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Pine Nut Cake - Pinolata


I love this cake because you can have it after dinner as a dessert or you can have it in the morning with coffee and it's great either way.  The traditional way to make this cake is very simple which is just mixing up the batter and pouring it into your pan.  But thanks to Andrew Carmellini of Locanda Verde in New York City, I use a different method.  He's a master at taking classic dishes and giving them a new twist and that is what he did with this cake.  In his terrific book, Urban Italian, he makes the usual batter but then he whips up a meringue and folds that into the batter. It makes for a wonderfully light cake.  He also adds lemon zest and juice to the cake, making it even more special.   He likes to slice this cake and makes an ice cream sandwich out of it, with chocolate ice cream!  Now there's an idea.  

This recipe makes 3 cakes.  I wrapped two up tightly and stuck them in the freezer for use over Thanksgiving - they will definitely come in handy.  I will just whip up some cream to serve with them. 

Since the meringue is made with just egg whites, you will have egg yolks left over.  You can either make gnocchi (which is what I did the next day) or you can make homemade pasta. 

Pine Nut Cake (Pinolata)



adapted from Urban Italian 

for a printer friendly recipe, click here

makes 3 9x5 cakes


for the cake batter:

  • 2 cups pine nuts
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 3/4 cup yogurt

for the meringue:

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup sugar



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Toast the pine nuts over very low heat in a dry saute pan until they have just begun to take on a golden color. Remove from the stove and reserve.

Prepare the batter

Meanwhile, cream the sugar, butter and lemon zest together in a KitchenAid with the paddle attachment.  Be sure to scrape down the sides as you go to make sure everything mixes evenly.

When the mixture is quite smooth, add the flour and baking powder.  Mix until the dry ingredients are just incorporated and then begin adding the eggs, one by one, waiting until each egg is thoroughly mixed in before adding the next.  Turn the KitchenAid up to high for about 5 seconds to combine everything thoroughly, then scrape down the sides and the bottom with a spatula and mix in any bits that have failed to incorporate.

Add the yogurt and mix in with the paddle attachment until it's thoroughly incorporated.

As you continue mixing, add the lemon juice and incorporate. Scrape down the sides and bottom and mix well with a spatula.  Then transfer the mixture to a large bowl.  


Prepare the meringue:

Beat the egg whites in the mixer with the whisk attachment at medium speed until they've formed a froth.

While the egg whites are still whisking, add the sugar in a slow stream.  Mix at medium for 20 seconds and then turn up the mixer to high and continue beating until the meringue forms stiff peaks, about 4 minutes.  

Finish the cake:

Fold a third of the meringue into the batter using a rubber spatula to combine well.  Add the rest of the meringue and fold in well until the mixture is combined.  Fold in the pine nuts, reserving about 3 tablespoons for the top of the cakes.

Spray 3 9x5 loaf pans evenly on all sides with a nonstick coating.  Fill each loaf pan about two-thirds full with the batter.  Smooth and flatten the tops with the spatula.  Sprinkle the tops of the cakes with the reserved pine nuts.  

Bake the loaves on the middle rack until you can put a knife into each and bring it out clean, about 45 minutes.

Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool in the pans for about 30 minutes and then turn them out onto a cake rack to cool completely.   You can wrap and freeze them if you wish.

You might also like Pignoli, Italian Pine Nut Cookies.  They are our favorite little cookie.

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Reader Comments (21)

How delightful. I love anything with pine nuts.

November 13, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterelra

I ADORE pine nuts - pureed into a salad dressing, in a lamb meatloaf, or in sweet dishes. Haven't seen this recipe yet so must give it a try!

November 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCooking with Michele

They look fabulous and moist. Gives me something to do with all those pine nuts i have in my freezer that my mom gave me last year :) Thanks for postin!

November 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDan @ kitchen monki

This looks amazing! What kind of yogurt?

November 13, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermarci

From The Italian Dish:

Marci: I just used plain yogurt. I bet lemon would be nice, too, though!

November 13, 2009 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

I went to buy pinenuts a week ago and it was $8.00, for a very small container, why are they so expensive? When I build up my pine nut supply, I'm making this!

November 13, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermarie

Italian cakes make me crazy, they are always so perfect with just the right balance of texture and sweetness. I cannot wait to try this one out, thanks for the great pictures and recipe.

November 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFrenchie

I am going to have to make this for my boss - she is obsessed with pine nuts - and I am pretty sure I am obsessed with that batter! Could eat it plain all day long!

November 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGaby

Thank you for posting this recipe. It is delicious! I'm curious, have you tried using olive oil instead of butter? I make a citrus olive oil cake and love the idea of not having to use butter once in a while!

Any recipe of yours that I've tried has been wonderful. Thank you so much!

November 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarissa

From The Italian Dish:

Carissa: No, I have not tried using olive oil instead of butter but I bet that would be an interesting taste. If you try it that way, please let me know how it comes out! Thanks.

November 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElaine

Dear goodness do I ever love pine nuts. I'm going to pick up a precious little bundle and try this recipe soon :)

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMel @

Wow. This recipe is calling my name. It's such a huge recipe though! Freezing is a good idea but how does it fare after taking it out?

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered

From The Italian Dish:

Sarah: This cake is absolutely fabulous after it's frozen and thawed out. You will be glad you have a couple of loaves to freeze. It's great as a breakfast cake or just a snack or dessert cake. It's one of my favorite things.

September 18, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

Italian dish:
Beautiful site you have! I've just tried your craberry cake and it was a big succes, Thanks. I want
now to try this pine cake but the rate sugar/flour/ butter sounds not logic. Iam afraid it is not sweet enough and it would be a pitty with all those expensive nuts,or is ideed just1 1/4 cup sufficient? Also The way of mixing is not the traditional: first the flour and then eggs end yought at rhe end? Is there any reason for
changing the regular/ butter,sugar,eggs flour altenating withmilk/youghurt method? Thanks for an speedy answer, the nuts are already roasted. Greetings from Belgium.

November 23, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergaby

From The Italian Dish:

Gaby: This is not an overly sweet cake, which is what I like about it. However, there is a good amount of sugar in it. 1-14 cups of sugar is about 252 grams. Does that help?

Also, beating the sugar and butter together first and then the dry ingredients and then the eggs is a pretty traditional method. The yogurt is added last. Just try it. I think you will like it. It's one of my favorite cakes.

November 23, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

Dear Elaine:

Thanks so much for your "speedy" answer.The cakes are now in the oven at this right moment and they look great.I'll let you know about the taste later!!!!I must tell you that i had it difficult in not addding more sugar but i trust you in this one! I am the kind of cook that allaways want to change somthing," personal touch", you know.sometimes with luck and others a dissaster, but c'est la vie!!! Thanks again for all the efforts you take in building this blog, Beautiful pictures.

November 24, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergaby

Hello again,

I've just taste the cake and i specially like the smooth texture,very "creamy", not dry like normal cakes but a "velvet" texture. Nice lemon taste but from the nuts almost nothing wich i find a pitty; have you ever tried without nuts? or with a another kind, like almonds?Thanks again.

November 24, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergaby

It looks pretty delicious. I will try that recipe, I have been trying different things to improve my diet and help to take Generic Viagra because I have problems with it.

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Gray

I made it today. Completely skipped the meringue and it still turned out perfect.
I did increase the sugar a little bit and added vanilla. It is soft and buttery.

May 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNV

Hello ~ how long will this cake keep at room temperature before it becomes dry/stale?

August 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRuby

Looks awesome! can you give me adjustments to make 1 loaf? thanks!

September 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteramy

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