Rustic, crunchy and studded with liqueur-soaked fruit, zaletti are Italian cookies as classic as biscotti. Both are slightly sweet and served alongside coffee or a glass of sweet wine, but zaletti include one distinguishing ingredient: cornmeal.
The cookie’s name refers to “yellow” in the local dialect of the Veneto region, where coarse cornmeal usually ends up as polenta. Here, it lends a nuttiness to zaletti, which are made by creaming butter with sugar, then mixing in eggs, currants soaked in grappa and a mix of coarse polenta and wheat flour. The crumbly dough can be difficult to work with and requires chilling to properly hydrate the cornmeal.
We loved the flavors and texture but hoped to create a slightly less grainy cookie. Turns out, our solution—using fine cornmeal—also simplified the recipe. Not only did we get a finer crumb, but the grains didn’t need to be hydrated. The dough was easier to work with and didn’t need chilling.
For plumping the currants, we opted for easier-to-find orange liqueur over grappa. We also liked the citrus flavor the liqueur added. Inspired by that, we doubled down on the flavor by adding grated orange zest to the butter and sugar during creaming, maximizing the release of its flavorful oils.
Traditionally, zaletti dough is rolled into a log and sliced, or rolled flat and cut into diamonds. Since the right flavor and texture were more important than the shape, we opted to simply scoop up tablespoons of dough, roll them into balls and flatten them into 1⁄4-inch-thick disks. That helped us land on the right textural sweet spot: a bright, citrusy cookie that, while tender, still offered a pleasant crunch.