Pan mejino o pàn de mèj o pàndemèinn Pan di miglio/Elderflower and polenta cake from Lombardy

Pan de mej - elderflower and polenta cake

This is an old treat from Lombardy, now, alas, almost extinct. Originally, “pan de mej” were crinkly yellow flat biscuits made with millet flour (“mej” in the Lombardy dialect and “miglio” in Italian) and flavoured with chopped dry elderflowers; over the course of the centuries the millet has been replaced by polenta flour, but chopped elderflowers have remained a key ingredient. These biscuits were traditionally eaten on the day of San Giorgio, the 23rd of April, dunked in single cream: in Lombardy, San Giorgio was hailed as the patron saint of milkmen and, in long gone days, the 23rd of April was when milk supply contracts were renewed. I can vouch for the excellence of the combination of warm pan de mej and cold single cream. In my version, I follow Anna del Conte’s lead and bake a cake instead of biscuits and I use fresh elderflowers. This is a dry cake, exquisitely perfumed, whose restrained elegance and goodness should be revived.

Pan de mej feels very British actually. Elderflowers and berries have been popular in the British kitchen for centuries: in wines, cordials and fritters. A gooseberry fool flavoured with elderflower, for instance, is one of those great British desserts that can convert even the most sceptical Italian to the joys of British cooking. A bowl of strawberries, macerated with lemon and sugar, is elevated to ethereal levels with a sprinkling of freshly chopped elderflowers.
It is the right time to pick these flowers: fortunately, this most British of trees grows everywhere.

Pàn de mèj/ Elderflower and polenta cake

8-10 portions

20 cm victoria sponge cake tin, buttered and coated with coarse polenta flour. I also made this cake in a loaf tin, 21 cm x 11 cm x 11 cm
For this cake I used 6 heads of elderflowers, washed and dried

This cake can be made successfully in the food processor.

Put the following in the food processor and whizz for 30 seconds:

150 g 00 flour
150 g coarse polenta flour (or half coarse half fine polenta flour, called fioretto in Italian)
pinch of salt
grated zest of 1 lemon (or a mix of orange and lemon)
120 g sugar
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder (update 2021: I used 1 tsp)

Add:
120 g melted butter (update 2021: 150 g)
2 beaten eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
60 ml milk

and process just to combine everything, in short pulses.

Mix in by hand:
4 or 5  tablespoons fresh chopped elderflower

Transfer to the tin and top the cake with:
3 teaspoon chopped elderflower mixed with 2 teaspoon each of icing sugar and granulated sugar.

Bake in a 170 C preheated oven for about 30/45 minutes or until a toothpick or a skewer plunged into the centre comes out clean.
Eat warm or at room temperature, ideally with some glorious cold single cream poured over.

I have another version of this, a more traditional one, where the dough is shaped into little buns, here

24 thoughts on “Pan mejino o pàn de mèj o pàndemèinn Pan di miglio/Elderflower and polenta cake from Lombardy

      1. Ciao Stefano, thank you for your response. I’m in Australia and I have investigated the safe use of tea leaves from a tea bag for the bread. Several sources, including chefs haves said that it is very safe. Thank you for your time and Buona Pasqua 🐣, Franca

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        1. ciao franca.. thanks for the tip — buona pasqua anche a te… what will u be cooking? italian traditional fare? always interested in what Italians abroad cook (and I am as curious as a monkey) 🙂

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          1. Ciao Stefano,
            My family is from Calabria, Vibo Valentina. My mother often spoke about il pane con cucco. So I will bake her bread, as well as lasagna (with homemade pasta sheets), followed by pipì e cucuzzi chini served with various side dishes and roast agnello. For dessert, pignolata, pitti Pi e Tiramisu. (I thought I would throw in some words in the dialect) . I’m also grilling baccalà for Good Friday. My parents passed away a few years ago with cancer, so I always cook dishes they would have made for Christmas and Easter in their honour. At least the weather in Melbourne won’t be hot for Pasqua. What will you cook for the day? Mille grazie, Franca

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            1. ah! you have calabrese blood too, Franca. Me too: my dad’s family from the Catanzaro area.
              Your Easter table sounds excellent: do u use meat in your stuffed peppers? I think I will be making a ligurian torta pasqualina and a pastiera (I also have Campania blood in me, my maternal grandfather was from Salerno, near Naples). I might be making also Calabrese cozzupa: the crumbly easter cakes with boiled eggs inclosed in it.. I would love agnello. but I am going through a non eating meat phase right now (for ethical reasons BUT I LOVE ITS TASTE, let’s be honest). Talking about Calabrese food: do you know the book My Calabria, by Rosetta Costantino? if not, it is excellent
              ciao, stef

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              1. Ahh yes, very much a proud calabrese. I do have a copy of My Calabria, by Rosetta Costantino. An excellent resource. My mum never stuffed the peppers with meat. We always stuffed them with tuna. Delicious 😋 we also bake cozzupa or curuia cu l’ovo- a job to be done on Thursday after work, as well as make nacatole. Your torta pasqualina and a pastiera sound interesting- the first is savoury and the second a sweet?
                Enjoy your Pasqua with the family, Stefano. Ciao, Franca

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                1. that’s correct. i will be making pastiera but with a different recipe this year I think… if and when u have time, can u send me your recipe for cozzupa pls… nice to try a family heirloom’s version. grazie mille. no rush. auguri anche a te. stef

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  1. Sounds really nice but, as David points out, elderflowers aren’t commonly sold here in the US, although I may learn to recognize the tree which apparently grows all over the eastern part of the country. Not sure why it’s been neglected as a culinary resource.

    It really is a shame how many dishes and ingredients are falling by the wayside. Our cooking ways are in some ways becoming richer, especially with international influences, and yet they’re growing poorer at the same time…

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  2. I made this yesterday having never cooked with elderflowers before. What a revelation! The crumbly texture of the cake and the elderflower taste from the flowers makes for an unusual and really delicious cake. A recipe to keep, thanks Stefano!

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  3. There’s an elder tree behind my house. It’s full of flowers, but it’s far to tall to reach them! The wood pigeons are having a marvelous time eating them. I need to look elsewhere, because I’d love to make elder flower wine and I wouldn’t mind trying your cake!

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    1. Elderflower wine is on my list, even if I fear the explosive side of this activity. I will go to collect more towards the end of the week, hopefully they should still be there

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      1. Elderflower champagne, as it’s sometimes called, is incredibly refreshing and can be quite potent. There are hundreds of flowers right now, so you should be OK for the weekend. Stoppered beer bottles are a good idea and can be reused every year.

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          1. I use a recipe by Jocasta Innes from The Country Kitchen, but I can’t find it online. This one looks sensible, using lemons. People say you should pick in the morning and smell the flowers, discarding any that smell musty. Don’t wash them or you remove the natural yeast!

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              1. You peaked my interest, so i went out and picked a few flowers – there do seem to be plenty around. Let me know if you want me to take a picture of the recipe…

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