I adapted this recipe from a recipe called “Italian Polenta Cookies” I have made numerous times. Not sure why the cookie recipe is called “Polenta” cookies, other than it sounds a bit chic instead of just simply using the word “cornmeal”. Polenta is actually an Italian dish you make with cornmeal, not the ingredient itself. So, for my lowly recipe I will just stick to the name “Cornmeal Cookies”.
In baking there is nothing like cornmeal for added texture, mouthfeel and flavor. It adds pizzazz to pizza dough, nuttiness to cakes and just the right texture to cookies. I enjoy these cookies so much that I have opted to add them to this blog, even though all dessert recipes posted on the O’Live A Little recipe section typically only use Extra Virgin Olive Oil, not butter.
But, firstly, these are really good cookies, so I’m bending my own rule. And secondly, I didn’t like the original recipes instructions for shaping the cookies and thought I could do better. The original recipe called for using a pastry bag with a wide star tip and piping the dough into 3 inch “S” shapes. However the dough was so stiff, I hardly had the strength to apply the constant pressure necessary to push the dough out the bag and thru the tip (and I’m a pastry chef). Inevitably, I would end up recruiting my husband Matt to help. He was always very sweet and helped and did a great job making perfect “S” shapes. But there had to be a better way. Thinking about a better way to shape the cookies it occurred to me I have my Lebanese Mother-in-Law’s Maamoul pastry molds. And, I quickly discovered using the mold was just the trick to shaping pretty cornmeal cookies with out the hard work.
What is Maamoul? It is a delicious Lebanese cookie that is filled with dates or walnuts or both. The cookie dough is pressed into a mold, the filling added and then more dough added to seal the bottom. The unbaked cookie is removed from the mold and a very pretty, decorative pattern is embossed on the top of the cookie from the mold that remains after baking. As I am a big fan of Middle Eastern food, cooking and baking, I will at some point have to write a blog about Maamoul to add to my growing list of Middle Eastern Food blog posts and Middle Eastern recipes. But, for now, know that the cookie mold was my inspiration.
I further thought, well if I’m going to use the mold, then I might as well use Lebanese inspired flavors in the cookie. The original cookies used the typical vanilla extract and lemon peel (all yummy for sure). But, to keep the inspiration going, I added orange blossom water and Ground Mahaleb. (Mahaleb is an aromatic spice made from the seeds of a species of cherry. The seed kernel is ground to a powder before use. Its flavor is similar to a combination of bitter almond and cherry, and similar also to marzipan). If you are not that adventuresome, use the Italian option that is offered in the recipe. The pastry mold, orange blossom water and Mahaleb are all available on Amazon. Or look for a Middle Eastern Grocery near you. These items are staples and they are sure to have them. If you are located in the New London County area of Connecticut, go to Saeed’s in New London for these items.
Makes Approx. 56 Cookies
5 ¼ Cups all-purpose flour
3 Cups cornmeal (fine or medium grind)
1 Teaspoon ground Mahaleb (if making the Italian version 1-2 tablespoons lemon zest)
1 ½ Teaspoons salt
1 Teaspoon baking powder
6 Sticks of unsalted butter, room temp ( 3 cups)
3 whole eggs and 3 egg yolks
1 Tablespoon orange blossom water (if making the Italian version - Vanilla Extract)
Method of Prep:
Combine the dry ingredients (including the Mahaleb if opting for Middle Eastern inspired cookies). Set aside
Using an electric mixer, fitted with paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar and lemon zest (if using zest), on medium high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 -3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl at least one time during this process.
Add eggs and then egg yolks one at a time on low speed to medium speed until incorporated. Mix in either the orange blossom water or the vanilla extract.
Add in the dry ingredients and mix till just combined.
Using a #30 scoop, portion out dough onto one cookie sheet. Then roll into balls and refrigerate till totally chilled (or overnight).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Take out of the refrigerator and let sit at room temp for 30 minutes.
One at a time, press into mold. In order for the cookie to come out of the mold, you will need to turn the mold over and give the end opposite the handle a good swipe on the counter one or two times. The cookie should fall right out. If they don’t they are not cold enough.
Place on parchment or Silpat lined cookie sheet, approx. 2” apart
Bake for approx. 18-20 mins.
The cookies are done when there is just a slight hint of a golden color along edges and bottom.
Cool on the wire rack and ENJOY!
These bits of yumminess freeze well!
*** A note on the Maamoul/pastry mold***
There are various size molds that one can buy. See images in the blog post for the size that was used in this recipe.