It’s the scent that jogs our memories the most. The scent of food, and then its taste.
We all have that ‘little Madeleine’ experience which Marcel Proust wrote about. The moment of biting into a cake and letting its taste take us on a journey. Wherever that might be - in time or place.
So, what is your favourite taste? And where does it take you?
Mine is the Croatian coast. The fragrance of pine trees as I walk along the sea. The aerosol mixed with sea salt that makes my body and soul vibrate with renewed energy.
I want to go to that place all the time. So I devised a clever way to do it.
I created my own memory cookie. I call it the Boranka cookie. Because bor means a pine nut tree in Croatia. But also, because I am taking part in Boranka reforestation campaign.
My pine nut cookies scream Dalmatia. They are infused with lavender and lemon and they have pine nuts in the dough. It takes a tiniest bite and you’re on your way back to Dalmatia.
Read on or go straight to recipe.
Where do pine nuts come from
To bake my Boranka cookie, you need to get some pine nuts. You can, of course, buy them in most shops. But let’s create a deeper connection with the environment.
I want you to know what pine nuts are and where they come from.
Pignoli, as the Italians call them, are the edible seeds of a pine tree that grow in the cone. There are about 115 different types of pines but not all produce pine nuts for our consumption.
In fact, only 20 species will grow pine nuts that are big enough for harvesting. The Italians know that best because they use pignoli for their famous pesto. There is also the beloved Italian pignoli cookie, but we’ll talk sweets later on.
In the Mediterranean, it is only the stone pine (Lat. Pinus Pinea, Croatian Pinija) that gives edible pine nuts. This is the first reason why pine nuts are so expensive.
Next, pine trees love to grow far apart. They are elegant tall trees that need plenty of space. You can’t really cram them into an orchard.
And finally, all the pine nuts are hand-harvested. Yes, even with all the modern technology, each tiny pine nut is taken out of the cone by hand.
Talk about the slow food approach!
Why are pine nuts good for you
So, yes, pignoli nuts are expensive. But the good news is you don’t need many to enjoy their superior health benefits.
Also, don’t freak out when you see the calories in pine nuts. 673 calories in 100 g or 909 calories in 1 cup. To add insult to injury, pine nuts contain 68% fat. This is why they taste so great, right?
Now, let’s move on to the good parts. And there are many, especially when it comes to pine nuts health benefits.
Eat them regularly and you’ll be young forever.
Joking! But they are anti-inflammatory so they will slow down your ageing. Again, think of all those spritely Italian grannies.
Aside from the whopping fat content, pine nuts are laden with protein (13.7g per 100g) and fiber (3.7g per 100g). Translated, this means they are good for losing and managing weight.
We’ll see if this is true once you bake my Boranka pine nut cookies. Wink!
Pine nuts boast a variety of minerals and vitamins.
Zinc strengthens your immunity and iron will keep your brain oxygenated. There is lots of vitamin K in those little nuts to keep your bones strong and sturdy. And finally, phosphorus is there to take care of your optimal digestion.
In other words, eat them pignoli nuts and live to 100.
Which is not so far-fetched judging by the longevity of most Mediterranean people.
Have I convinced you of the pine nuts nutrition?
Then we’re ready to bake the Boranka cookie!
My pignoli cookies you will adore
There aren’t that many pignoli cookies recipes around. The most famous are the Italian pine nut cookies which come from Sicily. They are basically cookies made with marzipan and rolled into pine nuts.
My Boranka pine nut cookie is a whole different breed. It’s a classic biscuit enriched with chopped pine nuts, infused with lemon and lavender. I also use toasted pine nuts as a decoration, to make the cookie look like a proper pine tree.
Here is what we’ll need before we get down to baking:
- dry lavender buds
- organic lemon zest
- tree-shaped cookie cutter
- pine nuts
BORANKA cookie recipe:
Ingredients for 22 cookies:
240 g [1 3/4 cups] all-purpose flour
120 g [1/2 cup] butter (cold, cubed)
1 egg yolk
85 g [2/3 cups] powdered sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
zest of 1 (organic) lemon
50 g [1/3 cup] pine nuts: chop 2/3 for the dough, keep the rest for decoration
1 1/2 tsp dry lavender buds chopped
pinch of salt
powered sugar for dusting
Toast 2/3 of the pine nuts. The best way to toast pine nuts is in a heavy bottom pan or skillet. Once they begin to roast, don't lose them out of sight. As soon as they turn golden, take them off and move into another bowl. Chop them roughly. We don’t want ground pine nuts because they will make the dough too fatty.
