Italian cornmeal cookies with saffron and cardamom

In my family, we have a long-lived cookie-baking tradition. My mum and I used to bake tons of Christmas cookies for our friends, an operation that would normally take us a full weekend of full-time kneading and baking madness. Since then, experimenting on different kind of cookies is one of my favourite baking activities.

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This particular cookie is a variation on an Italian classic, known as “paste di Meliga”. These are cornmeal cookies that are typical of the region of Piedmont, in the North-West of Italy. The recipe goes back to ancient times, and it plays with one ingredient (cornmeal) that has a major role in the gastronomic tradition of Northern Italy (think of polenta!).

I really love the crumbly and crispy texture of this cookie. I have been baking a lot of it over the years, before coming to my own personal variation on the original recipe. My version features cardamom and saffron-infused butter, which pair well with cornmeal, and give an exotic twist to the old classic.

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Ingredients (makes 25-30 cookies, depending on size)

1 cup all purpose flour (125g)

1/2 cup cornmeal (62.5g)

1/3 cup sugar (60g)

1/2 teaspoon saffron

1 stick butter (125g ca.)

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 tablespoon milk (for brushing)

 

Start by making the saffron-infused butter. Let the butter soften very well at room temperature. Then add the saffron threads, mixing very well for a couple of minutes (the butter should start turning yellow). Spoon the butter on a sheet of plastic wrap, forming a ball or disk. Wrap well and put in the fridge for at least 2-3 hours (the best would be to leave it overnight).

When you are ready to make the cookies, take the butter out of the fridge and let it soften at room temperature. Meanwhile sift cornmeal, all purpose flour and cardamom in a bowl.

When the butter is soft, beat the butter with the sugar and egg in a separate bowl until they are creamy. Add gradually the flour mixture until well incorporated. Form a disk with the dough, wrap it in plastic film and let it cool in the fridge for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven at 375°. Take the dough out of the fridge and roll it into a large oval 0.25 inches thick. Cut the cookies with a cookie cutter and put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush them with some milk and sprinkle some more sugar on top.

Bake at 375° for about 15 minutes (but you may need to take them out earlier if you see the edges are turning brown).

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