Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Month of Vegan Cookies: Pignoli Almond Cookies (Ongoing Giveaway)

Vegan Pignoli Cookies

I'll be frank with you. This latest foray into the kitchen didn't go as well as I'd hoped. Call this an excuse if you will, but things went downhill after my mom lectured me at the outset. After 20-some years I should be immune to her nagging and unintentional insults, but she really struck a nerve last night. In short, she accused me of sabotaging the health of my coworkers by bringing them my sweets.

Many I know would've brushed this off and kept going on their merry. And perhaps I could've if I weren't in fact passionate about improving the eating habits of Americans. The thing is, my eventual goal is to become a dietitian. Mom's accusation dug deep because I'd secretly feared as much. And while I don't have all the answers yet, I have figured out at least 3 things I believe:
  1. ...that indulgences can be part of a healthy diet. While I try to cut fat and sugar where I can do so without sacrificing taste, a small portion of something rich often more effectively satisfies a craving than a "lightened" ghost of the original.
  2. ...that mindless overeating of low quality food is a source of many diet problems in the US. By exposing others to freshly-made, preservative-free treats made with high quality ingredients, I hope I'm helping to cultivate an attentiveness to and appreciation of real good food (I know, this may be a bit too optimistic ^_^).
  3. ...that the joy of tasting something wonderful is best when shared. Food is so much more than calorie or antioxidant counts. It's an integral part of our cultures, our communities, our memories, ourselves.
What Mom doesn't realize when she bashes my baking is that she's cutting into a labor of love, into the pieces of myself that I put into everything I make. If you're reading this, you're probably passionate about food some way or another. I'd love to hear your take on these issues. If you need more incentive, leaving a comment (including your e-mail) will enter you to win one of 3 copies of the vegan cookie book I'm baking from. I'll pick the winners at random and let you know in my round-up/review post.

2009.12.06 Pignoli Cookies

Thanks for hearing me out. Now let's finally talk cookies! Unfortunately the fight left me frazzled and apparently unable to follow instructions. The margarine got too warm, my cookies spread too much, and were slightly greasy (what they're supposed to look like). But please don't let this discourage you from trying the recipe. The flavor of these cookies is excellent. Benefiting from a classic combination of fragrant almond paste and sweet and buttery pine nuts (or pignoli) (another of the great sample goodies I received from Sam at Oh! Nuts). Even with my mistakes, these were a hit with my coworkers and my spirits were lifted from seeing their smiles.

TEXTURE: 3/5 (probably due to my error not the recipe)
OVERALL: 3.5/5 (same as above)

Pignoli Almond Cookies [Printable Recipe]
Reproduced with permission from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar
via the authors' blog with my comments/changes in brackets
Makes 2 dozen cookies

XIAOLU'S NOTE: Be careful not to let the margarine get too warm (including not handling the dough too much!

7 ounces almond paste, sliced into 1 inch cubes (not marzipan)
A pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup nonhydrogenated margarine, softened [I used Earth Balance]
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 to 3 tablespoons almond milk for dipping [I used soymilk]

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a medium sized baking sheet with parchment paper.

Pulse almond paste, salt, baking powder and 1/3 cup sugar in a food processor until mixture is crumbly, about 1 minute.

In a large bowl cream together margarine and remaining 1/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add almond paste mixture and almond extract and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Sift in flour and beat until a slightly crumbly yet soft dough forms. Dough should form a soft mass when pressed together.

Pour pine nuts into a shallow bowl and pour 2 Tablespoons of almond milk into a small saucer. For each cookie, roll 1 tablespoon of dough in palms to form into a ball, dip one end in almond milk and press moistened end into pine nuts. If necessary press pine nuts into surface of ball. Place dough balls, pine nut side up, on baking sheet at least 2 inches apart. Bake for 14 minutes until cookies have puffed and spread a little, and nuts are are just slightly toasted. Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes to firm up before carefully transferring to cooling rack. Store in a tightly covered container.

