BEST Italian Pignoli Cookies Recipe (pine nut)

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BEST Italian Pignoli Cookies Recipe (pine nut cookies) are soft and chewy almond-based cookies rolled in pine nuts and baked until golden brown, creating a perfectly crisp exterior. A specialty of Southern Italy, these are the best pignoli cookies! Only 4 main ingredients and 20 minutes to make.

[ignoli cookies on a plate with a bite taken out of a cookie.
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If you love Italian cookies, try these recipes: Soft AMARETTI Cookies Sardinian RecipeBasic Italian Biscotti (Cantucci) Dough, Italian Fig Cookies Recipe (Cucidati), Heart Thumbprint Cookies Recipe with JamHomemade Italian Ladyfinger Recipe (Savoiardi), or Italian Butter Cookies Recipe (bakery style), and Rainbow Cookies (Anginetti).

If you’re looking for a great dinner to serve with these Pignoli cookies, try my pasta puttanesca recipe.

What Are Pignoli Cookies?

Pignoli Cookies (Amaretti con Pignoli) are classic Italian cookies. I remember them from childhood, and they are always on any Italian cookie tray for every special occasion. I know once you try them, you will find them irresistible, too!

These authentic Italian pine nut cookies are made with four key ingredients. Plus, they are naturally gluten-free since they are made from almond paste and egg whites (similar to Soft Amaretti Cookies (Italian Recipe)

They are filled with rich almond flavor, moist, chewy centers, and crisp exteriors studded with beautifully toasted golden brown pine nuts. You will love how the chewy almond cookie and the nutty flavor of the buttery pine nuts create the tastiest and most simple cookie! 

The Italian word for pine nuts is pignoli (pronounced pēn-yō′lē). Pine nuts are one of the most expensive in the world because they are slow growing and labor-intensive to harvest. 

I know this because our beach home is nestled in the middle of pine trees in my hometown of Sardegna. They are tall, and you must watch your head when the giant pine cones filled with pine nuts fall off the tree. 

When we were little, we collected pine nuts and made Authentic Italian Pesto Genovese (Basil Pesto). To get the tiny pine nut out of the shell, we smashed each one with a large rock. A labor of love to get all those pinenuts for the best pignoli cookies or pesto!

pignoli cookies on a platter with almonds and pine nuts around it.

Simple Ingredients

This easy recipe for Pignoli Cookies is the traditional way to make authentic Italian pine nut cookies. They are naturally gluten-free and dairy-free and made with only a few simple and wholesome ingredients.

ingredient shot for recipe
  • Almond paste – use almond paste (NOT marzipan)
  • Granulated white sugar
  • Large eggs (egg whites only)
  • Pine nuts (Pignoli) – for rolling.
  • Pinch of salt
  • Orange or Lemon zest (optional)

See the recipe card for quantities.

Since this recipe uses egg whites, you can use the leftover egg yolks to make Italian Pastry Cream (Crema Pasticcera).

How to Make Italian Pignoli Cookies

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Place pinenuts in a small bowl and set aside. 

chopped almond paste on a cutting board with a knife.

Break up the almond paste into about 1-inch pieces (small pieces), and put it in the bowl of a food processor (watch your fingers near the blade).

Making Italian pignoli cookies: adding sugar, zest, alomd paste, and salt to food processor.

Add the sugar, zest (if using), and salt and pulse until combined, about 1 minute. It will resemble cornmeal.

Making Italian pignoli cookies: mixed ingredients in food processor

Add 1/2 of the egg whites and process for about 30 seconds. Slowly add the rest* of the egg whites until a sticky dough forms (*If you don’t weigh the egg whites, you may not need all the egg whites since egg whites in each egg vary).

Making Italian pignoli cookies: mixed ingredients in food processor egg whites added. Stick dough.

The cookie dough will be wet and sticky. Grease your hands before rolling, or use wet hands. 

Making Italian pignoli cookies: rolling cookie dough balls in pine nuts.

