Italian Walnut Pillow Cookies

Italian Walnut Pillow Cookies - Little iced nut roll cookies that my grandma made every Thanksgiving! | browneyedbaker.com

[These cookies were originally posted wayyyyy back in February 2009. I wanted to revive them from the archives because they deserved some new and improved pictures, and, most importantly, because these were always a Thanksgiving tradition in our family.]

I rarely associate Thanksgiving dessert with anything other than things like pie (pumpkin, pecan, apple, oh my!), pumpkin rolls, carrot cakes and gingerbread trifles. The cookie baking tends to ramp up the week after Thanksgiving when all of the Christmas baking kicks off, but there is one cookie that will forever and always remind me of Thanksgiving… These “pillow” cookies.

In our family, they were simply referred to as pillows; I have no idea how they got that name, but I guess is that it’s because they’re little puffs of deliciousness :)  These are essentially little nut rolls that have been baked and dipped in a basic powdered sugar icing. Growing up, Thanksgiving was a huge deal. All of my grandfather’s family lived outside of Chicago and many of them would travel here to Pittsburgh for the week to celebrate the holiday. The week before they showed up, my grandma made batch after batch of these cookies, on top of all the other cooking and prepping that was required for a house full of people for a week plus hosting a major holiday for well over 20 people. Somehow though, my grandma never, ever made it look like actual work. She was absolutely in her glory.

Italian Walnut Pillow Cookies - Little iced nut roll cookies that my grandma made every Thanksgiving! | browneyedbaker.com

While these little nut rolls might look a little high maintenance, they really couldn’t be easier to make. If you have a food processor, the filling comes together in less than five minutes. In keeping with my grandma’s tradition, I make the dough using a hand mixer and keep the stand mixer on the shelf. After the dough and filling are made, it’s a simple process of rolling out the dough, spreading the filling and rolling it up and cutting into slices.

Italian Walnut Pillow Cookies - Little iced nut roll cookies that my grandma made every Thanksgiving! | browneyedbaker.com

I always remembered my grandma’s cookies being smooth on top, but last year my mom was at my house when I was making them and said my grandma always baked them cut-side-up.  No matter how I bake them, I can’t get them to look exactly like my grandma’s, but they still taste just like hers!

Since my grandma passed away, I’ve made sure that these cookies have been on my Thanksgiving dessert menu every year. It just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without them! The best part is that whatever we don’t finish after Thanksgiving dinner can be frozen for Christmas trays.

Italian Walnut Pillow Cookies - Little iced nut roll cookies that my grandma made every Thanksgiving! | browneyedbaker.com

One year ago: Taffy Apple Salad
Two years ago: DIY: Homemade Twinkies
Four years ago: Thanksgiving Leftovers Casserole

Italian Walnut Pillow Cookies

Yield: Approximately 7 dozen cookies

Prep Time: 2 hours

Cook Time: 15-20 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours

My grandma's famous cookies - miniature nut roll cookies covered in a simple icing.

Ingredients:

For the Dough:
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk (whole, 2% or 1%)
4½ cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

For the Filling:
1½ lbs. walnuts, very finely chopped or ground in a food processor
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
1½ cups granulated sugar
4 egg whites, lightly beaten

For the Icing:
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons milk

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. Make the Dough: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

3. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together the sugar and shortening. Add the egg and vanilla and combine well. Add in the remaining ingredients, alternating between the flour mixture and milk, starting and ending with the flour mixture and making sure all of the ingredients are well incorporated. (The dough will be soft.) Divide the dough into four even pieces, wrap each in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

4. Make the Filling: In a large bowl, stir together the chopped nuts and the sugar. Add the melted butter and stir until evenly moistened. Add the egg whites and mix well until completely combined.

5. Assemble the Cookies: On a well-floured surface, roll out a piece of dough into a rectangle measuring about 6 inches by 18 inches. Using an offset spatula, spread one-quarter of the nut filling onto the dough, leaving a small border around the perimeter of the dough. Roll up as you would a jelly roll, with the short ends to the left and right of you, and seal the ends. Cut the roll into 1-inch pieces and place on the prepared baking sheet cut-side-up. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough and filling (you should be able to fit all of the cookies on two baking sheets.) Bake until the cookies are a light golden brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and cool completely.