MORSELS: These cookies are super-soft right out of the oven, so be sure to allow them a full 5 minutes to firm up on the cookie sheet before transferring to racks to complete cooling.

PREVIOUSLY: Sweet Potato Blondies and Espresso Chip Oatmeal Cookies
NEXT UP IN THIS SERIES: Chocolate Chip Cookies


  1. I want to be a dietician too, so i know how you feel! I too feel a bit guilty about cooking foods like this, but you also only live once!

  2. I'm vegan. I find that it is terribly hard to find recipes that don't have some type of complicated ingredient or that lack in flavor. I feel healthier than I ever have since I've switched from vegetarian to vegan. I will definitely try this recipe, thank you for posting it up.

  3. Honestly, these cookies look pretty good to me! They are my mom's favorite kind of cookies, actually and I may have to make them for her.

    So I have this same internal conflict as you do. However, I maintain that giving up sweets and treats entirely is a recipe for disaster. Namely because it is impossible. And also, I don't think it is home-baked goods that are making people fat. It's fast food and soda and potato chips. Eating a meal with others, one that is cooked with love, allows you to appreciate food and have a healthy relationship with it. It's so easy to gobble down three big macs while sitting at a table by yourself. But one burger will usually suffice when you are enjoying it with family and friends. Don't feel bad about baking. Everyone needs a little sweetness in their lives.

  4. Well said on all your points about snacks and healthy eating. Treats like these are not evil. Scarfing down a boat load of them every day is what's bad. Portion controll and mindful eating is the key. These are on my holiday treat list for sure! Gorgeous.

  5. These are so gorgeous- Really innovative! Beautiful pictures! Thank you so much for sharing!

  6. Awwwww I totally know how you feel. Asian moms would say something like that!! I'm visiting my parents this week, and I was showing my mom pictures of things I've baked and cooked, and her response was, "You must have way too much time on your hands." OUCH!

    As someone who is devoted to health/fitness/nutrition, not just personally, but for those I love - I still bake for them! I have rarely baked for a group of people and seen one person eat an unhealthily large portion (usually just a cookie, or a slice of cake, or whatever) - but I have seen how joyful and appreciated homebaked goods are after a long day! It is a personal, warm way to show love to others.

    I believe we truly need to treat ourselves sometimes. I think I eat healthier and stay at a healthy weight and exercise regularly b/c I allow myself the occasional, controlled indulgence. I have tried total restriction - absolutely no white flour, fat, dairy, sugar, caffeine, etc. etc. and it was BORING. I pretty much ate a nonstop diet of exclusively plain oatmeal, egg whites, and green veggies! I may have been much thinner, but I could never experience the joy of eating out with friends on occasion, having a slice of birthday cake, etc. Now, I really believe in balance.

  7. oy, your mom would hate me, i am a result of poor eating, i adore sweets, the very fab things you make... my take on it? BRING THEM ON!

    you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink and or diet...

    you are exquisite in the kitchen, and with your camera, keep your gorgeous works of art coming. don't let your mom rob you of your joy and passion, sharing your goodies is an act of love, they can opt to eat them or not them, but you are sharing your beautiful creations that are worthy of high praise from anyone~

  8. Eep...everyone tells me I'm doing the same thing to my coworkers! Today will be gingerbread cupcakes with mascarpone frosting and chocolate chip/candy cane cookies. They all love them, and gobble them down within a couple of days, but they will usually just eat one each a day, which isn't bad! My manager gives me the most flack for it - yet he's the one that always steals goodies to take home!

    I agree with you on all three points - I won't restrict myself and just bake and not eat it - I always try one, and munch one at work, and pass the rest on to friends/coworkers. I also think that they're at least better than store bought stuff, which is laden with shortening and preservatives - um, Oreos don't even have dairy! How creepy is that?! And the love, that's how they know I love them!