Scoop out rounded tablespoons of dough and roll them into 1-inch balls. You can also use a cookie scoop. I like to oil my cookie scoop, so extracting the dough from the scoop is effortless. 

Roll the dough balls in the bowl of pine nuts until covered on all sides. 

pignoli cookies ready to bake in the oven.

Place the dough balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet 2 inches apart and bake until the nuts turn golden brown, about 15-17 minutes.

baked pignoli cookies on a cookie tray.

Do not overbake, or they will become too hard.

baked pignoli cookies on a cookie tray dusted with powdered sugar.

Dust cooled cookies with powdered sugar, and enjoy!

Hand mixer method: If you don’t have a food processor use a hand mixer. Add the egg whites to the bowl and beat on low speed. Add the almond paste bit by bit until a uniform dough forms. Then beat in the sugar and lemon zest. Once you have the dough, continue with the recipe.

Substitutions

Nuts- If you leave out the pignoli, they wouldn’t be Pignoli cookies! If you need to substitute the pinenuts, you can substitute chopped or slivered almonds or chopped cashews for the pine nuts.

Almond Paste- You can substitute almond flour for the almond paste. The result will be slightly denser. I have tried them this way and love them!

pignoli cookies on a platter with almonds and pine nuts around it.

Variations

I love this recipe with a hint of lemon or orange zest to compliment the almond flavor. You can try adding vanilla extract or even a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Alternatively, you can leave out the zest and enjoy a plain almond-infused cookie.

Equipment

Top tips

  • Use room-temperature egg whites
  • Grease hands when rolling sticky dough
  • Do not overbake
pignoli cookies on small ruffled cake platter

FAQs

What Is The Difference Between Almond Paste And Marzipan?

Here are two differences between almond paste and marzipan.
1- Sweetness – marzipan has more sugar than almond paste. Almond paste has almost twice the amount of almonds per ounce as marzipan.
2- Texture – almond paste is more coarse, and marzipan is very smooth.
Marzipan is used by itself (molded into shapes or dipped in chocolate). Almond paste is used in baked goods and as fillings. Since the almond paste is less sweet, you can add more sugar.

How to Store Italian Pignoli Cookies

Store pignoli cookies at room temperature in an airtight container for up to one week.

How to Freeze Pignoli Cookies

Yes, you can freeze pignoli cookies. To freeze Italian pignoli cookies, set them in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking tray. Place the cookies in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer them to a sealed bag or container. For the best results, consume within 4-5 weeks. To thaw the pignoli cookies, take them out of the container/bag and let them thaw at room temp on the counter. You can even put them in a low-temperature oven, about 250F, for a few minutes to warm.

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Pignoli Cookies Recipe

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5 from 7 reviews

BEST Italian Pignoli Cookies Recipe (pine nut cookies) are soft and chewy Italian cookies rolled in pine nuts and baked until golden brown, creating a perfectly crisp exterior. A specialty of Southern Italy, these are the best pignoli cookies! Only 4 main ingredients and 20 minutes to make.

  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 24 cookies 1x

Ingredients

Scale
  • 16oz (454g) almond paste (you will need 2 tubes)
  • 1 1/2 cups (298g) granulated sugar
  • 3 large egg whites (90g)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6oz (170g) pine nuts for rolling
  • Powdered sugar (confectioners sugar), for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons of either orange or lemon zest (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Place pinenuts in a small bowl and set aside. 
  2. Cut the almond paste into 1-inch pieces and put it in the bowl of a food processor (watch your fingers near the blade). Add the sugar, zest (if using), and salt and pulse until combined, about 1 minute. It will resemble cornmeal.
  3. Add 1/2 of the egg whites and process for about 30 seconds. Slowly add the rest* of the egg whites until a sticky dough forms (*If you don’t weigh the egg whites, you may not need all the egg whites since egg whites in each egg vary). The dough will be wet and sticky. Grease your hands before rolling. 
  4. Scoop out rounded tablespoons of dough and roll them into 1-inch balls. You can also use a cookie scoop. I like to oil my cookie scoop, so extracting the dough from the scoop is effortless. 
  5. Roll the dough balls in the pine nuts until covered on all sides. 
  6. Place the dough balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet 2 inches apart and bake until the nuts turn golden brown, about 15-17 minutes. Do not overbake, or they will become too hard.
  7. Dust cooled cookies with powdered sugar, and enjoy!