6. Ice the Cookies: Once the cookies are cooled, whisk together the powdered sugar, vanilla and milk in a small bowl. Dip the tops of the cookies into the icing and let any excess drip off. Allow the icing to set completely before storing. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. These cookies also freeze incredibly well.

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64 Responses to “Italian Walnut Pillow Cookies”

  1. Z on February 23, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    Congratulations on 2 years. It’s only a few days late… Better late than never right? :) These cookies look tasty!

    Reply

  2. Carrie on February 23, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    I miss your updates! They are so rare now! More please :)

    Reply

  3. Elyse on February 23, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Happy blogiversary!! Your blog is so wonderful! And these pillow cookies…YUM. Can’t wait to try them.

    Reply

  4. Lyn on February 23, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    Happy Blogversary!
    My husband’s grandmother used to make nut rolls and poppy seed rolls whenever we visited. She has now passed and her recipes went with her (she never wrote a recipe down). Could I use this recipe to re-create the nutrolls without slicing them into cookies and omitting the icing? And if so, if you had a recipe for the poppyseed filling my husband would be estatic!

    Reply

    • Bunny on January 5th, 2013 at 6:49 pm

      I too am from PA and I make the Kiffles. did you ever get the recipe? I will send to you if you like.
      Bunny

      Reply

      • Sara on December 11th, 2013 at 8:48 pm

        Will you send me the recipe please?

        Reply

  5. Pennies On a Platter on February 23, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    Congratulations on 2 years!!

    Reply

  6. sharon on February 24, 2009 at 12:53 am

    Not to be unhelpful, but I love everything about your site! You have wonderful photography and delicious recipes :)

    Reply

  7. Caitlin on February 24, 2009 at 7:42 am

    Congrats on 2 years! Can’t wait to see what’s in store for your site, and those cookies sound wonderful – I love walnuts in cookies.

    Reply

  8. ovenhaven on February 24, 2009 at 10:09 am

    Happy blogiversary! :D Those walnut pillows look really good! I’ve never came across them before. Do you think I could substitute the shortening for the dough with butter?

    Reply

  9. Joelen on February 24, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Congrats on 2 years! These look delicious!

    Reply

  10. Maria on February 24, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Congrats on two years!! I love your blog, I don’t think you need to change anything, but I know change is good and fun:) I love your sweet recipes! Keep them coming!

    Reply

  11. Chelle on February 24, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    LYN — I totally sympathize with grandmas who don’t write down their recipes! I think you could definitely make this into a nutroll, but I think the dough recipe will probably be more of a shorty/pastry dough than your typical nutroll dough. I would divide the dough into 2 pieces rather than 4 and make two medium-sized nutrolls. If you decide to give it a try please let me know how it turns out!

    Reply

  12. Chelle on February 24, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    OVENHAVEN — I’m sure you could substitute in the butter for the shortening without issue – I would use unsalted butter and have it at room temperature to make sure it creams well.

    Reply

    • thesweetestpea on November 24th, 2013 at 4:21 am

      Chelle, I was going to ask this same question about the butter sub. I have read that sometimes you might have to add a bit more flour to keep the cookies from spreading when subbing butter for shortening. However, this is a thicker dough so it might not be that prone to spreading. I might add 1/4 cup more flour to be on the safe side. What do you think?? I’ve never been a fan of shortening but since they’ve re-formulated it to eliminate trans fats, it just doesn’t “act” the same when baking. These cookies remind me of my mom’s Hungarian cookies that have an egg white and walnut filling but they contain yeast and the dough has to be refrigerated over night like yours. Love your blog and recipes.

      Reply

  13. Katie on February 24, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    Awww! A grandma recipe! I love it! They look insanely delicious and congrats on two years blogging!! :)

    Reply

  14. Jennifer on February 24, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    Those look amazing!!!

    Reply

  15. Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy on February 24, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    Those pillows look delicious! My mother-in-law make some just like them at holiday time. Good stuff!

    Happy Blogiversary!

    Reply

  16. Claire Mason on February 25, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    I think a podcast or two added to the mix would be really cool.
    (Recipes like this make me so jealous of all of you people who don’t live with people with nut allergies. Pout.)

