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Crumiri (Cornmeal cookies)

Need a coffee break after all that shopping and wrapping gifts? Ma certo! And you’ll need something to go with that, no? These crumiri cookies, traditional in Italy’s Piedmont region, are the perfect treat to accompany a good cup of espresso. They’re sweet, but not overly sweet. In fact, a sprinkling of powdered sugar or drizzle of chocolate adds just the right touch to make these cookies stand out. They’d also make a great gift to ship to some of those friends and relatives you can’t see due to the Covid pandemic.

The hardest part is squeezing the dough through a piping bag. After my initial attempt, when I put all of the dough in the piping bag, I realized it would be easier if I put only about 1/4 of the dough at a time. It was pretty easy after that adjustment. But if you don’t have a piping bag, you can just roll the dough into logs, then shape into “horseshoes” and bake that way.

You won’t get the ridges that give the cookies the distinctive shape that comes with a piping tip, but they’ll still be delicious. I used white cornmeal because that’s the only type I had on hand, but if you have yellow cornmeal, they’ll be a prettier color and closer to the traditional crumiri you see in Italy.

To drizzle with chocolate, just melt a few squares of dark chocolate (or milk chocolate, if you prefer), and scoop it into a pastry bag. You don’t need a special tip, just snip a bit off the bottom of the bag.

Then drizzle some, and leave others just coated with confectioners’ sugar.

Don’t forget to get the espresso brewing!

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Crumiri (Cornmeal cookies)
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • recipe from Carol Field's "The Italian Baker"
  • 1½ sticks plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  • ⅔ cup plus 1 tablespoon fine yellow cornmeal (I had only white so that's why my cookies aren't yellow in the photos)
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer bowl until very lkight and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.
  4. Sift the flour, salt and cornmeal together and sift again over the batter.
  5. Mix well.
  6. To shape the cookies, I used a pastry bag with a large star tip and piped the dough into curved horseshoe shapes.
  7. If you prefer to roll them, you can roll pieces of the dough, each about the size of a large walnut, then bend each rolled log into a horseshoe shape.
  8. Bake at 325 until lightly golden, which for me took about 15 minutes.
  9. Cool on racks and sprinkle with confectioner's sugar or stripes of melted chocolate.
 

Nigella Lawson’s Lemon Polenta Cake

This may look like a savarin (say, what? savarin? – yes, savarin – a yeast-like babà type cake with a hole in the middle.)  But it’s not.
It’s just an impossibly moist, wickedly delicious, lemon cornmeal cake that happens to sink slightly in the middle. At least for me it did. But you know what? Just like in that Johnny Mercer song “Accentuate the … ” You know the one I mean. Well, turn the negative into a positive by heaping some seasonal fruit in the center of the cake. People will think it was supposed to look that way. And maybe it was.
The little crater certainly presented the ideal vessel for this tumble of sugared berries.
Nigella Lawson’s Lemon Polenta Cake
Cake:
1 3/4 sticks (14 tablespoons) soft unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
1 cup superfine sugar
2 cups almond meal/flour
3/4 cup fine polenta/ cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (gluten-free if required)
3 eggs
Zest 2 lemons (save the juice for the syrup)
Syrup:
Juice 2 lemons (see above)
Heaping 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
Special Equipment: 1 (9-inch) springform pan
Directions
For the cake: Line the base of your cake pan with parchment paper and grease its sides lightly with butter. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat the butter and sugar till pale and whipped, either by hand in a bowl with a wooden spoon, or using a freestanding mixer.

Mix together the almond meal, polenta and baking powder, and beat some of this into the butter-sugar mixture, followed by 1 egg, then alternate dry ingredients and eggs, beating all the while.

Finally, beat in the lemon zest and pour, spoon or scrape the mixture into your prepared pan and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes. It may seem wibbly but, if the cake is cooked, a cake tester should come out cleanish and, most significantly, the edges of the cake will have begun to shrink away from the sides of the pan. Remove from the oven to a wire cooling rack, but leave in its pan.

