I have made so far. By reducing the almond paste, they were a little less cloying and slightly firmer than before, yet perfectly pillowy. I was able to save a little money by using only one can of almond paste and still get a higher yield of cookies because of the ingredient stretch. It’s a double-acting baking miracle that a mistake turns into a new recipe, and I despise baking a little less too.

PIGNOLI COOKIES
(adapted from Epicurious.com)
1 (10-oz) can almond paste
1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites
2 tablespoons mild honey
1 cup pine nuts (5 oz.)

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
  • Pulse the almond paste in a food processor until broken up into small bits, then add confectioners sugar and salt. Continue to pulse until finely ground, about 1 minute.
  • Add in egg whites and honey, process until smooth.
  • Alternatively, use a hand beater or just a wooden spoon and some muscle to incorporate all of the ingredients into a smooth batter.
  • Using two spoons, place 1 1/2-inch rounds (about 1 inch apart) onto parchment-covered baking sheets. They can look sloppy (see below), you will have a chance to shape them better when topping with nuts.
  • Sprinkle each cookie with pine nuts and gently press them into the dough to form a nut-covered dome (see photo above).
  • Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden, about 15 minutes.
  • Slide parchment with cookies on it onto racks to cool completely, then peel cookies from parchment. Once cooled, store airtight in between fresh pieces of parchment.
  • Makes about 3 dozen.

pignoli_cookies2

These cookies are awesome.

One comment

  1. Hi Ori,

    I just made these today for my kosher thanksgiving… they were a bit of a pain (so sticky!) but they came out great.

    I would say a good trip for reducing the stickiness heartache (or maybe this is just my problem and not anyone else’s) is to chill the dough a bit after you make it. I found it helped to make the stickiness a bit less maddening.

    I’m so happy with how they turned out though, definitely worth the sticky fingers and anal-ness with the pine nuts.

    I’m going to make this again for Passover! yay!



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