Friday, July 01, 2011

Meini o Pani de Mei (Italian Sweet Corn Buns)

A friend of mine asked me recently if I was still doing my bread blog. When I said I was, he asked if I hadn't made every possible kind of bread by now. I said there were many, many left to do. Then he suggested a new project: making a bread from every country in the world. I'm intrigued by this idea, but not enough to commit to it. And does every country have a signature bread? Andorra? The Seychelles?

But I have made breads from a fair number of countries already: Turkey, Puerto Rico, Norway....and, of course, France and Italy, the king and queen of bread-baking. This week, I turned once again to Carol Field's The Italian Baker for inspiration. Although I wasn't even thinking about making sweet corn buns, I was so taken by the description that I had to try them:
These sweet buns are a very delicat e cross between a corn muffin and a scone.... Meini are definitely a Lombard specialty, and the Milanese traditionally eat them on April 24 as a celebrfation of the liberation of their contryside from the assaults of a ferocious highwayman and his brigands during the Middle Ages.

Oh, how I love Italy! A country that celebrates being liberated from a highwayman by making a big batch of sweet, buttery, crumbly rolls! I just hope I remember this recipe next April 24, and that I make them again to mark Highwayman Liberation Day.

As a scone-ish, muffin-ish, cookie-ish hybrid, these are easy to mix up, especially if you use the whisk attachment to your stand mixer. With just over half a pound of butter, they really can't be bad, can they?

The ratio of white flour to cornmeal is about 3 to 2, which I figured should keep it from being too grainy. I like to taste of cornbread and muffins, but not if they're overly sweet, not sweet enough, not too crumbly, not too dry, not too insipid. It's a tough. but not impossible, bill to fill.

It ends up coming together a little like scone dough--rough and buttery.

A few seconds of kneading turns it from rough and buttery to smooth and buttery.

The dough is divided into about 15 90-gram pieces. I love weighing out pieces of dough. I'm not obsessive about it--if they're 89 or 91 grams, that's okay with me.

Form each piece into a ball, squish it down, and place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. (You'll need two). Brush the tops with water, then sprinkle with granulated sugar. Finally, sift some confectioners sugar on top.

After about 15 minutes in the oven, or until the tops are cracked "into a pattern that looks like the land after a long dry summer, they're done.

These are really nice. You could Americanize them with the addition of, say, fresh blueberries or dried cranberries, but why bother? The Italians have been making them this way for about 500 years, and there's no need to mess with tradition. Not surprisingly, they go well with tea or coffee. More surprising, at least to me, was how good they tasted with a glass of wine. Have one with afternoon tea, another with a pre-dinner glass of wine, and freeze the rest for later. And be thankful your town isn't overrun with highwaymen.

Meini o Pani de Mei
--The Italian Baker, by Carol Field

•2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
•1¼ cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
•2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons honey
•1 egg
•1 egg yolk
•½ cup plus 2 teaspoons milk
•3¼ cups (450 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
•1¾ cups plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (300 grams) fine yellow cornmeal
•3½ teaspoons baking powder
•1/8 teaspoon almond extract
•About 1/3 cup (70 grams) granulated sugar
•½ cup (70 grams) confectioners’ sugar

Using the whisk attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and the honey for 1 to 2 minutes at low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg, egg yolk, and 2 teaspoons milk and continue beating for 1 minute. Mix in the flour, cornmeal, and baking powder. Add ½ cup milk and the almond extract and mix at the lowest speed until blended. The dough should be stiff but not heavy. Knead briefly by hand or mixer, sprinkling with additional flour as needed, until buttery, soft, pliable, and slightly sticky.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the dough into 15 equal pieces (90 grams each). Flour your hands and roll each piece into a ball. Flatten each ball into a ½-inch-thick patty, the size of a hamburger and the width of a woman’s hand. Place on the paper-lined baking sheets.

Brush the tops with water and then sprinkle with granulated sugar, making sure a thin layer of sugar covers each bun. You can shake off the excess sugar by holding on to the paper and shaking the sugar up and over the edge of the pan. Place the confectioners’ sugar in a sifter or sieve and sift the sugar heavily over the buns so that they look as if they’re lost in a blizzard of sugar. The excess powdered sugar can stay on the paper because it will not caramelize.

Heat oven to 375ºF. Bake until the sugar on top has cracked into an irregular design, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on racks.


Matt G said...

As someone who's recently begun a bread blog himself, I'd like to ask how you deal with permissions to reprint recipes from a book, such as that one.

Stephanie said...

Those look delicious. I love cornmeal in bread so these really appeal to me.

I hope you never run out of breads to make! Lately I've been loving making my flatbreads on the grill. I have a really good recipe for whole wheat ones that uses flour, yeast, yogurt, oil and salt and then grills up on the BBQ and is brushed with butter. yum!

evil cake lady said...

these look delicious, and pretty simple to make as well. if i wasn't tackling ladyfingers this evening i'd try my hand at these highwayman liberation breads! i hope you always find breads to bake because i would miss your posts.

Lois B said...

What a wonderful way to celebrate!

breadbasketcase said...

The general rule seems to be that there are no copyright problems if you copy and attribute. A small number of recipes, but you're supposed to limit yourself to that number. If you get a letter from a lawyer for the publishing company, you've probably gone too far.

That sounds fantastic!

My bread cookbook shelf keeps growing faster than I can bake, so running out seems unlikely. And thanks!

I like it better than fireworks.

chris in RI said...

I love a culture that finds any excuse to celebrate with a baked treat! That and the siesta are some of the best exports I can think of.

I am curious. Whenever I make a scone or biscuit, I am always so careful to lightly lightly toss everything together to keep a light crumb. From the pics, it looks like you kneaded enough to get a smooth looking dough, and still got a nice craggy interior. I think I have been fretting and fussing too much! Something new to try for next time. Although this isn't the season, I'll remember these for beef stew.
chris in RI

Russell at Chasing Delicious said...

These look scrumptious. I remember having something like this while I was in italy and I've always tried to emulate it. I love our classic corn bread here in the states but there's something a bit more special about this recipe!

Thanks for sharing. I'm definitely going to have to try it. P.s. for whatever it is worth I'm all about your friend's idea to do a bread from each country.

Carrie said...

I just discovered your blog. The step-by-step photos are wonderful!

breadbasketcase said...

They actually didn't take much kneading to get to a smooth-dough state, but I think maybe the cornmeal makes the dough more forgiving than the usual all-flour dough. The sugar topping might make them a little sweet for a stew accompaniment, but if you omit the sugar, they wouldn't be sweet buns, would they?

It's an ingriguing idea, but there are a lot of countries!

Thanks--my husband is the photographer who's always at the ready.