Venetian ‘Zaletti’ Cookies

Biscotti alla farina di mais

Zaletti biscuits

“Mum you are renowned for your biscuits” – Chenzo, age 10

Okay, I’ll confess right away that this  simple recipe is a touch self-indulgent – it’s a glorious fusion of my two favourite kinds of biscuits: my mum’s locally famous ‘ground rice biscuits’ and ‘zaletti’ (or xałeti), the perhaps equally illustrious biscotti of the Veneto. Whilst this is unashamedly not an ‘authentic’ recipe for zaletti passed down from generations, the end result is similar to the tasty, crispy zaletti biscuits that Venetians have been dunking into their grappa for centuries.

There are in fact several different variations on how to make traditional zaletti, each differing from region to region (and even nonna to nonna!); they come in all shapes and sizes and are sometimes made with (or without): raisins, lemon zest, rum, liqueur, pine nuts, olive oil, egg yolks and sugar – but whatever the variation, they’re always consistently delicious.

So for me at least, the secret to zaletti and their moreishness is their slightly-crunchy, coarse texture that comes with using fine polenta (or cornmeal) in place of flour. For this reason, I’ve come up with this extra-easy  and fuss-free interpretation of zaletti that produces a tasty batch of rustic biscotti in record time. So why not indulge yourself?

Before you begin:

  • Don’t worry about being too precise with this rustic recipe, but keep a careful eye on the biscuits when they’re baking in the oven, because they cook quickly and your oven might be more or less efficient than mine so timings may vary slightly.
  • Though entirely optional, mixing a handful of pine nuts into the biscuit mixture is probably my favourite embellishment to this recipe.
  • Once cooled, these biscuits will happily keep for several days in a sealed container (though they never last in my house).

To make a batch of zaletti biscuits:

  • 225g plain 00 cake flour
  • 115g fine polenta (or fine cornmeal)
  • 170g caster sugar
  • 170g unsalted and softened butter
  • whole milk to bind (3-4 tablespoons)
  • grated lemon zest instead of 1 unwaxed lemon or a few drops of pure vanilla extract (to taste)

Pre-heat your oven to 180 °C.

Mix the flour, polenta and sugar thoroughly together using your hands. Rub in the softened butter with your fingertips.

Add in the lemon zest (or vanilla extract) and combine the ingredients into a stiff paste, adding a little milk to bind the mixture together.

 When the mixture reaches a workable consistency, roll it out thinly and cut into individual biscuit shapes – whatever shape you like.

 Place the shapes onto greased baking sheets. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees for about 15- 20 minutes, or until the biscuits are lightly golden.

Leave somewhere to cool or at least 20 minutes.  Enjoy 🙂

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