Preheat oven to 180°C [350°F]. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Whisk salt into flour to distribute evenly. Rub the butter in. Add sugar, lavender, lemon zest and chopped pine nuts. Next, add the egg yolk and lemon juice and bring the dough together. Form it into a disk and chill in the refrigerator until firm (at least 1 hour).
Roll the dough out to 0.5 cm thickness. Cut the dough with a cookie cutter. Make a little whole in each corner of the tree with a toothpick. Place a whole pine nut inside.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until slightly golden around the edges. Dust each cookie with a bit of powdered sugar but not so much to cover the pine nuts.
Enjoy the smells and tastes of Dalmatia! You can keep the cookies in a container for a week.
Why we need to save pine nut trees
We now know the nutritional and health benefits of the pine nuts. We know they taste fabulous. It’s time I tell you why I am so passionate about protecting pine trees.
Since I published Croatian Desserts cookbook, I've wondered about trees used for printing. I asked my printers for the paper specs and this is what I found out.
The majority of trees used to produce printing paper are conifers. Think evergreen trees, such as pine, spruce, and fir.
I learned this when I stayed on the island of Lošinj, which is known for its thick pine forests.
Lošinj was one of Croatia’s first health resorts. Its favourable weather and lush pine vegetation act as climate therapy. Most people come to the island to treat respiratory ailments - with much success.
Lošinj’s reputation goes back to the 19th century, when the Croatian botanist Ambroz Haračić recognized these benefits. On his advice, the royal Austrian government named Lošinj a climate health resort in 1892.
Why are pine trees so special?
Scientist proved that pines trees release aromatic compounds. Well, we all know the refreshing scent of pines. What we don't see is that they get converted into aerosol particles.
Now you know why walking through a pine forest, especially along the sea, is so invigorating. This cleanses your lungs and oxygenates your entire body.
Aside from producing aerosol, pine trees prevent soil erosion. They also act as natural humidifiers. This means that vineyards and orchards don’t need irrigation. Hello plavac mali from Dalmatia!
Join Boranka reforestation project
When Ambroz Haračić realized the value of pine forests, he encouraged the locals to plant pines around Mali Lošinj. What we see and enjoy today on the island of vitality was planted by our ancestors.
Boranka reforestation campaign has the same goal. Instead of letting nature heal on its own, Boranka volunteers plant trees where fire destroyed them.
In 2017, one of the largest wildfires in Dalmatia scorched more than 4500 hectares of forests. The fire came very close to the city of Split.
The Scout and Guide Association of Croatia started Boranka [Paint It Back] the following year. They have planted more than 65,000 trees since then.
Why? Because it is not enough to let nature heal itself. Boranka volunteers are the only ones who can reach almost inaccessible mountain slopes. And, as they explained to me, once the soil is burnt, there is no way a tree can take root and grow from its own seed.
This is why I am dedicating my pine nut cookies to Boranka. This is why I am joining the volunteers in planting trees. And this is also why I encourage you to join me.
When you buy my Croatian Desserts book I will donate 20% of all sales for the reforestation of Dalmatia.
Let’s do this together!
I am excited to make these cookies. I have some pine nuts we collected in late summer just begging for me to crack them open, and now I have a great excuse to find my perfect rock. and get cracking.
Mostly I want to say how much I appreciate your support for the reforestation project and for educating us about the project. Here in Spain, we are also dealing with how to reforest large landscape after fire, especially steep and stony lands with thin soils.
Also, I was hoping to buy your book in person during a trip to Zagreb, but the virus has had other plans. So today I bought it. I have thoroughly browsed my sister's copy, and now will have my own!
Speaking of my trip to Croatia, I DID contact you last winter to see if I could schedule a "cooking demo" with my group of Mushroom Hunters in October. (which I had to cancel for 2020). And you agreed to the idea, but we never got to develop it.
Coincidentally, a couple days ago I decided I would contact you again to see if you could do a "virtual demo" or perhaps offer a unique Croatia autumns recipe that I could share with my people in my next newsletter.
Perhaps a dish with cabbage or pumpkin, things we really enjoyed last year in Slavonia and in the Lika region. (I love making my Baca's Bucnica). And we can promote your cookbook!
Would it be possible to schedule a video-chat for some day next week to discuss this possibility?
Thanks again for all you enthusiasm and engagement with Croatian culture and a wonderful community.
Thanks, Christine. Yes, I remember our conversation. Best to continue it over email.