  9. Oh, I think you are 100% correct about a little bit of something indulgent with healthier ingredients. It's so much better than the crap those same people are buying out of the snack machine.
    Also, I had pretty much the same relationship with my mom and looking back I think that bashing my dreams, albeit subconsciously was just her way of holding onto the apron strings for fear of losing me. It's just a thought; it goes along with a huge smile and hugs for sharing with us all.

  10. Hey, the pictures look great. I'm kind of shocked about what your mom said, but agree completely about little indulgences being part of a healthy diet. I agree on your other two points too. Guessing that your Asian, from your name, (I'm Chinese), I'm just going to say that Asian moms can be severe and with such a huge culture gap, we sometimes see things in such different lights.

  11. I'm a dietitian and I totally agree with what you said here. People shouldn't give up the fun and pleasure of eating. But controlling the portion size is a big key! Love your cookies. They look so yummy. :)

  12. I think that the gesture of bringing homemade sweets greatly outweighs any overindulgence by your coworkers! These cookies are so neat looking, anybody would be appreciative to receive them :)
    cmonstr at gmail dot com

  13. I am so sorry your mother made you feel bad about baking. I totally agree with your 3 points though - everything in moderation I say. Life would be very dull without baked goods - so I say once in a while is a good thing.

    Your cookies like really good - I think they look very similar to the picture :)

  14. do you eat the baked goods that you make? you may give her a chance for concern if you're always baking them and giving them away, but never eating them yourself. but that's the only issue i can think of! just do what you love :)

  15. My friend, sometimes food is just that. Food. This is a wonderful treat and a gift to others.

    The garbage like convenience stuff isn't really food. No matter who pays enough money to say it is.

    Your photographs are beautiful by the way!


  16. Thanks for all of your thoughtful responses and sweet words about my photos! I'm really lucky to have connected to such wonderful people through cooking and blogging. I'll try to have a thicker skin from now on and will continue pursuing all of my various passions.

    Btw, the commenter whose alias is cmonstr...that's awesome!

  17. Im sorry your mother says things like that to you. Its hurtful and doesnt do anything for the relationship. I know exactly how you feel. But don't let that get you down. asian (presuming you are asian frm your name) mothers can be short in the diplomacy department.

    I try to eat healthy too but it doesnt mean I deprive myself or my family of some cookies or puddings once in a awhile. Live and eat in moderation thats what I believe...and the more you deprive yourself so strictly the more you crave for it..

    I would make more cakes if I had more people to share it with.....and sharing food makes everyone eat less of it....so I agree with all of your 3 points xiaolu!

  18. I love pine nuts in anything..your cookies amazing! I love that white spoon! Where did you buy it?

  19. Don't let what your mum said get to you - at the end of the day you are making some thing that brings others happiness and isn't full of chemicals, preservatives, hormones etc. So what if it has a bit of butter (not that bad for you anyway) and some sugar, I believe that if you make something with love, and that eating it brings you joy it is not going to 'hurt' your body. Nice pics btw.

  20. I'd strongly agree with you. A huge problem with the American diet is that we've been programmed to consume low quality, mass produced food items such that we find "real" food (fresh veg, fruit) that are pure and full of flavor on their own "boring"! I went on a diet (not really, I was just in England, and the ubiquity of potatoes and unseasoned food was enough to get me to eat healthy) for a year. Coming back to the states and eating the food here in California made me realize how greasy, salty, sugary, and gross things were. And this is california!

    Don't listen to your mom. I applaud you for doing what you love.

    (f i d e s v e r i t a @ hotmail.com)

  21. I often bring my baked goods to work/school to share (both to make people happy and to get it out of my house!) and I've thought before about how I might be negatively affecting other people's health. But it makes people happy and having a balance of healthy food and indulgences is absolutely necessary!! If your coworkers are happy about your baked goods then that's what matters. It's their choice to eat them, and they're lucky to have you bringing them! (These cookies look awesome by the way. I'm so hoping I'll win a copy of the vegan cookie book!)

