Monday, September 15, 2014

Vegan Italian Pignoli Cookies
Almond Paste - Great For Gluten Free Baking

Pignoli cookies bring back flavors from my childhood.

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Cookies from my Childhood
If you were an Italian-American kid growing up in Brooklyn, I would venture to guess that you LOVE pignoli cookies. Every good Italian bakery in Brooklyn sold them. At the end of a big holiday meal, there would be fruit, nuts, and often a box of pignoli cookies that one of the aunts or uncles had picked up at a nearby bakery. I don't remember anyone in the family ever making these treats. Why would they bother when they were so readily available?  But sadly, since I moved from New York, I haven't found a bakery that sells them. Luckily, they are pretty easy to make. Who knew?

Gluten Free Baking
Many Italian cookies, like pignoli and amaretto cookies, are made with almond paste. It's the ingredient that gives these cookies their chewy texture and intense almond flavor. Almond paste is made from blanched almonds that have been mixed with sugar. For those of you avoiding gluten, almond paste is great for making yummy gluten-free desserts. It can be found in the baking section of your local grocery store. And since there is already sugar in the almond paste, there is no need to add much more (although I've seen recipes that call for quite a bit.) Another good reason for making them yourself!

A 7 ounce tube of gluten-free almond paste.

Pine Nuts - Buy Mediterranean
Four years ago I got a condition known as "Pine Mouth." This is where you get a bitter metallic taste in your mouth 12 to 48 hours after ingesting pine nuts. A lot of people I know have had the same experience. It can last for days or weeks and makes everything you eat taste like metal. Many link this to the flood of Chinese pine nuts that have hit the market. And, in fact, the nuts that caused this problem for me were from China. 

I have banned pine nuts from my diet for the past 4 years but I've decided to give them another chance, especially because I love them so much and simply adore pignoli cookies. This time, however, I will only eat pine nuts that are grown in Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Italy, and Portugal. They cost a lot more but if I can enjoy one of my favorite desserts and not get pine mouth, it's well worth it! (If anyone of you have experienced pine mouth from Mediterranean pine nuts, please let me know. So far I have not had any unpleasant reaction to these.)

Ingredients for pignoli cookies:
Cane sugar, almond paste, and Mediterranean pine nuts.

Silpat Baking Sheets
I love Silpat baking sheets, I won't make cookies without them. No need to grease the cookie sheet - the cookies will easily come right off of them. Look for Silpat baking sheets at your local culinary store or on Amazon. If you don't have these you can bake these cookies on parchment paper.

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Pignoli Cookies
Vegan, Gluten Free
[makes 14 cookies]
Requires a food processor such as a Cuisinart and a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat baking sheet

1 teaspoon ground flaxseed 
1 tablespoon water
7 ounce tube almond paste
1/4 cup cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 cup Mediterranean pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Make a flax egg white by mixing the ground flaxseed in 1 tablespoon of water. Beat with a fork until gooey and set aside. 

Slice the tube of almond paste into 1 inch slices and place in a food processor with an S-blade. 

Process until the slices are broken up. Mix the sugar and the baking powder together and add them to the almond paste. Process until the mixture looks like crumbs.

Add the flax egg and process until the mixture clumps together.

Form 14 little balls, about one scant tablespoon each, and shove each one into a bowl containing the pine nuts. You may have to gently wet your hands to get the balls a little sticky. Push the nuts into the top and bottom of each cookie until they stick. Flatten and form each one in the shape of a cookie.

 Gently place the cookies on the parchment or Silpat-lined cookie sheet.

Place the cookies in the preheated oven and bake until they spread out, get a little puffy and slightly browned, about 15 to 17 minutes. They will be very soft but will firm up as they cool.

Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool on the cookie sheet until they are firm enough to transfer to a wire rack, about 5 to 7 minutes. Cool on the rack and serve.

These will disappear in a flash so you might need to double the recipe.

Per cookie: 111 calories, 7 g total fat, 0.6 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 74 mg omega-3 and 2,411 mg omega-6 fatty acids, 2 g protein, 11 g carbohydrates, 1 g dietary fiber, and 8 mg sodium.


Unknown said...

They are delicious! I've tried them and know you'll like them--and so easy!

Unknown said...

I was about to mix up a batch of these, and realized that the ingredient lists calls for baking powder, while the instructions call for baking soda. Which is it?

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

Hi Julian,
It's baking powder. Sorry about that. I fixed it. Thanks for letting me know.
Enjoy the cookies!

Elizabeth said...

Hi, how much flaxseed? t= teaspoon or tablespoon?

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

Hi Elizatbeth,
Use a teaspoon. I updated it to make it more clear.

Unknown said...

These cookies are WONDERFUL! I substituted freshly ground Chia seeds for the flax seeds and they were equally yummy!

Thank you for this recipe, Joanne!

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

So happy that you like them Nancy! Thanks for the feedback and letting us know that Chia seeds work too.

Unknown said...

Is there a difference between a tube of almond paste and a tube of marzipan? I know the latter is made from almonds, too. My cookies look like almond brittle :-)

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

They are different. Use almond paste for this recipe.