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Pignola: Pine nut bread

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I don't drink alcohol, but I do use it in cooking and baking. It leaves a hint of flavour but not a very strong boozy content.
So I wasn't worried that I would be tipsy before work when I decided to include rum-soaked dates in some buns I was planning to have for breakfast. These buns are based on the pignola, a bread I first read about in Linda Collister's book Bread: From Ciabatta to Rye. This is how she describes it:
A rich, sweet, light-textured Italian breakfast bread flavoured with oranges. It is made with pine nuts and hazelnuts in Southern Italy and with almonds in Sardinia. The nuts are generally toasted for maximum flavour.
I searched around for more information, but even The Oxford Companion to Italian Food only had a reference to the nut (pinoli, pignoli, pinocchi) and to its uses in sweets, sauces, ice creams and tonics ("...good for aches and pains, beneficial to the stupid and paralytic, clearing up ulcers, and coughs..,", according to Mattioli) but nothing about the bread it gives its name to. Online sources have many references to pine nut cookies, and strangely, all the bread recipes that appear seem to be sourced from Linda Collister or adapted from her recipe.
There is no sugar in this recipe, except for the liberal dusting of icing sugar on the buns after they bake, so any sweetness comes from the dried fruit and orange juice (if using). Since I use rum, my buns aren't all that sweet and since they already have quite a bit of butter in them, I spread on jam. But I like them "bare" as well.
The texture of this bun is a cross between bread and a scone. I don't know if that is how it should be, but I like the contrast of medium soft crumb and creamy pine nuts. I think the dates had been over-macerated (I forgot about them and left them soaking in rum for four days!) and got mashed into the dough during the kneading.
Since these buns are Italian-inspired, I think another way to use them is in an ice cream sandwich, which, if I'm not mistaken, is a common snack in the southern part of Italy where their wonderful gelato is scooped into a sweet bun, like brioche. The nuts and fruit in pignola would complement the ice cream nicely. However, a whole bun may be too big for the snack so I would probably just use half.

This is submitted to YeastSpotting.
Dust liberally with icing sugar
Pine Nut & Rum-soaked Date Breakfast Bread
Based on the Pignola recipe in Bread: From Ciabatta to Rye. Makes 8 large buns

100g dried dates, quartered
3 tbsp dark rum¹
400g unbleached strong white bread flour
1 tsp sea salt
150g unsalted butter, diced
2¼ tsp (7g) easy-blend dried yeast
2 medium eggs, beaten
2 tbsp tepid water
30g almond halves², lightly toasted in a dry frying pan
100g pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan
Icing sugar, for dusting

Put the dates and rum in a bowl and soak overnight.
Next day, mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Rub the diced butter into the flour with the tips of your fingers until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the dried yeast on the mixture and stir in until combined.
Make a well in the centre and add the beaten eggs, rum-soaked date mixture (the dates would have absorbed the rum and there will be very little liquid) and tepid water. Gradually work in the flour to make a very soft, slightly sticky dough (almost like a drop cookie dough). If there are dry crumbs in the bowl, or the dough seems dry and tough, work in a little more tepid water, 1 teaspoon at a time.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Knead for 5 minutes. It will be soft and pliable but not as sticky. Return it to the bowl, place bowl in a large plastic bag (or cover with cling film) and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 3 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.
Turn out the risen dough onto a lightly oiled work surface, sprinkle with the nuts and gently work them in. When they are evenly distributed, divide the dough into 8 equal portions, shape them into balls and pat them into rounds about 7cm wide and 2.5cm thick³. Set well apart on a greased baking sheet. Slip the baking sheet into a large plastic bag, inflate slightly, tie the opening with a rubber band to seal, then let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Allow longer if the dough has been refrigerated.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 190°C.
Uncover the dough and bake in the preheated oven until the buns are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped underneath, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, dust liberally with icing sugar and let cool.
Eat within 4 days or freeze for up to 1 month.
¹ Instead of rum, use the grated zest and juice of 2 oranges.
² Instead of halved almonds, use whole hazelnuts.
³ The dough can also be shaped as a large loaf. After the nuts have been worked in, shape the dough into a ball and pat into a round 20cm in diameter and 3.5cm thick. Baking time is about 35 minutes.


  1. I'm less than 2 months away from moving back to Brazil and now I'm trying to use up all the stuff in my pantry. Coincidentally, I have some dates, some pine nuts, almonds and even rum that has been infused with vanilla pods, cinnamon and cloves. I think I will have to give this beautiful bread a go :o) It looks so delicious!

    1. Yay! I hope you do try it Renata.
      That spice-infused rum sounds delicious! I am going to make some of that too and use it in a future recipe.

    2. Hi again Jane,
      I had everything ready to make this bread, I soaked the dates overnight, all my ingredients were separated and when it came to toast the nuts and pine nuts, I found out that the little package of pine nuts I have may have expired. It doesn't have and expiry date on the package (too bad), and when I opened it, it just didn't smell right. Not taking the risk :( Will try it some other time. Sorry about that. After all, making pine nut bread without the pine nuts makes no sense at all.

    3. Know what? I'm doing it anyway... will get back to you with my results :)

    4. Can't wait, Renata! Having seen your innovative ways, I have no doubt you will come up with something extraordinary!

    5. Jane, the post is up! Thanks for sharing this amazing recipe, I loved it!

  2. Those are lovely looking buns Jane, I would love to try them too except no kitchen for the next month! Been bookmarking many recipes to try! This will be another one!

    1. Too bad about the kitchen. Hope it's just being renovated and no major problems. Lots of baking after this month then!


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