Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Recipe: Pine Nut Cookies (Biscotti con Pignoli)

One of our most memorable Christmases was spent in Italy. We traveled there, as did the rest of my husband’s family, and met up at a hotel in Rome. A week later, we all moved to a rented house called Tinaione in Borgo Stomennano, just outside the village of Monteriggioni (Siena).

I usually go to Italy and gawk at the vegetable and meat markets, but walk away unfulfilled because I don’t have a kitchen to make use of the lovely ingredients. Renting a house with a kitchen made all the difference in the world. For our Christmas dinner, I shopped with abandon at outdoor village markets and at the giant Coop supermarket in nearby Poggibonsi. It was exhilarating.

In Siena, we bought a box of fresh Riccarelli, diamond-shaped traditional Sienese cookies made with ground almonds. We found a bakery selling Biscotti con Pignoli, round cookies with almond paste centers and coated with pine nuts, and also bought them. Both kinds of cookies were addictively delicious.

The next year we were back in Alaska for Christmas. When baking time came around, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Italian pine nut cookies. I found three recipes for them on the Uncle Phaedrus website, and made all three versions.

Of the three recipes, the one that tasted most like the cookies we bought in Siena was made with almond paste, sugar, egg whites, and pine nuts. The cookies were delicious, but a little too sweet. The next year, I reduced the amount of sugar and increased the amount of pine nuts until I was satisfied with the cookies’ taste and texture.

The dough is very sticky. I had a hard time handling it until I began using a scoop to help shape the cookies. With the scoop, you dig up some dough, scrape the scoop flat on the side of the bowl, and release the dough over a shallow bowl of pine nuts. I do this four times, so there are four small wads of dough on the pine nuts (with more than four at a time, the dough pieces roll into each other and stick together). I then roll the dough balls in pine nuts to completely coat them. I prefer wearing disposable food safety gloves for this task because it keeps my hands from getting sticky.

I’ve made my version of Biscotti con Pignoli (Pine Nut Cookies) every Christmas since I worked out the recipe, and they are one of my very favorite cookies. I love their crunchy crust with lightly toasted pine nuts and soft interior rich with the flavor of almonds. I have to give them away quickly so I won't eat too many.

Pine Nut Cookies (Biscotti con Pignoli)
Makes 60 cookies, 2 1/2 inches in diameter
There are four kinds of prepared almond products in Alaska supermarkets: almond paste in cans, almond paste in tubes, marzipan in tubes, and almond filling in cans. I prefer using canned almond paste; almond paste in tubes will work in a pinch, but the cookies aren't as good. Marzipan and canned almond filling will not work for this recipe. If you want to make more than 60 cookies, make the dough in two batches; a double recipe will not fit in an average-sized food processor. I use a 2 tsp. (size 100) scoop to shape the cookies. If you use a 1 Tbsp. scoop (size 60) bake the cookies for 25 – 30 minutes; with the larger scoop, the recipe makes 35 cookies.

1 pound almond paste
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 egg whites
1 1/2 pounds pine nuts (4 3/4 cups)

Preheat the oven to 325°F (300°F in a convection oven).

Put the almond paste and sugar in a food processor and pulse until the almond paste is broken up into small pieces. Add the egg whites and process until the dough is smooth and all the almond paste is fully incorporated. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl from time to time. The dough will be soft and sticky. (You can make the dough ahead and refrigerate it. Remove the dough from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you are ready to shape and bake the cookies.)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Put one third of the pine nuts in a shallow bowl. Scoop out the batter (scraping the scoop flat on the side of the bowl) using a 2 tsp. (size 100) scoop. Drop scoopfuls of dough onto the pine nuts, and roll them around until the dough is covered in pine nuts. Add more pine nuts to the bowl, as needed. Place on the lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart.

Bake the cookies until pale brown, but still soft, about 20 – 25 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container. If you need the cookies to last more than a few days, store them in the freezer.


Peter M said...

These remind me of Amaretti but with pine nuts....I'll take 3 with my espresso please!

Christmas Bellini Valli said...

These would take you back to Italy with every bite!!

Anonymous said...

Yes, these are wonderful cookies :)

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Christmas in Italy! Sounds wonderful! I love how you feel in love with a cookie and have spent years getting it just right. That is what I call a passionate cook!

Susan said...

Love these. Ground almonds make many a fine sweet. So easy, too.

Kevin said...

These cookies look so good! I really like the idea of renting a place in Italy for a few weeks.

Laurie Constantino said...

Peter, yes, perfect with espresso!

Val, indeed they do.

Maryann, I ate too many.

Jenn, I've always thought of it as an obsessive compulsive cook -- although your description is more flattering. I'll take it!

Susan, I'm with you, any sweet with ground almonds is definitely for me.

Kevin, you should do it! I can tell from your blog that you would be extremely happy having a kitchen in close proximity to Italian food markets.