These 6 ingredient pignoli cookies (Italian pine nut cookies) are soft, chewy and delicious. Made with almond paste, sugar and egg whites, my recipe is less sweet than most; it comes together in 30 minutes or less.

Pignoli cookies (Italian pine nut cookies) on a parchment-lined baking sheet

To me, there’s nothing more nostalgic than creating Italian bakery classics at home. Think: golden sesame cookies, anise biscotti and now, soft and chewy pignoli cookies. My recipe is less sweet than most, with only a hint of almond extract to give it that familiar bakery-style taste. I can’t imagine the holidays without them (PS: have you seen the price for pignoli cookies at the bakery? $30-$50/ pound!).

In this post, I’ll show you how to make delicious pignoli cookies step-by-step, with my thoughts on almond paste, why you should froth your egg whites, and easy make-ahead options to rival any commercial bakery.

Pignoli cookie (Italian pine nut cookie) on a parchment-lined baking sheet

What Are Pignoli Cookies?

Pignoli means “pine nuts” in Italian, so as the name suggests: they are Italian pine nut cookies. Originating from Sicily, traditional pignoli cookies are made from almond paste, granulated sugar and egg whites. They’re soft and chewy, with a crisp exterior edge (similar to macaroons). Waxy pine nuts provide an exterior crunch, which naturally compliments soft inside texture.

Modern versions of pignoli cookies might include almond extract, vanilla extract, citrus zest and powdered sugar to enhance the taste. Whichever way you like them, it’s important to understand almond paste, the key ingredient, which can make or break your cookie dough.

Almond Paste: Read The Label.

Almond paste is a blended mixture of almonds, sugar and water. Sold in most most grocery stores and online, it’s the main ingredient in pignoli cookies, rainbow cookies and various sweets. It’s a staple in Italian baking.

But here’s the problem: store-bought almond paste is obnoxiously sweet. It can wreck whatever you’re making. I tested two different brands- Odense and Solo– and they produced two notably different cookies. Why? They vary in moisture content, sweetness, and browning capabilities (more on that in a bit).

To tame the sweetness, a common problem with homemade pignoli cookies, I eliminated store-bought almond paste altogether and tested homemade almond paste instead. It didn’t work. The cookies were dry. The color was pale. The soft and chewy texture was non-existent. And guess what? They were still too sweet.

At first, I couldn’t figure it out. But when I started researching the science behind almond paste, suddenly it all clicked. To summarize: some brands of store-bought almond paste contain invert sugar, a liquid sweetener made from sugar and water. Due to how it’s made (I will spare you the molecular details), invert sugar is sweeter than regular sugar, contains more moisture and gives the pignoli cookies a golden, caramelized finish.

After learning this, everything made sense. My pignoli cookies made with Odense almond paste (invert sugar), baked up nice and golden brown around the edges. The dough was sticky, yet manageable, I’m assuming from the increased moisture content. The texture was perfectly chewy.

In comparison, my pignoli cookies made with Solo almond paste (no invert sugar) were nowhere near as brown as the Odense cookies, and the dough was a tiny bit drier. As for sweetness, both brands ranked similarly. PS: scroll up to see a visual of these two cookies baked side-by-side.

So, which brand did I prefer? Odense. It baked nicer, chewier pignoli cookies. But any almond paste will work. Just read the label. Because now, you know the difference.

But wait… remember my original problem? The sweetness? I found the solution.

Add Flour (Regular or Gluten Free!)

Instead of messing around with the almond paste, I went rogue. To be clear, authentic pignoli cookies do not contain wheat flour of any kind. However, adding just a scoop of flour (all purpose flour OR gluten free 1:1 flour), fortifies the dough and cuts the overall sweetness considerably. I also reduced the total quantity of sugar to 120 g (1/2 cup) which is lower than most pignoli cookie recipes. MISSION COMPLETE.

To seal the deal, in a comparative taste test with bluntly honest family members, my reduced-sugar pignoli cookies with flour won hands down while maintaining high standard bakery-style expectations. My Dad said they were the best pignoli cookies he ever had.

With that said, here we are…

Pignoli Cookie Ingredients: Pine Nuts, Eggs, Almond Paste, Sugar and Flour

Pignoli Cookie Ingredients (You Will Need):

Recipe Tips:

  • Weigh your eggs. I use large egg whites, about 32 g (2.2 oz) each. If your egg whites are too small, the dough will be dry. If they are too large, the dough will be wet. Correct with more egg whites and/or flour as needed. The final texture will be sticky.
  • Use a cookie scoop. This is a must-have, multi-use tool to portion sticky cookie dough. I use this OXO tablespoon-size scoop.
  • Froth your egg whites! It will lighten, puff up, and aerate the cookies (just use a whisk). Remember, there is no baking powder or baking soda in pignoli cookies. PS: Frothing is a key step in amaretti cookies, and since pignoli cookies are very similar, I like to keep it all in the family.
  • Don’t over bake! The cookies will look slightly underdone when ready. This is what you want; they will continue to firm up as they cool.
  • Shop around for pignoli. It’s no secret pine nuts are expensive. I’ve found the best prices at Trader Joe’s and Costco. Use leftover pignoli to make my classic Italian basil pesto. Or substitute with flaked almonds instead.

