The most delicious cornmeal cookies are baked only once a year to celebrate the 1st of November – the Day of the Dead or All Saint’s day in Italy.
The day of the dead
In Italy, Halloween is not a thing. Oh well, I should say in Italy Halloween didn’t use to be a thing until the recent Americanisation of everything.
We celebrate the 1st of November though. It’s such an important holiday that even schools and offices shut down. It is the day of the dead, a day to commemorate the loved ones that passed away. It’s nothing glamorous as in Mexico though, it is a very pared-back festivity.
Traditionally, on that day, you go to the cemetery with your family and pay your homage to dear ones. You remember them, light candles, and bring flowers. You also pray to ask your ancestors to protect you and help you achieve your big and small dreams.
It’s also tradition to rain on that day so that you have that perfect combo of darkness and nostalgia.
It’s quite a gloomy festivity, except for these bright yellow incredible cookies called Meini.
Sunshine cornmeal cookies
Meini are so ingrained in my life that’s very difficult to describe what they are to people who have never tried them before. Meini are sweet cornmeal/polenta cookies that you eat on this special day only.
You can only find them in a few cities of Lombardy, a region in Northern Italy, as every town in Italy will have a different treat to celebrate the day of the dead. They are yellow and round like the sun, offering a good contrast to the fog covering everything in Lombardy at this time of the year.
As you will know by now, I’m polenta fan number 1, and consequentially I think these cookies are the best. They look quite ugly, the dough is so liquid that it’s difficult to give it a good shape, but they are irresistible, and they are usually gone within an hour.
My mum baked them every day of the dead and I continued the tradition even when I moved out. I must have these cookies to cheer me up from the rain and cold of November. You’ll always find a bag of cornmeal flour in my suitcase when I travel from Italy – as every immigrant I always think my country’s food is better.
These cookies have a grainy texture and a sweet coating of icing sugar but the taste is very delicate as most of traditional cookies. I suggest dipping them in hot chocolate to have the best time of your life.
A traditional cookie
Meini is a word from Lodi’s dialect, the town I come from. They can also be called pan de mej which translates into millet, the flour that was used to bake bread in ancient times. Over the centuries, millet was substituted with cornmeal, sugar was added, and baking powder took the place of yeast. Slowly this bread transformed into a cookie.
However, when I was a child, I thought this name meant ‘the bread of mine’ because ‘mej’ recalls the word ‘mine’ in our dialect. I thought meini literally meant the bread of my people, the loved ones who passed away but are always watching upon us. That’s a totally wrong translation but I am attached to it, so I’ll keep going with it.
The foggy and rainy 1st November seals the passage of time. Today you’ll find my family remembering the usual old good days with tea, hot chocolate, and of course meini around the table.
This recipe was of my great grandfather, and I can’t think of a better way to commemorate my loved ones than by sharing one of our family recipes with you today. Enjoy!
Meini, cornmeal cookiesCourse: Something SweetDifficulty: Easy
The most delicious cornmeal cookies are baked only once a year to celebrate the 1st of November – the day of the dead in Italy.
100 g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp elderflower cordial (optional)
250 g cornmeal / polenta flour
270 g plain flour
160 ml milk
60 g butter (at room temperature)
a pinch of salt
16 g baking powder
50 g icing sugar
- Whisk the eggs with the sugar for 10 minutes until they are light yellow and fluffy
- Add in the vanilla and elderflower cordial
- Sift and mix together the two flours and baking powder and salt
- Add the flour and milk alternating one spoon of each, keep mixing for 2 minutes
- Dice the butter and add one cube of butter at the time, keep mixing for 2 minutes
- Let’s make the cookies! Use two spoons to grab the batter and form circular shapes on a baking sheet
- Sprinkle lots of icing sugar on top of each cookie
- Bake them for 20 minutes at 180 C
- This recipe makes for around 18 big cookies
- The batter is really runny and as you can see from the pictures the cookies don’t have a regular shape. They are very spongy and cakey – not your usual cookie but try them, they are delicious!