This is what I call a 'save it from the ants' recipe. I am a messy person and it was about time to clean the cupboard and clear off from the shelves the flour leftovers from this winter baking season. While I was on it, I found some cornmeal – about half a cup of it – and some finely ground cornmeal that I had completely forgotten in the back row. It was then the idea came to me...how about baking some cookies, slightly adapting the traditional 'pan de mei' sweet buns recipe?
'Pan de mei' is a speciality from Lombardy, the Italian region where I was born and raised and where I am still living now. 'Pan de mei' literally means 'millet (mei=miglio) bread (pan=pane)' because the sweet corn buns we eat now where once prepared with millet flour. Nowadays cornmeal is much more popular in northern Italy... corn grows in the sunny and foggy plains of our region and during the summer, here in the countryside at least, you can still walk along beautiful and lush cornfields.
As for the elder flowers suggested in the traditional recipe, plenty of them are blossoming in the woods around here right now, so I didn't need to go too far to get the ingredient. I picked only a small bunch of flowers, because I know they wither fast...you have to use them right away.
You can omit the flowers, if you can't find them, but the flavour of the cookies will change completely. The flowers add an unusual, delicate and sweet note to this recipe.
You can mix or knead the dough by hand or using a mixer. I usually knead by hand because I like to put my hands into the dough, and feel how the texture of the different ingredients change as they gradually melt together and become one. The 'kneading-by-hand' process is also relaxing and rewarding, a sort of meditation session at the end of which you can lick your fingers...
all-purpose flour: 150 gr
finely ground cornmeal: 300 gr
cornmeal: 100 gr
blond cane sugar: 100 gr
softened butter: 150 gr
yeast: 15 gr
elder flowers head: 15 gr
water: 50 ml
salt: 1 pinch
icing sugar: 1 tablespoon
elder flowers: 1 handful
Remove the elder flower heads from their stems. Carefully wash and drain them. Delicately dry off the flowers with blotting paper before use.
In a big bowl sift the flour and cornmeal together with salt then add the elder flower heads, the softened butter, the eggs, the sugar, and the yeast previously dissolved in warm water. Mix well and form a soft dough. If the dough seems a little too wet, sprinkle on a bit more flour. If it's not soft enough add some water. Cover with a clean dishcloth and let it rise in a warm place for about one hour or till it has doubled in size.
Roll the dough 1 cm thick on a floured surface and cut with a cookie cutter. I used a flower shaped cookie cutter, but you can choose the one you like or have handy at home.
Bake into a pre-heated oven to 200° for 15-20 minutes. When cold dust with icing sugar and serve with some elder flowers.