Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Pine, Indian, Pinon, Pignolia...

When I was a kid growing up in rural Nevada, one of my favorite things to do was to go pine nut gathering every year, usually around September, October.  My mother would take us up in the hills and we'd spend hours picking up pine cones full of nuts.  We'd take the cones home and pick them clean of the nuts, then the nuts were washed, salted and roasted in the oven.  In my memories I can still smell the aroma of the nuts roasting and the smell of the pine cones which we burned in the fireplace.  And to eat freshly roasted pine nuts, oh my... it is nothing like what we buy in the stores; not even close.  Check out the photo of the Nevada soft shell pine nut (in comparison to the others) and I think you can understand where I'm coming from.  Why all the talk about pine nuts, also known as Indian nuts, Pinon nuts and Pignolia? Well, let me introduce you to the most heavenly cookies and guess what was the star ingredient?  That's right, you got it, pine nuts!

You'll notice this is a vegan cookie cookbook.  It was a gift, given to me by my son who understands my love of baking and cookies, and who knows that I am lactose intolerant. It should be noted that I am intolerant of that fact. Nonetheless, one of my creeds to live by is, "Everything's better with butter."  It's true, there is no denying it.  So, I will give you the vegan recipe as printed in the cookbook, with my substitutions.  I think the cookies would be as heavenly, either way.

A must-have cookbook for cookie lovers!
 Pignoli Almond Cookies (page 73)

7 ounces almond paste, sliced into 1-inch cubes
A pinch of salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup nonhydrogenated margarine, softened. * I used 1 stick of butter, softened
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cups pine nuts (you really only need 1/4 cup)
2 to 3 tblsp almond milk for dipping * I did not do this

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Pulse almond paste, salt, baking powder and 1/3 cup of the sugar in a food processor until mixture is crumbly. * I just used my mixer
3. In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and remaining 1/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer until mixture is pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the almond paste mixture and almond extract and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Sift in the flour and beat until a slightly crumbly yet soft dough forms.
4. Pour the pine nuts into a shallow bowl and pour 2 tblsp of almond milk into a small saucer.  For each cookie scoop 1 tblsp of dough and roll it in your palms and form into a ball.  Dip one end of the ball in the almond milk and press this moistened end into pine nuts.  Place the dough balls, pine nut side up, on a baking sheet at least 2 inches apart.  Bake for 14 minutes until cookies have puffed and spread a little and the nuts are just slightly toasted.  * I skipped #4
5. Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes to firm up. Cookies are very fragile when first out of the oven, so let cool completely.

Pine nuts are usually costly, ($18.00 for this bag) but I find Costco has the best prices if, like me, you buy in bulk.  Otherwise, you can find pine nuts in most grocery and/or health food stores.  This 7 oz tube of almond paste was $7.95 at Safeway.  These cookies are a bit pricey to make, but well-worth every bite of yumminess.
The dough will be crumbly, but molds easily.
I like to bake big cookies!
And because I tend to be a bit accident prone in the kitchen...

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