Venice Recipes: Zaeti Biscuits – Back to Venetian Basics by Cook In Venice
Christmas is approaching fast and the time to bake some new exciting cookies is running short, so here are Zaeti.
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For our Back to Venetian Basics weekly recipes we would like to present you the Zaeti, one of the most typical Venetian treats and one of the best Venice dessert recipes, which used to be prepared during the Easter period, but which are now widely available in cakes shops, bakeries and supermarkets all throughout the year.
The basic recipe varies from family to family, from patisserie to patisserie, but they all have one basic common denominator: the yellow color of these diamond shaped biscuits.
But, as usual, let’s fill you in on some bit of history and fun facts before proceeding to our step by step easy guide on how to prepare and bake Zaeti. And remember, you can learn to bake this beauties even by booking your cooking class in Venice with us! Come to Venice and learn to cook like an Italian mama with us – book now!
What are Zaeti?
The “zaeti” are rustic cookies which trace their humble beginnings in the ancient Venetian tradition. They are made with corn flour (which was readily available to all Venetian families during the Republic of Venice period) and wheat flour, enriched with raisins and flavored with a twist of lemon peel (not always). They were the typical dry biscuits that mothers and grandmothers produced from secret recipes – that is why they were called “Grandma’s cookies” along with baicoli, puff pastries and donuts. They were jealously kept in classic tin or wood boxes or, next to crystal bottles full of cordial, nocino or cedrino. The first official recipe of zaeti dates back to 1803, but it is certainly a much older cookie and probably subjected to many small changes over the centuries: in fact, even today, there are many variants that differ primarily in the proportions of ingredients.
History of polenta
Polenta flour became one of the staples of Venice since the first decades of the 1500s. Arrived from Mexico thanks to Columbus, the Venetians soon realized that this new cereal was pretty suitable to the landscape of the Venetian countryside and would help in times of famine. It was a sturdy plant, resilient to bugs and diseases, and it stored well. Perfect for a country like the Republic of Venice which needed
The Council of Trent (1545-1563) called also to a return to sobriety and this also meant a return to a more basic and simple everyday menu; so food like beans, polenta, dried cod were preferred. Hence why the large use of those three ingredients in Venetian recipes can be spotted even today.
For a more detailed recount of polenta history in Venetian cuisine, check Monica’s post Polenta: why do we like it so much?
Zaeti: meaning of the word
Zaeti (pronounced z-ah-ay-tee) is a word which comes from Venetian dialect and which means little yellow things, from zaeo, Venetian word for yellow (in Italian is giallo). The yellow color is given by the use of polenta flour (maize flour) in the mixture.
Zaeti are simple and fairly quick to make and are best eaten dipped in some wine, like Recioto (a sweet, unfortified Venetian wine), Vin Santo or Zibibbo.
200 gr. yellow polenta flour (maize flour)
200 gr. plain flour 00
50 gr. lard or butter or suet
125 gr sugar
1/2 glass of hot milk
some hot water
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
100 gr raisin (previously soaked in hot water)
Sift the flours, the sugar, the salt and the baking powder in a large bowl. Add the lard (or butter cut into chunks or the suet) and mix well into the mixture.
Add the raisin, mix well. Now add the hot milk and keep mixing until you reach an elastic dough (add some hot water if needed).
Now shape the dough into a long salami. Slice into thick slices (we used our beautiful ceramic knives by U-Cook Italia) and shape the slices into little diamonds.
Line a baking sheet with some baking paper and place the cookies on it. Bake in a hot oven (about 200 degrees Celsius) until nice and golden.
Place on a beautiful serving dish, like a nice Murano glass plate by Abate Zanetti?
You can eat them either hot or cold.