Zaletti, the typical Venetian biscuits
Zaletti, to be precise in venetian dialect “zaeti” or “zaleti” with a soft z, more like a voiced s, are biscuits made with corn flour and raisin, typical of the venetian culinary tradition and the dried lagoon pastry tradition rich in “golosessi” (in English, delicacies) as they are called; together with the Zaeti, there are Baicoli, Esse and Bussolà from Burano Island.
The origin of Zaletti
The strange name of these biscuits is given because of their yellow colour, “zàlo” in the local dialect, given by the “fioretto” corn flour used for the dough that give, besides the particular colour, also a grainy and crumbly consistency.
It is an ancient recipe with simple ingredients, even if they aren’t real poor biscuits according to the ingredients, at all! Even if the corn flour has been chosen for centuries as the cheap ingredient par excellence (first and foremost with the cornmeal mush), these biscuits are rich in raisin, sometimes softened with Grappa, butter, eggs and sugar.
The traditional shape of Zaletti is a rhombus, bowled and slightly risen; on its surface, dusted with powdered sugar, stands out the fragrant sultana. Zaletti are traditionally eaten at the end of the meal, together with small size Esse and Bussolà paired with Passito and liquorish wines or with a cream with mascarpone, but also as a “golosesso” together with tea at breakfast or for a break. Spread all over Veneto, they are produced in the bakeries of Venice, Padua and Treviso.
History and origin of Zaletti
In 1803, Vincenzo Agnoletti published his book “The new cheap cuisine” (in Italian “La nuova cucina economica”) where it is possible to read the Zaletti recipe, which foresees the use of corn flour mixed with wheat flour, yeast, orange zest and butter. Finally, they were brushed with a sugar icing. The recipe foresees that the dough could rise up to ten hours, given that the instant yeast wasn’t already used.
It wasn’t, at all, a last minute recipe or a dessert with leftovers, Zaletti were and are a rich dessert in the preparation and flavours, that also the famous Venetian author Goldoni mentioned in one of his work.
These biscuits have a long tradition and some varieties, besides the typical shape it is possible to find steak, round or plate Zaletti. You can find these biscuits in the in bakeries and cake shops of Venice all year round, but also in Treviso and Verona, especially in fall and winter.
400gr of wheat flour
600gr of “fioretto” corn flour
300gr of sugar
300gr of butter
Brewer’s yeast or a packet of backing powder,
Orange and lemon zest
A pinch of salt
Mix the two types of flours, make a well and in the middle place the butter, salt, sugar and yeast. Knead for the first time and in the meantime soften the raisin in the grappa, once reconstituted, wring it and add to the dough. Blend the eggs and the orange zest, then knead again. If the dough is too dry, use a little grappa to soften it, roll out the dough, one or two centimetre high, cut in stripes and cook until they are crispy. Finally, sprinkle with powdered sugar.