In my experience, American bakers often overlook pine nuts in favor of walnuts, almonds, and pecans. Those are great nuts, to be sure, but pine nuts bring a unique flavor, with notes of evergreen and an exceptionally smooth, buttery texture to baked goods. Italian bakers use them often in simple, nutty amaretti cookies, and I’ve incorporated them into straightforward bar cookies reminiscent of blondies, and a tea cake with a complementary — and also piney — hint of rosemary.
ORANGE, PINE NUT, AND WHITE CHOCOLATE BARS
Makes 18 bar cookies
Nonstick cooking spray
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
1½ sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1½ cups pine nuts (about 7 ounces), lightly toasted
¾ cup white chocolate chips or roughly chopped white chocolate
With the rack in the middle position, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Cut a piece of foil or parchment as wide as the pan and about 22 inches long and fit it into the pan, pushing it into the corners and up the short sides (there will be overhang). Spray the foil or parchment with nonstick cooking spray and set pan aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and ½ teaspoon salt. In a large bowl, stir the brown sugar and zest together until fragrant. Add the melted butter and whisk to combine. Add the eggs and vanilla, and whisk to blend completely. Add the flour mixture and fold until wet and dry ingredients are semi-incorporated. Add 1 cup of the pine nuts and the white chocolate pieces and continue folding until distributed (do not over-mix). Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and sprinkle evenly with the remaining ½ cup pine nuts. Bake until the top is shiny and golden and the edges are just pulling away from the pan, 22 to 25 minutes (do not over-bake), rotating the pan halfway through baking time.
Place the pan on a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Lift out of the pan all at once using the ends of the foil or parchment, cut into 18 bars, and serve.
ROSEMARY-PINE NUT TEA CAKE
Makes 1 8½-by-4½-inch loaf
Nonstick cooking spray
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ cup sugar
1½ tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1 stick unsalted butter,
at room temperature and cut into chunks
3 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup plain yogurt, preferably whole milk
¾ cup pine nuts (about 4 ounces), all but 2 tablespoons lightly toasted
With the rack in the middle position, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8½-by-4½-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray, and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and ¼ teaspoon salt, and set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer or using a hand-held mixer, at medium speed, beat the sugar and rosemary until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer, add the butter, and beat at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla, beat well, and scrape the bowl again. Reduce mixer speed to low; add about a third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the yogurt, mixing until just incorporated after each addition. Repeat using half of the remaining flour mixture and all of the remaining yogurt. Scrape the bowl again and add the last of the flour mixture and the untoasted pine nuts; increase speed to medium-low and mix until batter is just incorporated (do not over-mix).
With a flexible spatula, scrape the batter into the loaf pan, smooth the top, and bake for 20 minutes. Working quickly, remove the pan from the oven, top the loaf with the toasted pine nuts, pressing gently to adhere (take care not to deflate the loaf, which won’t be fully set). Immediately return the pan to the oven (rotated 180 degrees from its original position) and continue baking until golden brown, the edges of the cake are just pulling away from the pan, and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes longer (do not over-bake). Place the pan on a wire rack and cool for about 15 minutes. Turn the loaf out, place it on the rack right side up, cool to room temperature, slice, and serve.
ITALIAN ALMOND-PINE NUT MACAROONS (AMARETTI AI PIGNOLI)
Makes about 40 cookies
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
2½ cups (about 12 ounces) pine nuts, ½ cup lightly toasted and cooled
1 7-ounce tube almond paste, broken into pea-size bits
2/3 cup sugar
2 large egg whites
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
With the rack in the middle position, heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat, and set aside. In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and ¼ teaspoon salt, and set aside.
In a food processor, pulse the ½ cup toasted pine nuts until coarsely ground (but not pasty), about 3 2-second pulses. Add the almond paste and sugar, and process until the mixture resembles wet sand, about 6 seconds. Add the egg whites and vanilla, and process until the dough comes together, about 6 seconds. Add the flour mixture and process until the dough is smooth and uniform, about 6 seconds longer, stopping to scrape down the bowl about halfway through.
With moistened hands, gently roll generous 1-teaspoon portions of dough into rough balls; toss them in the 2 cups untoasted pine nuts to coat all over, pressing gently, and arrange about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until set and lightly browned, 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through the baking time (do not over-bake).
Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for about 2 minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely. Repeat to bake the remaining dough. Serve (or store in an airtight container for up to 3 days).
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