Notes

Hand mixer method: If you don’t have a food processor use a hand mixer. Add the egg whites to the bowl and beat on low speed. Add the almond paste bit by bit until a uniform dough forms. Then beat in the sugar and lemon zest. Once you have the dough, continue with the recipe.

Storage: Store pignoli cookies at room temperature in an airtight container for up to one week.

To freeze Italian pignoli cookies, set them in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking tray. Place the cookies in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer them to a sealed bag or container. If you layer, the cookies, use parchment paper or wax paper between the layers. For the best results, consume within 4-5 weeks. To thaw the pignoli cookies, take them out of the container/bag and let them thaw at room temp on the counter. You can even put them in a low-temperature oven, about 250F, for a few minutes to warm.

  • Author: Elena
  • Prep Time: 10 min
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Sweet
  • Method: Italian
  • Cuisine: Italian

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About Elena

My dream is to share delicious wholesome recipes that you will share around the table with all your loved ones. The memories surrounded by food are the heart and soul of CucinaByElena.

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18 Comments

  1. Hello Elena, do you have a recipe for almond paste, the product is not available ATM,
    would love to try your recipe, those cookies look fabulous
    Many thanks
    Jacinta

  2. This cookie recipe truly is the BEST!!! What a fantastic texture – chewy but not too gooey (i.e. not like a macaroon). I made these last night and they turned out beautifully. Not being a purist, added one teaspoon of vanilla and one half teaspoon of almond extract because I love an intense almond flavor. Added zest of one orange and one lemon. Rolled the cookie balls in a combination of pine nuts and slivered almonds. Am thinking of partially napping/dipping each cookie in bittersweet chocolate for a totally decadent treat. The basic recipe is sooooo versatile. Also, I did not use a blender or mixer. just used a chef’s knife to finely dice the blocks of almond paste and then mixed in the sugar, using two forks to get the cornmeal like texture. Then added the egg whites, flavoring and some ground pine nuts. Elena, thank you very much for sharing your recipe and baking tips…cookies are outstanding!

    Reply






  3. This cookie recipe truly is the BEST!!! What a fantastic texture – chewy but not too gooey (i.e. not like a macaroon). I made these last night and they turned out beautifully. Not being a purist, added one teaspoon of vanilla and one half teaspoon of almond extract because I love an intense almond flavor. Added zest of one orange and one lemon. Rolled the cookie balls in a combination of pine nuts and slivered almonds. Am thinking of partially napping/dipping each cookie in bittersweet chocolate for a totally decadent treat. The basic recipe is sooooo versatile. Also, I did not use a blender or mixer. just used a chef’s knife to finely dice the blocks of almond paste and then mixed in the sugar, using two forks to get the cornmeal like texture. Then added the egg whites, flavoring and some ground pine nuts. Elena, thank you very much for sharing your recipe and baking tips…cookies are outstanding!






  4. These Pignoli cookies came out fantastic! Easy recipe to follow. Hardest thing is acquiring the ingredients 2 days before Christmas! Everyone was sold out of paste and pine nuts are hard enough to find. Ended up going to a local Italian importer and buying top notch ingredients. Almond paste is worth its weight in gold if it is a good one! This will be my go to Pignoli recipe, henceforth. Thank you, Elena!






  5. I would love to make these with almond flour instead of the almond paste to reduce the sugar. What would the ratio be be for the flour? Thank you and look forward to making these!

    1. Start by adding one cup and pulsing until you reach the right consistency. It will likely be close to two cups of almond flour to reach the thickness needed. Enjoy!