If you’re like me and bake mountains of goodies as gifts for the holidays, then maybe the last thing on your mind right now is hearing about another cookie recipe. But in my world, there is no such thing as cookieless season — and I’m quite excited to introduce my newest addition to this year’s tins of treats. I usually make about four kinds of holiday cookies, two of which have become sought-after staples (orange cardamom and hazelnut brown sugar), along with a spicy variety featuring lots of ginger and rich molasses. The fourth and final cookie is always a new experiment.
This season’s newbie is a crunchy, light pistachio cookie with a little burst of citrus. It came to mind when I saw pistachio paste at a beloved nearby market and found myself licking my lips, just from the sight of it. Almond paste is a standard in my kitchen, so the thought of a version made from its distinctive, greener cousin was simply enticing. I decided on an airy dough with a bit of tangy lemon zest, rolled it in crushed pistachios, and glazed the baked cookies with citrusy icing. For both the palate and the eyes, the new cookies made for scrumptious selection — one that will surely be coming out of my oven again, well before next winter. Here is the recipe.
Pistachio Crunch Cookies (makes about 40 – 45 little cookies)
- 6 ounces pistachio paste**
- 1/3 cup butter at room temperature
- 1 large egg
- finely grated zest of one lemon
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 and 2/3 cup flour
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 ounces shelled unsalted pistachios
- 2 drops natural green food coloring (completely optional and not necessary)
Finely chop or crush the pistachio nuts; set aside in a small to medium bowl. Using a standard-sized (large hole) grater, grate the pistachio paste into a separate, large bowl. [The nut paste has texture similar to marzipan or Play-Doh; the name “paste” is actually kind of misleading. To grate it, take a handful (as if it were a potato you were grating) and just go back and forth over the large grater holes with gentle pressure. If the pistachio paste is stubborn or sticky, it can be easier to chill or freeze it first, which will firm it up for the grating process.]
Beat the butter, then the egg, then the extracts into the paste. Keep beating until smooth. Over the butter mixture, sift the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Mix well, until dough is even, then fold in the zest until evenly dispersed — along with the food coloring if using.
Using two teaspoons of dough per cookie (0.5 ounce each), use your hands to roll dough into balls, then roll the balls into the chopped nuts, pressing gently. Place cookies on parchment-lined cookie sheets about 1.5″ apart from one another. Freeze for about 20 minutes or until ready to bake (up to 2 weeks if covered tightly). While dough chills, preheat oven to 350 F. Bake cookies for 16-18 minutes, until their tops are golden brown and have cracked a bit.
For the glaze — which is optional but amplifies the deliciousness and beauty:
- 1 cup powdered sugar, packed
- 2 teaspoons almond extract
- 3-4 tablespoons Grand Marnier, or lemon juice (from zested fruit above), or a combination of the two, or anything similar
- 1 uncooked egg white (about 2 tablespoons – no more)
Sift the powdered sugar into a medium bowl. Add the extract and liqueur/lemon juice a little at a time; whisk until smooth. Whisk in the egg white. Glaze will be rather thin. Once the cookies have completely cooled, drizzle the icing over each cookie using a teaspoon. It works well to do this on a cooling rack with parchment underneath, so that you can quickly scoop up and reuse the glaze from below. Let icing dry completely, then devour.
These crispy cookies are sweet with citrus and warm with the unique richness that only pistachios offer. Each bite holds a scrumptious and satisfying crunch, followed by a burst of nutty, lemony flavor. If you’re looking for a decadent balance of salty and sweet in a tasty and toothsome form, pistachio crunch cookies are for you. I hope you enjoy them to every last crumb.
Maybe next time… Two teaspoons of orange or grapefruit zest would be a great substitute for the lemon zest in these cookies. If you don’t want to use uncooked egg white in the glaze, simply omit it; the icing will be thicker and will take longer to set. If you want to try these cookies without so much crunch, stop the baking time at 12 – 14 minutes and let them cool completely on baking sheets; the centers will be chewy and the edges dry. (I preferred the longer bake because I was in the mood for a good crunch: a texture that works especially well in my cookie tins for both variety and lasting freshness.) One can usually find pistachio paste at markets that carry specialty products from Italy, though DIYers will surely find a way to make their own.**
**As shown here, my pistachio paste was Sicilfrutti brand “Latte Di Pistacchio” — but after my local store stopped carrying it, I’m only finding it on Italy-based web sites now. The pistachio paste was very similar to Odense Almond Paste (the log that comes in a 7 ounce box), which is easy to find and would make a fine substitute. The cookies could still be covered in pistachios — the two nuts are quite complementary, and in fact pistachio paste usually has an almondy flavor. I haven’t tried the “pistachio nut paste” in the can that I have seen sometimes in stores and online; it seems to be runnier than what I used here. Another option, depending how much DIY you are up for, is to try make your own pistachio paste — see http://bit.ly/1S77U3C.