Zaleti: the Yellow Biscuits with Corn Flour
Zaleti: the yellow biscuits with corn flour
Zaleti (pronounced without the l, thus zaeti) derive their name from the colour yellow (zàlo in Venetian dialect), and are traditional regional cookies made with corn flour, grappa soaked raisins and orange zests. You will find them in most of our bakeries and pastry shops, and are also often offered as dessert accompanied by a glass of grappa or sweet wine in our restaurants. Probably born in the 1600s, mentioned by Carlo Goldoni in his comedy "La Buona Moglie" ("The good wife", 1749), their recipe first appears in the book "La Nuova Cucina Economica" (1803) by Vincenzo Agnoletti.
Although the key ingredient is corn flour, introduced in the Italian countryside by the Hapsburg in the 18th century, these biscuits were a real delicacy for few, enriched by expensive ingredients such as raisins and butter. Their preparation used to require a long time, as they were left yeasting over night (baking powder had not been invented yet), and could not be made last minute. The taste is exquisite, in fact, Pellegrino Artusi, one of the most known Italian food writers of the past, in his "La Scienza in Cucina e l'Arte di Mangiare Bene" ( "Science in the kitchen and the art of eating well", 1891), who calls them 'gialletti', suggests mothers to distract the children with these cookies, but at the same time to warn them not to taste them, so they would not get upset and start crying in the quite likely case they would receive only a small portion.
The shape is usually oval, and the size can can range from small to very big (tip: avoid buying them in places where they charge you by weight!). Of course, over time, a lot of variations from the traditional recipe have been tried, so you might find them with chocolate chips or with cedar or lemon zests. Personally, I am fond of the original version, as the soaked raisins alone make them nice and moist inside and give the cookies a lovely fragrance. When I make them, I usually prepare two batches, some to eat the same evening after dinner, and the others to enjoy for breakfast dipped in my coffee in the following days. I think that in a tin they can last up to a week, but as that has never happened in my house, I can't really give you my word...
Their colour cheers me up and makes me think of shimmering works of art tinted in gold. When I made them last week, the summer heat had yet to arrive and the day was a bit dull, so they turned out to be not only a comfort food, but also a real treat for my mood!
When you'll be able to return to Venice, I suggest to try the big ones prepared by Panificio Emilio Colussi, Pasticceria Dal Mas and the renowned Rosa Salva. Meanwhile, I'll share the recipe below so you can make them at home, maybe while imagining yourself sitting in an elegant Venetian café.
Enjoy! Talk soon...
RECIPE: ZALETI, THE YELLOW BISCUITS WITH CORN FLOUR
Easy | Prep. Time: 10 minutes | Baking time: 15/20 minutes
Ingredients for about 28 cookies:
150 gr corn flour
100 gr 00 flour
75 gr brown sugar
8 gr baking powder
75 ml milk
50 gr butter
50 gr raisins
1/2 glass of grappa (or sweet wine, rum, whisky*)
1Tbsp orange zests
a pinch of salt *not the traditional version, but also very good options!
Method: 1. Cover the raisins with grappa or sweet wine and let soak for at least 30 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, combine the corn flour, 00 flour, grated orange zests, baking powder, sugar, salt, and mix.
3. In a small pot, heat the milk at low heat, add the butter and let it melt completely. Keep aside and let cool a little.
4. In a small cup, roughly whisk the egg and keep aside.
5. Now add the milk and butter mixture to the dry ingredients and amalgamate with your hands. Add the egg and amalgamate again. Finally, squeeze the raisins to remove excess liquid and add to the dough. Mix again and let sit at room temperature for a couple of minutes.
6. Pre-heat oven. Grease a piece of parchment paper. Flour your hands, then with a teaspoon get a piece a piece of dough (about the size of a walnut) and roll between the palms of your hands. Place on the parchment paper and try to give it either an oval or a round shape. Repeat until the dough is finished.
7. Bake at 180° for about 15/16 minutes.