Biscotti di Meliga – another polenta cookie

Not too long ago I posted a recipe for polenta and elderflower cookies, a lovely little gem found in my go-to cookbook for inspiration, Artusi‘s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well from 1891. It will please those that need gluten-free recipes as it’s made entirely with polenta (or cornmeal as some like to call it), which gives it a gorgeous crunch but can be a little difficult to work with as there is (obviously) no gluten to hold the dough together (by the way, you should also look at Emma’s – aka Poires au Chocolat – attempt at and thoughts on this recipe). I had been wanting to try it with half regular wheat flour and half polenta (sorry gluten-free people), but then came across this classic recipe for biscotti di meliga, polenta biscuits, from Piemonte, Italy’s north west food heaven, which calls for both flours.

I have another favourite cookbook that I turn to for anything to do with Piemonte cuisine. She’s called Nonna Genia. I’ve tried her agnolotti, her glorious hazelnut and espresso cake, her truffle fondue, her torta di pasta frolla (jam tart) and took her advice on stuffed peaches. It’s all good, homely cooking. Things I want to make and eat over and over again. As far as I know, it’s only available in Italian. Note that it’s not actually written by a nonna but by Beppe Lodi, in what is essentially a collection of the most traditional recipes of the Langhe area of Piemonte, recipes that would otherwise be eventually lost because the nonne that made them never needed to write recipes down as they knew them by heart. The notes that accompany the recipes are wonderful snapshots of food memories.

The recipe for biscotti di meliga (melia or meliga is just the Piemontese name for polenta), more commonly found in a ridged ring shape made by piping the dough through a star-shaped tip rather than rolling it, is one born out of poor times – the price of wheat flour had gone up, so bakers substituted the cheaper polenta, ground very finely, for a portion of the wheat flour. It makes for a wonderfully short, delicate biscuit with good crunch.

Traditionally, there were a few ways the Piemontesi enjoyed these biscotti, the most wonderful (in my opintion) is serving them with creamy, freshly whipped up zabaione, and/or a glass of moscato d’Asti or dolcetto for dessert. Similar to the more robust Tuscan biscotti, you usually dunk them in the wine before eating them. There’s a story that Cavour finished every meal with biscotti di meliga dipped in barolo chinato. They were also considered a biscotto da colazione, baked at home and eaten for breakfast, but today, despite being so easy and quick to make, they’re mostly industrially made, bought pre-packaged in a supermarket or by the weight from a bakery. I’m thinking this might be my next tart base instead of my usual Artusi pastry. Like most biscotti, they also go wonderfully with a homemade espresso or a cup of tea.

This is based on the recipe from Nonna Genia. It’s so very simple to make, there’s really nothing to it. Note that the traditional recipe calls for a very fine polenta, one that is not usually used for making cooked polenta but is specifically for baking. If you can’t find that, go for the finest polenta you can find, even instant polenta.

Biscotti di Meliga
Polenta cookies

Makes about 30 biscotti

  • 150 gr plain flour
  • 50 gr extra fine polenta
  • 100 gr sugar
  • 150 gr butter, chopped
  • 2 medium egg yolks (if using large eggs, one will do)
  • zest of one lemon

Combine the flours and sugar in a bowl, add the chopped butter and process or, if mixing by hand, rub into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the yolks and lemon zest and mix until you form a smooth ball of dough. Allow the dough to rest at least 30 minutes in the fridge. Roll the dough on a well floured surface until about 8mm thick and cut out rounds with a cookie cutter (about 5cm in diameter). Place on a baking sheet and bake at 180ºC for about 15 minutes or until just golden.


  1. Elizabeth says:

    These look wonderful, polenta adds a wonderful flavor to cakes and cookies. Thanks for translating and posting the recipe.

  2. Valeria says:

    Melighe in Bra are the specialty of every bakery but I saved a space in my heart for those made in a tiny bakery in Pollenzo…too good, too far. Nonna Genia will have to do 🙂

  3. Boryana says:

    Hi Emiko, can I use cornflour, is it the same thing as fine-ground cornmeal/polenta? Cornflour is very fine and white powder (similar to icing sugar), and is used for thickening of sauces (or that’s what the packaging says…) Thanks!!

    • Emiko says:

      You shouldn’t use cornflour (also known as cornstarch) for this recipe, it’s quite a different product and won’t result in successful cookies! Stick to cornmeal/polenta, for testing this recipe I used regular polenta as opposed to the super fine polenta used for baking in Italy as it can be hard to come by – it still works a treat, you get a lovely crunch and flavour from the polenta!

  4. Sabry says:

    I can smell the flavour just looking the photo… i will soon try to do this recipe, it’s good polenta fioretto?

  5. Linda says:

    Hi Emiko,

    Just thought I would let you know the cookies are delicious. Not are homely, meaning plain and unpretentious. I would call them homey, meaning comfortably informal and inviting; cozy; homelike. Better yet comforting and basic family fare. Love the crunch!


