Tag Archives: italia

{12} Pignoli

We’ve made it to the end of another instalment of the 12 Days of Baking! This cycle has gone on a little longer than I planned and well into the New Year, but I’d rather that than pile on the stress of trying to do everything by Christmas Eve. Also, spreading things out gives friends and family a sporting chance of being able to enjoy what I bake, rather than turning it into an endurance event whereby cookies need to be eaten as fast as they are made…

To bring things to a conclusion, we’re finishing with a classic Italian cookie: pignoli.

These morsels are delicious almond cookies, crisp and lightly golden on the outside and with a soft and chewy centre. They are generously coated in pine nuts which toast lightly in the oven. They are simultaneously simple and luxurious. I love their festive appearance which will look good on any cookie tray, but they are equally at home any time of the year with a cup of good coffee for a quiet moment of reflection.


Pignoli originate from the island of Sicily in Southern Italy, where both almonds and pine nuts feature in local cookies. They’ve also made their way to the US, where there are also a favourite in Italian-American families at Christmas.

While my festive baking this year has included some complex bakes, pignoli are (comparatively) easy. One bowl, no resting, no chilling, just roll, coat in nuts and bake. And this is a delightful recipe as it gives you a lot of deliciousness for minimal effort.

When it comes to pignoli recipes, many are based on almond paste, which is mixed with sugar and egg whites. Almond paste is a 50/50 mixture of almonds and sugar, and not the same thing as marzipan here in Britain (marzipan here is typically 25/75 almonds to sugar). However, almond paste is not an ingredient that is easily available in stores here, so I’ve come up with an easy recipe that just uses ground almonds and sugar. It gets us to the same place, and I think it is easier – there is no need to break down a lump of almond paste into a smooth mixture.  Essentially I’m offering a route that involves less work, getting you more quickly to delicious pignoli.


However, even if there is less work involved, we need to be honest. These are clearly luxury cookies. A good amount of almonds, and then lots and lots of pine nuts. This is not a cheap recipe, but hey, they are called pignoli and so pine nuts should be used generously. And you want them to taste of something. I tipped two large bags of pine nuts into a bowl for coating the cookies and assumed I had over-calculated. The rest could be toasted and sprinkled into a salad perhaps? But no. I think I ended up with about a dozen pine nuts left in the bowl at the end. So just a word of warning – get those nuts in, and don’t think you’ll be able to wing it with that half-used bag lurking in the baking cupboard.

If you want to play around with the flavours you can add lemon or orange zest, and they would still be pignoli. Or you could skip the pine nuts and use other nuts to coat the cookies – flaked almonds, or chopped hazelnuts, pistachios or cashews would all work – except that you’re then not making pignoli. They’ll still taste great, but they will be something else. This is, of course, a good way to make a batch of visually different cookies using one basic recipe (or if you ignored my warning and ran short of pine nuts…).

One final point worth knowing – there is no flour, butter or milk in pignoli so these little guys just happen to be naturally gluten and lactose-free. This makes them a great choice if you want to impress and you know someone who needs to avoid either in their diet.

To make Pignoli (makes around 20):

For the dough

• 2 large egg whites
• 175g ground almonds
• 100g icing sugar
• 100g granulated sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

To decorate

• 200g pine nuts
• icing sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 175°C (345°F) and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

2. In a large bowl, briefly whisk the egg whites until foamy. Add the rest of the dough ingredients and mix to a smooth dough. It should be sticky but you should be able to form it into balls. If too dry, add a little water. If too sticky, add a teaspoon each of ground almonds, granulated sugar and icing sugar and mix well.

3. Take a teaspoon of the dough (around 25g) and form into a ball. Roll in the pine nuts. Transfer to the baking sheet. Leave around 5cm between each cookie, and keep going until all the dough is used up.

4. Lightly press each cookie to flatten slightly, then bake for 15 minutes (turn the tray around half-way to get an even colour). When baked, remove from the oven, allow to cool on the tray. Lightly dust with icing sugar before serving.

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{6} Panpepato

It’s the sixth post in this year’s Twelve Bakes of Christmas, and the kitchen is still standing! I know I’ve still got six more recipes to go, but where would the fun be if I wasn’t surrounded by sugar, spice and all things nice at this time of year? Well, that plus a whole lot of mess, a sugar thermometer and more than a few burns due to my tendency to use tea towels rather than proper oven gloves…

Today’s recipe is a delicious Italian sweet treat called panpepato, which means “peppered bread”. It is associated with the Province of Ferrera on the Adriatic coast. It has more than a passing resemblance to panforte, but panpepato is dark in colour, flavoured with cocoa, chocolate and pepper, and sometimes even coated in yet more chocolate.


