Zaeti is Veneto dialect for the Italian gialletti, literally “the little yellow ones”. They are buttery, crumbly polenta (maize or cornmeal) biscuits, plump with raisins and you will spot them in patisseries and bakeries in Venice, Padua and other Veneto towns.
There are many versions, more or less rich, but they all share a charming culinary humbleness, which is one of the key marks of genuine Italian cooking.
Traditionally diamond-shaped, they can also be baked as rounds. They are rather soft when freshly baked but they crisp up during the following days, always delicious – they are ideal biscuits for the winter months. The following version comes from my pen-friend Clelia (from Padua): over the years she has given me many family recipes and this one is another gem.
Zaèti di Clelia – ricetta padovana
Clelia’s zaèti – polenta biscuits from Padua
250 gr fine-milled maize flour, called fioretto in Italian (if you cannot find it, grind some regular polenta flour in a coffee grinder)
250 gr 00 flour or plain flour
pinch of salt
150 gr caster sugar
200gr butter at room temperature, i.e. very soft
100 gr raisins made plump in water (I plumped them up in grappa)
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whisk the eggs with the sugar and the vanilla until the mix is thick and airy.
Mix the two flours, the salt and the lemon zest.
Add the egg mix, the butter and the raisins to the flours and mix to a dough. Clelia told me to add some milk if the dough was too thick, but my dough was actually on the soft side: it really depends on the flours. If your dough is sticky, do not be tempted to add more flour. Simply transfer it to a heavily floured surface, pat it into a rectangle and dust it with extra flour. As an alternative, refrigerate the dough until it has firmed up a little.
Divide it into ropes and cut each rope into a diamond-shaped biscuit.
Bake at 175 Celsius for about 15 minutes. Dust the biscuits with icing sugar while they are still hot. I loved them freshly baked, slightly warm but they are delicious also when they crisp up.