  6. Hi Emiko! I’ve just been on a Pinning frenzy from your website 🙂 So many recipes to try!! Do you think I could substitute a different kind of flour to make these GF? Would chickpea flour work?
    Thank you 🙂

    • Emiko Davies says:

      Hello! How wonderful! I think you could try upping the polenta (like to half the total flour amount) and perhaps try rice flour or cornstarch in place of the regular flour? That’s what I would experiment with, personally, though I’ve yet to try it!

  7. Lisa Cantamessa says:

    Dear Emily, As an Italian Australian who is trying to discover her Piedmontese roots I loved your discussion of biscotti di Meliiga. Is your recipe really only 50g of polenta ? Carluccio does a 300g polenta to 100g plain flour recipe. Do you know the what is the difference between krumiri and biscotti di meliga? Krumiri cream the butter and sugar rather than crumb it in. But the ingredients look similar. Is it just the shape? Would love to know as both are Piedmontese cookies. And is a zaletti, the cookie from the Veneto different in anything but name? Would so appreciate your comments. I am trying to collect some family recipes for my third generation Italian Australian family before they lose all their heritage but when one has lost the language and is half a world away it is hard. Am off to buy a copy of your cookbook. It looks just what I need.

    • Emiko Davies says:

      Thank you for your comment Lisa! Yes, 50 grams is correct, this recipe is based on a cookbook of traditional Piemontese recipes that I think you might be interested in if you can find a copy of it, it’s called “Nonna Genia” (though in my cookbook Tortellini at Midnight, which has a Turin chapter, I use exactly half polenta half plain flour – 100 grams each). I would absolutely trust one of the Nonna Genia recipes as closer to the traditional thing over Antonio Carluccio’s recipes, personally, but it’s also the kind of recipe that changes from household to household and town to town – Nonna Genia is based on recipes from Le Langhe area of Piemonte. Krumiri are another type of biscotto altogether, the original ones were invented in the late 1800s in Casale Monferrato and they aren’t made with polenta at all but regular wheat flour, butter, eggs and sugar. That’s not to say you don’t find a sort of hybrid these days, I’m nibbling on some right now actually that are made by Le Bancarelle di Elisa in Monferrato and everything they make is gluten free, so their version are with polenta and hazelnuts! But they are two very distinct different biscotti with different histories and traditions. Biscotti di Meliga are often served at the end of a meal with a bowl of creamy zabaione – something I always love ordering when I’m in Turin! As for Zaleti, they are a Venetian polenta and sultana cookie and the name comes from the Venetian word for yellow, from the colour of the polenta. I’m currently writing a cookbook on Venice actually so am deep in this history at the moment – they are an ancient cookie that come from the countryside of Venice where corn has grown abundantly since the 16th century, and they were even cited in one of Carlo Goldoni’s plays from 1749. They’re also made of a mixture of regular flour and polenta but always have raisins/sultanas in them, sometimes pine nuts too and often some lemon zest. They’re made in a completely different way, shaped into large oval/diamond shapes with hands as the dough is less delicate than the one for the biscotti di meliga. I hope this helps, I think you’ll love Tortellini at Midnight which is where I have delved into family history and followed the family members and their recipes through the centuries and across three regions of Italy – Puglia, Piemonte and Tuscany. Maybe it will help to inspire you too!

      • Lisa Cantamessa says:

        Thank you so very much for your in depth reply. You seem to know so much more than many Italian cookbook writers. The background of a recipe adds so much. As I wrote I am an Australian trying to rediscover her heritage. As the Italian grandmother died without writing down her recipes I am reduced to research from books. Nick Malgieri, an Italian American, in Great Italian Desserts claims Krumiri are made with polenta. The only difference I could discern from Carluccio’s biscotti di meliga recipe was the method. Carluccio crumbed the butter and flour while Malgieri creamed the butter and flour. And another American author, Carol Field in The Italian Baker gives a 240 g to 140 g ratio of flour to cornmeal. She calls the cookies Crumiri but I presume ‘this buttery horseshoe shaped cookie from Piedmont’ is a Krumiri. The two recipes for zaletti that I have found have a similar method disparity. Malgieri’s zaletti are crumbed while Italian Australian Stefan de Pietro creams his dough. Please write an Italian cookie cookbook that solves these semantic issues. When one looks at amaretti, ricciarelli, brutti ma buoni and ossi da mordere they all claim uniqueness but the ingredients look very similar to me. I am eagerly awaiting your dessert cookbook but from your description I think I need to order your Tortellini at Midnight cookbook too. I have signed up to your blog and look forward to reading your next musings. Many thanks.

        • Emiko Davies says:

          You’re welcome! I really recommend Carol Field’s recipes, her Italian Baker is an excellent book and her trip through Italy visiting artisan bakers (which were in extinction at that time) researching that book in the 1980s means she captured some really important regional recipes. Krumiri are definitely made with regular flour traditionally (but as I mentioned they seem to have morphed into hybrid versions too) but for more on them, you should take a look at the original pastry shop that created them, their website has all about the history and traditions: And my favourite Zaleti recipe is by my friend Valeria Necchio who has a wonderful cookbook called Veneto. She rubs the cold butter into her flours. The result is a lovely, crumbly biscuit!

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