For the syrup: Make the syrup by boiling together the lemon juice and confectioners’ sugar in a smallish saucepan. Once the confectioners’ sugar has dissolved into the juice, you’re done. Prick the top of the cake all over with a cake tester (a skewer would be too destructive), pour the warm syrup over the cake, and leave to cool before taking it out of its pan.

Make Ahead Note: The cake can be baked up to 3 days ahead and stored in airtight container in a cool place. Will keep for total of 5 to 6 days.

Freeze Note: The cake can be frozen on its lining paper as soon as cooled, wrapped in double layer of plastic wrap and a layer of foil, for up to 1 month. Thaw for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature.

 

Polenta Festa Redux

Once a year, the Italian cultural organization I’m involved with holds a polenta festa. It’s always one of the most well-attended events of the year, with lots of polenta dishes to enjoy – from appetizers and main courses to dessert. This year, the nasty New Jersey weather kept some people away, but that just meant there was more for those who did show up, carrying their warm platters of the humble cornmeal dish.
Here’s a sampling of the various offerings: polenta with sausages and sauerkraut from Mary Sue and Al:
Eleanor’s polenta with broccoli rabe
 Polenta with sausages and melted cheeses from Ciao Chow Linda:
We had entertainment too – two students from Princeton University who played everything from “O Sole Mio” to the intermezzo from “Cavalleria Rusticana.” Bravi studenti.
 Then it was on to dessert, including Gilda’s cornmeal almond cake. I’ve posted the recipe for this before and you can find it here.
 Cornmeal chocolate chip cookies
 Polenta lemon cake (almost identical to a recipe I posted here)
 The next night back at home, as the Polar “Vortex” made its way to Princeton, I warmed up with some polenta and wild greens, again crowned with a mixture of grated fontina and parmesan, the same topping I used on the sausage dish I took to the festa.
My dishes, the first picture with the sausage and the one above with wild greens, were assembled by making a pot of polenta (instructions for making polenta from scratch here), cooking – then slicing some Italian sausage (or cooking the wild greens in water, draining and sautéing in olive oil with garlic, salt and red pepper flakes)  and scattering it over the polenta. Top with some grated fontina cheese and a sprinkling of parmesan. Heat in a 425 degree oven for a half hour or until cheese is melted and begins to turn slightly golden.
If you’re a neophyte when it comes to making polenta, fear not — take the plunge. The best polenta comes from constant stirring over a stove for 40 to 45 minutes, but I’ve been known to use the five-minute polenta too, and it’s not bad. Cookbook author Michele Scicolone even writes of a method using a slow cooker to make polenta, in her cookbook, “The Italian Slow Cooker.” And click here to learn about America’s Test Kitchen  “almost no-stir polenta” recipe.  Just don’t use that stuff that comes in a tube or you’ll be shut out in the polar vortex.
 
Polenta with Sausages (or wild greens) and Cheeses
Make polenta using one of the methods described and pour into an oven-proof dish.
Saute sausages in a pan until cooked through (or alternately do as I did and remove casings from sausage, then simmer in some water until cooked).
Slice and arrange sausages over polenta, poking some down into it. Cover with grated fontina and parmesan cheese. Bake at 425 degrees for 1/2 hour or until melted and slightly golden on top.
For the wild greens, boil them in some water, drain. Then add a bit of olive oil to a pan, some minced garlic and let it soften. Put the drained greens back in, adding a bit of salt and red pepper flakes. Spread the mixture on the polenta, adding grated fontina and parmesan. Bake for 425 degrees for 1/2 hour or until melted and slightly golden on top.
Basic Polenta – – Michele Scicolone, “The Italian Slow Cooker” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010)
Serves 6
1 cup coarsely ground cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
1½ teaspoons salt
5 cups water (or half water and half broth)
Additional water, milk, broth or cream, optional
In a large slow cooker, stir together the cornmeal, salt and water. Cover and cook on high for 2 hours. Stir the polenta. If it seems too thick, add a little extra liquid. Cook for 30-60 minutes more, until thick and creamy. Serve hot.