  22. Beautiful little cookies - pine nuts make them so unusual and nutty in a different way!

    Oh mamas and their incessant nagging. I can't even begin to speak of mine and the things she tells me!

    As for "sabotaging" the health of your co-workers (excuse my mama)but that's ridiculous! I eat sweets every single day and i'm slim and in good health because I'll eat 2 homemade natural cookies, not a pack of factory made crap...and I eat very healthy otherwise.

    They key is moderation. Denying yourself the good things in life is such a mistake. Unless you have allergies/health concerns you should be able to enjoy a little cookie or cake as long as they are made with real ingredients and you are only having a decent size (SMALL) portion!

  23. These cookies look awesome! I love pine nuts.
    Mommy sounds a little harsh. Having a homemade cookie (or whatever) isn't going to kill your co-workers. It's all about balance.

  24. I'm so sorry to hear that your mum said that! To me that seems like she might be misconstruing the love and caring you take in baking things like this into something quite nasty with not so nice motives and I can understand how that can hurt! :(

  25. I originally came to your blog for the recipe -- I've recently moved out West and harvested pine nuts for the first time. I can't wait to make these cookies with some of the pine nuts I gathered! When I read the post, however, I was struck by the comments your mother made, and touched by your reply. I love to bake for others, and I agree with your observations. I think our culture has a long way to go in recovering food and culinary traditions from the damage done by industrialized food systems and entertainment/diet/health industries that so relentlessly coerce us into obsessing over body image, "bad" foods, etc. I think we make progress in restoring some sanity whenever people who love to cook and bake share food (including sweets!) with others.

  26. I feel everything in moderation is the best diet. Deprivation will bring on the craving. Love the cookies :)

  27. These cookies look so enticing! Pictures are excellent!

  28. Coooooookies! Love them! For eight straight weeks every year, starting the first week in October, I bake Christmas cookies and freeze for the big day. It drives my husband and children crazy because I only allow them a smidge to taste. I think that having a homemade cookie is better tasting and healthier than a store-bought one. Everything in moderation. Keep up the baking!

  29. My ... I regret that I didn't discover your blog earlier ... Yours rocks!! Lots of great, great things to explore into!

    Though I did acquire sweeter tooth from my stay in the U.S., I've been tamed down since I got home. These cookies look promising & chewy! (Yea, we won't use "chewy," "soft" to describe cookies here! LOL!


  30. Your photos are so beautiful- The colors so vibrant, and the depth of field is really engaging.

    PS, I'm really thrilled you're trying out vegan cookies! This is awesome. :)

  31. As someone in the process of becoming a Registered Holistic Nutritionist....I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND!! I love to bake, and I love to bake for others, too, and I always struggle because serving sweets is contradictory to what I am supposed to do, but I love your reasons- they make me feel better! Bake away! The cookies look great!

  32. I love your insights on indulging. I think that ultimately, what's making Americans obese is just bad food. If you eat something good and rich, you savor it and finish it. If you eat McDonalds all the time, it doesn't taste good or even interesting, and you just keep eating looking for some kind of satisfaction that you're not going to get!

  33. i feel i'm falling in love with this cookbook more an more with every recipe you post.

    jul at kepyklapenki . lt

  34. Your responses are so important to me and I'm touched by the support and encouragement. Thank you all, really!

  35. Keep up the baking.

    When I first started university, I was studying biochemistry. I wanted to become a clinical dietician. After a year and a half of my major, I swapped my area of focus, but my love of the balance of good food and a healthy lifestyle remained.

    I personally think the biggest issue is all the food we mindlessly consume that's riddled with preservatives, colourings, other additives. A homemade treat, every now and again, is not going to jeopardise health. People used to eat LARD in the 50s!

  36. These remind me of cookies my Great Aunt used to make at Holiday time! (Great old Italian cook!) Looking forward to trying this recipe next. (But must admit we've made several batches of the espresso cookies from last month. LOL)

    Like several others have said, your three points are right on - well said. As a Public Health professional and a self described foodie - food is a big part of my life. Cultural, evocative, decadent and healthy - they really can co-exist. Keep on doing what you love.

