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Buranelli: Venetian Butter Cookies

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A 45-minute Vaporetto ride northeast through the Venetian Lagoon brings you from Fondamente Nove to the islands of Mazzorbo and Burano. The islands are connected by a small, wooden bridge. Really it’s a collection of several islets now linked together. Where Mazzorbo is a bit more spaced out, dotted with green, and even home to the world’s lowest altitude vineyard, Burano is teeming with colorful houses packed tightly in rows along the canals.

Burano is a small fisherman town in the Venetian Lagoon known for intricate lace-work and brightly painted houses. The colors of the houses follow a specific code that dates back to the island’s original development plan. The vibrant color-scheme was used by fishermen to delineate their property and to be able to see their home from the sea.

colorful houses on the island of Burano in Venice
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The islands are perfect for a sprightly stroll away from the crowds of Venice and for some of the freshest seafood in the lagoon. The handful of restaurants on the islands benefit from the fresh catches of the local fishermen, casually dishing up Risotto di Gò and never-ending white wine for unhurried lunches. If you’re looking for something more upscale you can try to get a reservation at Venissa on Mazzorbo, a Michelin-starred restaurant linked to the aforementioned vineyard.

One of the gastronomic delights you’re sure to notice on Burano are the circular and S-shaped cookies seemingly overflowing from the island’s bakeries. Buranelli are Venetian butter cookies, their golden color hinting at the richness of butter and egg yolk. They come in two forms, rings called Bussolai Buranei, as well as Burano’s Essi, shaped like the letter “S”. 

The buttery cookies flavored with vanilla, rum and zest have been made on the island for centuries. They date back to the Venetian Republic when the fishermen’s wives would prepare these cookies for long fishing voyages. They kept well and were an efficient energy source after long days working at sea.

The name bussolai comes from their ring shape, as busa means hole in the Venetian dialect. The distinctive shape to the essi is credited to a restaurateur on the island who asked a local baker to make the cookies in a form that was easier to dip in sweet wine so they could be served for dessert. The baker shaped them like an “S” so they could soak easily, and the form stuck.

A plate of Burano’s Essi, Italian S-shaped cookies
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Yields 30 cookies.

480g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

300g granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange

150g unsalted butter
8 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon rum
4 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange

2/3 cup unsalted butter
8 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon rum

Sift together the dry ingredients:

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt.

Infuse sugar with zest:

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, lemon zest and orange zest. Using your fingers, rub the zest into the sugar, infusing the sugar with the oils from the zest.

Cream the butter and sugar:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 – 5 minutes. Pause and scrape the bowl a couple times to ensure even mixing.

Add the egg yolks:

Add the egg yolks to the butter and sugar a couple at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the vanilla and rum:

Pour in the vanilla extract and the rum and stir to combine.

Add the dry ingredients:

With the mixer on low, gradually add in the dry ingredients and mix until combined.

shortbread dough for buranelli
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Chill the dough:

Shape the dough into a log on a sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap the dough and chill it in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

venetian butter cookie dough
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Preheat the oven:

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).

Shape the dough:

Slice the dough into 30 equal pieces. Roll each into a rod using the palms of your hand or on the counter with the tips of your fingers. Shape each rod into an inverted ’S’ and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.

how to shape Burano’s Essi
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Shaping Burano’s Essi
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Bake the cookies:

Bake the cookies for 15-20 minutes at 175°C (350°F), until they’re pale blond and just starting to turn golden at the edges.

Let cool to room temperature before serving. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

A plate of Burano’s Essi Venetian butter cookies
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