Zaeti … Venetian Polenta Biscottini

My favourite city in the world is Venezia.  I love her air of mystery, uniqueness, her astonishingly beautiful art, culture and history, and always that lingering sense of an undiscovered dark side to La Serenissma that you’ve just missed by turning a corner.   No wonder Carnevale masks are a symbol of the city.  The freedom to be anyone or anything in complete anonymity.  😉

I used to manage a stop-over there on every trip to Europe.  I haven’t been back since 2000.     *sound of my heart breaking*            I did spent three whole weeks there, though, just hanging out like a local.   My soul feels at home there.   The only souvenirs I ever brought home are watercolours by a local artist and hand-made traditional Carnevale masks … the one in the photo is a traditional papier-maché mask with pressed flowers.  Isn’t it fabulous?  I’d love to travel back to Venice in the 1700s … just imagine.

Cities and regions of Italy each have their own signature pastries and Venice is no exception.  Every panificio and pasticceria has its own fugaxxa (fu-gahs-sah), a sweet yeast bread not dissimilar to pandoro but less rich.   Many of the biscuits and cakes are quite rustic, full of dried fruit and nuts or spices like the pan dei pescatori (fisherman’s bread).  My favourites are the more delicate biscuits that you find in pastry shops around the city and that you won’t find anywhere else in Italy.   The best?  Zaeti (ZAH-EH-TI).  It’s Venetian dialect for “little yellow ones”.   You might find them referred to as Zaleti but no true Veneto would ever pronounce the “l” 😉

Polenta, tangy lemon, vanilla, and plump sultanas.  Bake a batch and the house smells like your very own pasticceria Veneta.  Makes me feel like I’m back in Venice again, at least for a while.

Oh!  Anyone heading to Venice should visit the Pasticceria Marchini.  No way you can pass by and not stop to buy a pastry, biscuits or their fabulous chocolates.  Amazing.

I have found that using instant polenta produces a better result, avoiding that “uncooked maize” flavour.  I use an Italian brand, Squisito, that’s readily available in Melbourne.   I get consistently good results with that.  When using ordinary polenta, I pulse it in the food processor if it is a little too coarse.  Don’t be tempted to buy polenta “flour” as it is too fine and the recipe won’t produce a good result.  You need that little crunchiness from the polenta!

This recipe was first published in The Age Epicure.  Yep, it’s mine.  Took ages to get them close enough to the ones you find in Venice …

Makes: 36 biscuits

225 grams (1 ½ cups) yellow cornmeal (polenta)
225 grams (1 ½ cups) unbleached plain white flour*
100 grams (½ cup) sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
185 grams (¾ cup) unsalted butter, chilled
1 lemon or small orange
2 eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla bean paste
110 grams (¾ cup) sultanas or raisins

icing sugar to serve

*For a gluten-free version, replace the plain flour with a 50/50 mixture of white rice flour and cornflour.  I used to make this version for the Journal Café in Melbourne.  Make sure you use gluten-free baking powder.

Instructions are given here for mixing the dough in a food processor, making the process easier.   Because the dough is essentially a type of shortbread, be careful not to over-work the dough in the food processor or it will heat the dough and melt the butter, resulting in a heavier biscuit.  If using a food processor, knead in the sultanas by hand at the end or they will be chopped in the food processor.  Sometimes I just add them in with the eggs, to the food processor bowl.  Lazy 😉

You can, of course, mix the dough in a large mixing bowl.  In that case, rub the butter into the dry ingredients, followed by the liquid ingredients, bringing the dough together with your hands.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (175°C in a fan-forced oven).  Line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper or silpat sheets.

Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse once or twice to combine.  Add the lemon zest and butter, cut into pieces, and pulse again just until the mixture is like fine breadcrumbs.

Beat the eggs with the lemon juice and vanilla.  Add to the flour mixture in the food processor.  Pulse until the mixture just comes together. The dough will be a little crumbly.

Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface.  Add the sultanas.  Working quickly, knead in the sultanas and bring the dough together until it holds its shape.

Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces.

Roll each piece into a log, based on the measurements given in the diagram below, and flatten slightly.  The log should measure about 3 x 36 centimetres.  Cut logs diagonally into 4 cm lengths.  Each log will yield 9 pieces.  If you have trimmings from the ends of the logs, shape into extra biscuits.

Place the zaeti on the baking sheets, leaving a little room for spreading, and bake for about 15 – 20 minutes, until they are light golden in colour.

Cool on wire racks and dust with icing sugar to serve.

Store in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to 10 days.



Filed under All Recipe Posts, Biscuits & Cookies, Fruit

13 responses to “Zaeti … Venetian Polenta Biscottini

  1. I love Venice, I was there in October and the food was amazing! Thanks for sharing your memories and this recipe, looks delicious!

    • Thanks for the lovely comment Vicki! I’ve been feeling very nostalgic of late..hoping to get back there this year (crossing fingers and toes). I hope you like the recipe, they’re certainly very moreish 🙂

  2. I’m dy-ing to go to Venice. Until then I’ll just have to try these pastries. Polenta is my very favorite. Lovely post!

  3. Looking forward to making the GF version of this recipe! Also looking forward to one fine holiday when I do get to visit Venice..(i was named after Venice so it’s on the bucket list!)

  4. love the photographs, very sumptuous and nicely styled..

  5. I’ll be beginning to plan a trip back to Italy soon and can’t wait! How you talk about your love of Venezia only pushes me to start my planning sooner =) These Zaeti look so yummy, and would be paired perfectly with a hot cup of my fav tea. I have used polenta before but never in a dessert, I’m curious to see how this will taste. =)

  6. Pingback: Rosy Peaches | Chocolate Chilli Mango

  7. Grazie per questa magnifica ricetta, dopo tante prove ho trovato quella perfetta per i miei gusti e non solo, visto il successo che hanno avuto in famiglia e con gli amici 🙂 A presto, buona settimana

  8. notedicioccolato

    Grazie per la magnifica ricetta, finalmente ho trovato quella perfetta per i miei gusti e non solo, visto il gran successo che hanno riscosso i tuoi xaeti 🙂 A presto, buona settimana

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s