    Kristin (daizymae8@yahoo.com)

  37. Cookies très appétissants.
    May i have one???
    A bientôt.

  38. I agree with your three points and think an occasional sweet isn't to worry about. I think many health problems stem from people no knowing how to eat. Just grabbing something labeled "low fat" from the freezer section doesn't guarantee a healthy meal. Consuming a huge amount or processed foods isn't healthy. By making your own cookies you know exactly what you are eating! And these look great!

  39. Julia - I definitely think you're right that mindless consumption is one of the key problems today. Especially in a high pressure workplace like mine (a law firm), everyone just grabs what they can without knowing or wanting to know what's really inside.

    Kristin - Thanks so much for letting me know that you're enjoying the espresso cookies. It's also a relief to hear a health professional agree that those different elements of food can coexist.

    Saveurs et Gourmandises - Sure you can. Come on over ;).

    Erin - One of my biggest pet peeves is all the gimmicky labels used in food advertising to trick people into buying more packaged crap (excuses my language). One of the reasons I started baking in the first place.

  40. Ugh! Sometimes parents insist on talking to us as if we were "theirs" instead of talking to us like normal, independent human beings. I'm sorry that the fight left you frazzled, but I have to tell you that those cookies still look fabulous! :-)

    This is my official entry for your awesome cookbook giveaway! (I found you through foodgawker by the way)

    River - thecraftykook(at)gmail(dot)com

  41. Heck yeah. I love pine nut cookies, and yours look great. Thanks for stopping by Herbivoracious today! I'm glad to know about your blog now.

  42. I hear ya! I'm no expert, but I believe that everything in moderation is the key. Parents can't be right all the time! (I hope... :) )

  43. Well, don't let her put you down. I believe everytime you see the smiles in your coworkers' faces showing how appreciative and pleased they are with your baking, your mom's unpleasant comments will instanly drift away.

    Every mom has her different way of showing love and concern. Perhaps your mom's way is projecting through comments over your baking. You should tell her how you feel. Sometimes a heart-to-heart talk is all that you and her need.

    Sawadee from Bangkok,

  44. I can't believe I missed this post! You are so honest about your feelings about your Mom - sometimes they say things, we say things we don't mean. I 100% agree with you about the 3 things you've learned. In particular, that all things should be done in moderation.

  45. I disagree with your mom on this one and completely agree with you. I bake from scratch all the time and I don't feel any guilt about eating it - it's natural and has none of the trans fats, additives and preservatives that we get in supermarket stuff. Bring on the home baked treats!

    Mothers were put on this earth to test our patience at times ;) Try not to take it too much to heart.

  46. Wow, have just found my new favourite blog :D You are exactly right, a bit of what you truly enjoy in moderation is the best policy. But at the same time these actually look super-healthy; has your mother not LOOKED at the ingredients list?! :D

    These actually look incredible and I can't wait to browse the rest of the site. Happy new year!

  47. when done with quality ingredients, with love, and enjoyed in moderation... no, thats not a bad thing!

  48. I just became a vegan. Thanks for all the inspiring recipes.

  49. I am familiar with Asian moms, and I understand. Thanks for sharing this link in your "7 links" so it gave me a chance to discover this one. Asian moms (and indian - which is coincidentally a part of asia too, but i have to distinguish the difference somehow) have a brutal delivery...so harsh that you want to slam the door. but then somehow, whatever they say, sinks in. grrrrr. i love your honesty in this piece and the way you open up to your readers. very important. keep doing what you do. few people can say that they love what they do. no one can argue how much joy you bring to those around you...whether we can taste the sweet treats or not. :)


I love hearing from you all! Please leave me a message if you have questions, advice, or just to let me know you stopped by. Your feedback is always very much appreciated. Thanks! <3 Xiaolu