This is a cake with a long history, with some sources suggesting it can be traced back to the 11th century. Panforte and panpepato would originally have been consumed by the aristocracy – with sweet candied fruit and spices, these were firmly luxury confectionery. And as with many traditional recipes, there are various origin myths about which came first.

Some suggest it started with panforte, and panpepato was later created during a siege with candied fruit to address the lack of fresh fruit or less choice in terms of ingredients for the panforte. Others suggest panpepato is where it was at originally, and panforte was a later creation with lighter ingredients in honour of Queen Margherita of Savoy’s visit to Siena in 1879. Of course, just where cocoa and chocolate came from in medieval Italy is left unclear! Whichever version is true, they’re both delicious. And finally…those spices? They were thought to have aphrodisiac properties, bringing troubled couples together. Perhaps a slice of panpepato promises not just delicious flavours but a night of romance when it is chilly outside?


I was really pleased with how easy this was to make and how this turned out. Sometimes a recipe can feel like a slog, especially where you have lots of steps to follow, but it was really pleasant to prepare the almonds, hazelnuts and candied peel, and then measure out the various spices.

Beyond the measuring, you don’t need to more than pour all the dry ingredients into a large bowl, make a syrup from honey, butter, sugar and a few pieces of dark chocolate, them mix the lot and bake it. Once it came out of the oven and had cooled down, I dusted it with cocoa and rubbed it with a pastry brush. Some recipes suggested icing sugar, but I thought this would look a little more sophisticated. Other recipes suggested a coating of chocolate, but I think that would have been too rich even for me!


The flavour is reminiscent of British fruit cake, but without all the dried vine fruits – you’ve got nuts and candied citrus, plus spices and a bit of depth from the cocoa and chocolate. There isn’t really a chocolate flavour as such, but I think the cocoa helps provide a balance to the sweetness of the honey and sugar. And of course the cocoa also provides a dramatic contrast to the pale cream colour of the almonds and hazelnuts. Some recipes suggest coarsely chopping the nuts, but I love the pattern of the whole nuts when you slice into the panpepato.


From what I have found, there is no single “correct” recipe that you have to follow. You can play around with the types of nuts you use – just almonds, just hazelnuts, or add some pine nuts or pistachios – and there are various different dried fruits you could use. Some recipes have figs or sultanas, and even more exotic items like candied papaya or melon could be interesting. Finally, you can also try different spices in this recipe, but I do think you need to have that black pepper as a nod to this recipe’s origins.

I’d look at this as a sweet, rather than a cake or a bread. It is absolutely delicious, but it is also incredibly rich, so you might be surprised just how little of it you want to eat in one go. It is also a treat that will last for a while, so a good one to have prepared for surprise guests. I think it is great with tea or coffee, cut into very thin slices and then into nibble-sized morsels.

To make Panpepato (makes 1 slab)

• 150g skinned hazelnuts
• 150g blanched almonds
• 100g candied orange peel
• 100g candied lemon peel
• 50g plain flour
• 30g cocoa powder
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 100g caster sugar
• 225g orange blossom honey
• 3 tablespoons water

• 50g dark chocolate
• 25g unsalted butter
• Cocoa powder, for dredging

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Put the nuts on two separate trays, and toast in the oven for 10-15 minutes until fragrant and just golden. Watch them closely – the hazelnuts will be done before the almonds. When ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool.

2. Rub some greaseproof paper with a little vegetable oil, and use it to line a 20cm square tin. If you prefer, you can also use rice paper but this will stick to the finished panpepato – it’s a question of personal preference.

3. Reduce the oven heat to 150°C.

4. Chop the peel into fairly small chunks. Place in a bowl with the nuts, flour, cocoa powder and ground spices. Mix well.

5. Put the sugar, honey, water, butter and chocolate into a saucepan. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, and boil until the mixture reaches the “soft ball” stage (or 113°C/235°F on a thermometer).

6. Pour the syrup onto the dry ingredients and mix well. Transfer to the tin. Use a metal spoon or spatula rubbed with a little butter or oil to flatten the mixture.

7. Bake the panpepato for 35-40 minutes. The surface will look “set” when the panpepato is done. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely. If you have an uneven panpepato, take a piece of greaseproof paper rubbed with a little oil – lay on top of the still-warm panpepato and press to even it out.

8. Remove the panpepato from the tin, peel off the greaseproof paper and trim off the edges (they will be a bit hard). If using rice paper, leave it on the panpepato. Dust the top lightly with cocoa and rub lightly with your fingers or a pastry brush so a bit of the fruit and nut detail shows up.

9. Store in an airtight container. Cut into thin slices to serve.

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