    Reply

  17. whitney on March 4, 2009 at 11:25 am

    these look amazing! i will be making these very soon:)!

    Reply

  18. Lyn on March 4, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Chelle, I will absolutely try it and let you know the results. Thanks for answering my question!

    Reply

  19. Marty on June 17, 2010 at 9:36 am

    I made these little wonders this morning…they are delicious. Brought them to work and they went crazy over them. Thanks for another great recipe. I’m so glad I found you.

    Reply

  20. Marty on June 17, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Also, forgot to say that I used pecans – didn’t have any walnuts – I would probably still use the shortening and not butter.

    Reply

    • nancy on September 15th, 2010 at 9:33 am

      This recipe looked so good I had to try it. My cookies did not turn out at all. They spread so much while baking. Did not hold shape at all. Any suggestions???
      Thanks! Followed recipe exactly. Did you ever try baking whole roll and then cuting?

      Reply

      • Michelle on September 15th, 2010 at 9:23 pm

        Hi Nancy, I’m so sorry that these didn’t turn out for you. I’ve never baked them in an entire roll and cut them, but it’s certainly something you can try. The only thing I can think is that the dough may have been too warm/soft. Next time try assembling the cookies and then popping the baking sheet in the refrigerator and chill them for about 30 minutes then bake. If you try again let me know how it turns out, this is one of my grandma’s old recipes and one of my favorites!

        Reply

      • nancy on November 21st, 2011 at 11:40 am

        Hi, I just tried these again today after receiving your email on your 2 year blog. These cookies look delicious, but I just can’t make them right for some reason!! I think maybe I’m rolling them wrong. I’m starting at the short end and rolling up. I slice them about one inch like it says, but they fall over and look like pinwheels. The taste is great, but your picture of them they look smaller. Any suggestions. Thanks again!!

        Reply

        • Lisa on November 19th, 2012 at 4:38 pm

          Hi,
          I had the same problem, I can’t roll these cookies right.
          Mine look like pinwheels too.
          Exactly how are you supposed to roll these?
          Can you post some step by steps pictures? This would be so helpful.
          I LOVE this recipe :)
          Thanks

          Reply

          • Michelle on November 20th, 2012 at 12:26 pm

            Hi Lisa, If you look above at the photos, I basically take that long piece of dough with the filling spread on top, and roll it, long side facing me. I roll it jelly-roll style, as tight as I can.

            Reply

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  23. joan on December 9, 2010 at 10:18 am

    cookies are great! do they freeze well?

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 10th, 2010 at 2:24 pm

      You know Joan, I’ve never tried freezing them – our family always gobbles these up! I imagine they would though, can’t see why not.

      Reply

    • joan on December 10th, 2010 at 6:19 pm

      thanks for your comment…will try freezing and see how they work out!

      Reply

      • Toni T on November 12th, 2013 at 9:14 am

        I wanted to make these delicious cookies now for Christmas. Was wondering whether you did freeze it worked out, Thanks

        Reply

  24. Carolyn on January 11, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    I’m long overdue in writing to you about these cookies. Think I stumbled across this recipe and your website over a year ago when doing an internet search for Italian cookies to add to our Christmas baking repertoire. Disclaimers first: I’m 100% Italian, a life-long Pittsburgher and the granddaughter of a professional baker who for many years was the cookie baker at Kaufmann’s Department Store in Downtown Pittsburgh. Now for my real reason for writing: these cookies are amazing! Delicious, easy to make, pretty on a tray, makes a lot without a lot of trouble — you name it. I love this recipe and just wanted to thank you for sharing something so precious. I’ve even made these for a celebration at my church for one of our former Italian priests who was elevated to Cardinal and shipped off to Rome. But I had to hide them from my husband first, as they have become his favorite cookie, right up there with cranberry biscotti. Would have loved to make them for my own Grandma. Thanks again!

    Reply

    • Michelle on January 13th, 2011 at 9:31 pm

      Carolyn, Thank you so much for writing, so happy to hear you have enjoyed these cookies. Always great to hear from a fellow Pittsburgher as well! :)

      Reply

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  27. Allison on November 18, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    Sooo excited to try this recipe next week for Thanksgiving! I am more of a cookie fan than a pie fan so these will be a perfect addition to our dessert menu. I have been trying a TON of your cookie recipes and they are so good! I wondered a long time ago while slaving over a batch of “kolach” (what we call nut roll in our family here in Youngstown, OH) if there was a cookie version of that holiday treat. Thanks for sharing all the great recipes!

