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Make a plateful of sugar-dusted, raisin-studded Venetian cookies like these with this simple zalèti recipe, and celebrate the season!

Abigail wasted no time. She quickly gathered … nearly a bushel of roasted grain, 100 clusters of raisins, and 200 fig cakes.  ~ 1 Samuel 25:18

When it came to catering, Abigail of Carmel was no slouch. This wise woman of ancient Israel knew that a meal worthy of a future king had to include flavorful grains and lots and lots of raisins.

So guess what, beloved of the King? That means you, too, are worthy of a treat overflowing with the kind of sweetness that only plump raisins can give.

All you need is a good zalèti recipe.

What, you ask, are zalèti?

They’re Italian cookies born in Venice. And something sweet and satisfying to reach for the next time you catch yourself dreaming of that beautiful island city.

Your fresh-baked zalèti will be a sweet taste of Italy you don’t have to travel for. (At least, not any further than your local supermarket for the few ingredients you might not have in your pantry at the moment.)

You Say “Zalèti,” I Say “Zaèti”…

For centuries, Zalèti (or zaèti, with the “l” dropped) have reigned as one of Venice’s most popular sweets. And once you bite into one (and then, two, and three…) fresh-out-of-the-oven, you’ll see why.

In preparing zalèti, Italian bakers usually soak the raisins in grappa, an alcoholic beverage made from grapes. Yet, I opted to infuse them with white grape juice instead.

These Venetian raisin cookies are both sweet and filling. In short, they’re just the thing to go with your cup of tea or a fresh pot of coffee. Any time of the day.

Then place any remaining cookies in an airtight container. They should keep for up to seven days, though they’ll likely disappear within five!

Oh yes, this zalèti recipe is delicious as well as simple to make. Here’s how:

(A VERY Good!) Zalèti Recipe

Zalèti ~ Venetian Raisin Cookies

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Servings 9 (2-3 cookies each)

Equipment

  • mixing bowl
  • thick-bottomed saucepan
  • 2 metal madeleine pans
  • (optional) long-handled spoon, wooden or bamboo, for mixing

Ingredients
  

  • 1⅓ cups fine corn flour
  • 7/8 cup all-purpose flour
  • 5/8 cup granulated sugar
  • teaspoon baking soda
  • tablespoons lemon juice
  • 7 tablespoons butter
  • 5/8 cup milk
  • 1 whole egg
  • cup raisins
  • ¼ cup white grape juice
  • ½ tablespoon butter (for preparing madeleine pan molds)

Instructions
 

  • Immerse the raisins in the white grape juice, leaving them to soak for up to 30 minutes. In the meantime…
  • Set the oven to 360 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Sift the two flours together in the bowl.
  • Add the sugar to the flour mix, along with a pinch of salt.
  • Quickly, combine the lemon juice and baking soda (to create leavening), and add to the flour/sugar mix.
  • Scald (not boil) the milk over a low-to-medium flame (see tip 3.) Then add the 7 tablespoons of butter to the heated milk.
  • Once the butter has melted, pour all of the heated liquid into the bowl.
  • Knead the concoction briefly by hand; then add the egg, and blend everything well by hand or with a long-handled spoon.
  • Drain excess liquid from the raisins and add them to the dough.
  • Use a tablespoon to spoon portions into well-buttered molds of the metal madeleine pans.
  • Bake for 20 minutes at 360 degrees.
  • Dust your zalèti with powdered sugar as soon as they’re out of the oven. Or not (see tip 4.)

Notes

Tips

  1. Make this simple recipe even easier by following mise-en-place technique, that is, by pre-measuring all of the ingredients in advance and arranging them in the order you plan to use them.
  2. Be sure to use finely-ground corn flour, NOT cornmeal. Both the fluffy texture and sweet taste of your cookies depend on it.
  3. When scalding the milk, stir often and watch that it doesn’t overheat to boiling. You’ll know it’s ready when bubbles start forming around the pan’s edge. (And if a layer of milk “skin” does happen to form on the surface, you can either whisk it into foam or simply skim it off before adding the butter.)
  4. If you prefer your pastry “delicately” sweet, feel free to omit the step where you dust your fresh-baked cookies with confectioner’s sugar. Zalèti are pretty enough without decoration. 

 

Product Recommendations & Substitutions

  • Use a finely ground corn flour suitable for dessert baking, like Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Stone Ground-Whole Grain Corn Flour; it’s the high quality corn flour I use. Bob’s Red Mill also makes a finely-ground Organic Whole Grain-Stone Ground Corn Flour you might want to try if exposure to gluten isn’t a concern.
  • Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour is an excellent replacement for all-purpose flour.

Additional Note

  • If you’re buying madeleine pans for the first time (to make this zalèti recipe), know they’re also perfect for baking other soft cookies including, of course, madeleines :).

What Now?

  1. Feast your eyes on these other Italian sweets.
  2. To learn more about how zalèti got their name, as well as other tasty foods from Northern Italy, check out this article.