Make Ahead Options

Option #1: Chill Overnight. Make the cookie dough. Shape into balls, coat in pignoli, and place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until ready to bake, overnight is fine. Bake straight from cold.
Option #2: Freeze the Cookies. Bake the cookies from start to finish. Freeze up to 1 month in an airtight container. Defrost at room temperature. I like to spread them out on a baking sheet.

How To Make Pignoli Cookies {Step-By-Step}

Pignoli cookie dough balls in a bowl of pine nuts

Make the Dough

  • Preheat the oven to 325 F/ 160 C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Cut the almond paste into slices. Add to the bowl of a food processor with the sugar and almond extract. Blend until combined; the texture should look like wet sand.
  • In a separate small bowl, whisk the eggs whites together until frothy. Don’t over think this. Just get in there and whisk it up. It literally takes 20 seconds.
  • Add the frothy egg whites and flour to the food processor.
  • Pulse the mixture several times until a dough forms. Let rest for 1-2 minutes for the flour to absorb the moisture, then assess the dough. It should feel soft, slightly sticky, but mostly tacky. If the dough is very sticky, almost wet or loose, add a sprinkle of flour and briefly pulse again.
  • Transfer the dough to bowl. Get ready to roll.

Roll The Cookies In Pignoli

  • Add the pine nuts to a wide shallow bowl; set aside.
  • With a tablespoon-sized cookie scoop, portion the dough into the pine nuts.
  • Roll to coat the top, bottom and sides in pine nuts.
  • Place onto your parchment-lined baking sheet. Give it a slight pat to flatten. Repeat to roll the remaining cookies.
Pignoli cookies (Italian pine nut cookies) on a parchment-lined baking sheet

Bake The Pignoli Cookies

  • Bake the cookies, center rack, for 20 minutes @ 325 F/160 C (check at the 18 minute mark). Do not over bake. They will be pale in color, slightly soft in the center (almost underdone looking) with a golden brown exterior edge. This is perfect.
  • Cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Dust with powdered sugar (optional) before serving.

How to Store Pignoli Cookies

Pignoli cookies are best enjoyed on the same day they’re made. As the days go on, they get more dense.

  • Airtight Container: Place cooled pignoli cookies in an airtight container or a zip-top bag. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days.
  • In the Freezer: Transfer cooled cookies to an airtight container or zip-top bag. Freeze up to 1 month. Defrost at room temperature spread out on a baking sheet.

More Italian Desserts to Try!

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Pignoli cookies (Italian pine nut cookies) on a parchment-lined baking sheet

Soft & Chewy Pignoli Cookies


  • Author:
    Emilie Raffa

  • Prep Time:
    10

  • Cook Time:
    20

  • Total Time:
    30 minutes

  • Yield:
    24 cookies

  • Category:
    Cookies

  • Method:
    Oven-Baked

  • Cuisine:
    Italian

Description

These 6 ingredient pignoli cookies (Italian pine nut cookies) are soft, chewy and delicious. Made with almond paste, sugar and egg whites, my recipe is less sweet than most; it comes together in 30 minutes or less.


  • 200 g (7 oz) package of almond paste (I recommend Odense)
  • 120 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1/81/4 tsp almond extract
  • 2 large eggs whites (about 3032 g cracked weight)
  • 65 g (about 1/31/2 cup) all purpose flour or 1:1 GF flour (see notes below)
  • 227 g (appx. 1 1/2 cups) pine nuts
  • Powdered sugar, optional

Notes, Tips & Substitutions:

  • Do not use marzipan for this recipe; it’s not the same as almond paste.
  • Use the higher amount of almond extract for a stronger taste.
  • For gluten free cookies, use King Arthur Measure For Measure Gluten Free Flour. It’s a 1:1 GF flour, so it’s an even swap.
  • Use a cookie scoop to portion the sticky dough.

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 F/160 C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Slice the almond paste into chunks (it’s easier to blend this way). Add to the bowl of a food processor with the sugar and almond extract. Blend until combined- the texture should look like wet sand.
  3. In a separate small bowl, whisk the egg whites until very frothy.
  4. Add the egg whites and flour to the food processor. Briefly run the machine until a smooth dough forms. Let the dough rest for 1-2 minutes for the flour to absorb the liquid. The dough should feel soft, slightly sticky, but mostly tacky. If it’s very sticky, almost wet or loose, add a sprinkle of flour and briefly pulse again.
  5. Add the pine nuts to a wide shallow bowl.
  6. Portion the dough, in tablespoon-sized scoops into the pine nuts (I use this cookie scoop for convenience).
  7. Roll the dough to fully coat the top, bottom and sides. Place onto your parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat to roll and coat the remaining cookie dough. Note: the dough balls can be chilled overnight at this point. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake.
  8. Place the baking sheet on the center rack. Bake for 20 minutes for soft and chewy cookies (check at the 18 minute mark). They will be light golden around the edges, and pale and soft in the center. They might look slightly underdone, but this is what you want. The texture will continue to firm up once removed from the oven. For crispier cookies bake for 23-25 minutes.
  9. Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Cool for 10 minutes, and then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to finish cooling.
  10. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

Storage Options:

  • Airtight Container: Place cooled pignoli cookies in an airtight container or a zip-top bag. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days.
  • In the Freezer: Store completely cool cookies in an airtight container or zip-top bag. Freeze up to 1 month. Defrost at room temperature. I like to spread them out on a baking sheet.

Keywords: pine nuts, pignoli, Italian, cookies, Sicilian, almond, almond paste, sugar, egg whites, gluten free