    Reply

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  29. Ally on November 19, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    Congratulations on 2 exceptionally deliciously yummy years. Many more, please!
    xo
    http://allykayler.blogspot.com

    Reply

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  33. Robin Merrell on December 14, 2012 at 9:15 am

    I made this for my annual Christmas Cookie gift tins. I love them! I didn’t make as many cookies as the recipe says because I ate so much of the dough before baking it! Thanks for the recipe!

    Reply

  34. hannah on December 17, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    can you use pecans instead of walnuts?

    Reply

    • Michelle on December 18th, 2012 at 5:54 pm

      Hi Hannah, I’ve never tried them like that, but I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t!

      Reply

  35. Kelley on October 14, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    This is probably a stupid question…do you bake these standing up or do you lay them on their side? After reading some getting pinwheel looking pillows, could this be why? Cant wait to make these and your nutroll! Thanks!

    Reply

    • Michelle on October 15th, 2013 at 1:14 pm

      Hi Kelley, You bake them standing up.

      Reply

  36. Lori on November 10, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Hi Michelle,

    This will be my third year making these cookies. They have become a Thanksgivng tradition in my family now. They are delicious and a huge hit in my italian family. I love recipes passed down from one generation to another. I have a question. Have you ever prepared the rolls ahead of time and froze them before slicing and baking? I’m trying to prepare whatever I could ahead of time to make the holiday go a little smoother.

    Lori

    Reply

    • Michelle on November 11th, 2013 at 10:37 am

      Hi Lori, I have never tried doing that, but I think it’s worth a shot! If you try it this year, let me know how it goes.

      Reply

      • Nancy on November 27th, 2013 at 7:02 pm

        Can’t wait to try these! One question…how many pieces of dough do you divide the recipe into?

        Reply

        • Michelle on November 27th, 2013 at 11:39 pm

          Hi Nancy, Four pieces (it’s in the second paragraph).

          Reply

          • Nancy on November 28th, 2013 at 7:36 am

            Thanks so much… right in front of me and didn’t see it! Having been born and raised in Pittsburgh this recipe reminds me so much of home! Can’t wait to add these to my cookie tray this year. Happy Thanksgiving!

            Reply

  37. ShaNae on November 11, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Yummaroo! The filling is really similar to Potica, Yugoslavian Holiday Bread. My mom was given the recipe by Velma whose family survived the concentration camps, and she made it for our family and the office, my dad worked for her husband, it was the same tradition and looked forward to every year before she passed. It does takes 24 hours to make, the dough has to sit overnight, and though it is super delicious, these would be so much easier and still have the comfort feeling with the walnut filling. Thank you!

    Reply

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  39. Sara on November 24, 2013 at 6:29 am

    Heyo! These look great! My family is such a fan of nut rolls.

    Can I bake these ahead of time and freeze them for Christmas?

    Thanks!

    Reply

    • Michelle on November 24th, 2013 at 5:45 pm

      Hi Sara, Yes, I think these would freeze well. I would wait until you thaw them to ice them, though.

      Reply

  40. Anna Maria on December 8, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    These cookies are out of this world. They are so delish! Thanks for posting this recipe.

    Reply

  41. Ann Mc on December 8, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    I was so excited to see this recipe – and my honey bunny adores them! He said they “taste like home”. Thank you, thank you!

    Reply

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  43. Nancy Long on December 20, 2013 at 8:40 am

    these bring back memories of my grandma’s date-nut pinwheels. They have always been one of my fav cookies. Will be trying these very soon.

    Reply

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  45. ENID LUCHETTI on November 10, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    SO DELICIOUS MY ITALIAN MOTHER IN LAW MAKES THESE ALSO, SHE SAID IT WAS GRANDMA LUCHETTI’S RECIPE…. WILL HAVE TO MAKE JUST FOR ME HUSBAND DOES NOT LIKE ANYTHING WITH NUTS…

    Reply

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