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Paste di Meliga (Piemontese Cornmeal Cookies)
I worked for a few seasons at the restaurant at the headquarters of Slow Food International, Boccondivino in Bra, Provincia di Cuneo, Piemonte, Northern Italy. The matron of the kitchen there, Maria, ruled with an iron fist, and insisted that these get piped out by hand through a star tip and a pastry bag. My hand has never been so sore. I made the same 5-ingredient recipe as Maria's for years (message me if you'd like it) instead using a cookie press, but the dough would often not even release after being pressed onto a cookie sheet. Hopefully this version, which contains a bit more liquid, will be easier to work with, and every bit as tasty. We made traditional Piemontese zabaglione prepared with moscato (not marsala) - whisked by hand, to order, in spherical bottom copper pots, to accompany these cookies. My own personal preference here is to add a bit of cardamom, but that is not traditional Italian at all. Use the best quality butter you can afford.

1 1/4 c fine cornmeal
1 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder (can omit this for a more authentic cookie)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (can omit this for a more authentic cookie, Italians sometimes add lemon zest)
1/2 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
1/3 c sugar
1 egg
9 Tbsp (1 stick + 1 Tbsp) butter
1 tsp vanilla, bourbon, or rum

Preheat oven to 350F. Line cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

Cookies: Melt the butter and put into bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Add the egg and sugar, mix until well combined. Add the remaining ingredients and combine well on medium speed for about 4 minutes. The longer you mix, the softer and wetter the paste should become. You want it to still be quite stiff, but not so much that it kills your hand when piping it. OK to add a few drops of water. If you don't have a stand mixer, you can do like we did in the old country and squeeze the dough together by squishing through your clenching fingers (this may have added to the sore handedness?), the heat of your hand also helps to soften the dough.

Prepare a sturdy, heavy-duty cloth pastry bag with a large star tip (alternatively use a cookie press). Pipe flat, 2-inch diameter rings onto the parchment paper, leaving an inch between each cookie.

Bake 15 minutes and begin checking. These cookies are yellow, so they will turn from golden color to begin to slightly turn brown at the edges, which is when you want to pull them out, no more than about 20 minutes. Let cool completely and then store in an airtight container.


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