Jujube Polenta Cookies

The garden at our family home is exploding with the best autumnal colours, and with a few edible delights – pomegranates and jujubes. You might have caught sight of a jujube shrub or tree before; for one, they are very widespread in Veneto. Traditionally used as ornamental plants, locals slowly began to appreciate them for their fruits, which they would use to make confectionery and liqueurs.

Every year in October, the tiny medieval village of Arquà Petrarca, in the Euganean Hills of Veneto, hosts a picturesque, popular festival dedicated to the humble jujube. During the festival (but really throughout the whole year), you can find all sorts of jujube-based gastronomic delights, from brodo di giuggiole (a sweet liqueur obtained by macerating the fruits in an alcohol and sugar); to cakes, candies and cookies.

In my family, nothing has ever been done with the host of jujubes from our shrub. We’ve always just eaten them al naturale, munching on them straight from the fruit bowl. This year, though, the production was more abundant than usual, demanding for some culinary inventiveness to sort out any excess. The most natural thing to do, at that point, was to fire off the oven and get ready to bake. 

The base for these biscuits is a quintessentially Venetian combination, not dissimilar to the widely-known zaleti (the recipe for which is in my cookbook), but with bits of jujubes instead of raisins. Traditionally, the fruits are marinated in grappa before being folded into the cookie dough, but you can also use other liqueurs or nothing at all. And if jujubes aren’t easy to find where you live (or they are not in season), you can always swap them for plump sultanas or raisins or other dried fruits of your liking.

Jujube Polenta Cookies

120 g (about 1 1/2 cup) jujubes, stoned and roughly chopped*
60 ml (1/4 cup) grappa (or rum)
150 g (heaped 1 cup) plain flour
150 g (scant 1 cup) fine polenta (such as Fioretto)
The grated zest of 1/2 unwaxed lemon
Pinch of sea salt
1 tsp baking powder
3 egg yolks
150 g caster sugar
130 g (scant 2/3 cup) butter, melted and cooled

Soak the bits of jujube in the grappa for at least a couple of hours or, ideally, overnight. Close to making the cookies, preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Line a cookie tray with parchment and set aside.

Combine the flour, cornmeal, lemon zest, salt and baking powder in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, whisk the yolks with the sugar until pale yellow and airy, or until the sugar has dissolved. Add the melted butter to the flour mix, then pour in the egg mixture, too. Stir to combine, then add in the drain jujubes and stir again to incorporate.

To shape the cookies, grab a knob of dough and roll it between your hands. Give it a slightly elliptical, flat shape, then ease it on the lined tray. Repeat until you finished the dough, leaving some space between each cookie. Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until deeply golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a cookie rack.

Venetians would serve these crumbly cookies with some sweet Moscato as a dessert.

*You can swap these with raisins or chopped soft dates

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  1. Saghar Setareh October 17, 2015

    What a lovely post! It's great to find less treasured things back in childhood home. This cookies look so good. And jujubes are not what I thought they were (or maybe they are, only that we consume them very unripe during Summer.)
    The simplicity in your beautiful photos is stunning.

    • Valeria October 19, 2015

      Saghar, thank you so much for this lovely comment. I'd be curious to know more about these green fruits you mention – do you remember their name? x

    • Saghar Setareh November 7, 2015

      I looked it up and it looks like they're called cornelian cherry! (but many people had left comments on a picture I posted on Instagram this summer say they were jujubes). I think we eat them way too early (we love very tart and sour flavors).

  2. turinmamma.com October 19, 2015

    Lovely post, it's always great to learn something new. I had to look jujubes up on wikipedia as I had never heard of them. I wonder if I'll be able to find them here in Piedmont. If not, I'll try your recipe with sultanas or dates as suggested. I was lucky enough by the way to visit the Euganean hills of Veneto a few years ago. Such a beautiful part of the country…

    • Valeria October 20, 2015

      I lived in Bra for a bit but I don't recall seeing jujube shrubs around. It must be one of those plants the Venetian aristocracy brought from the Far East and kept in their gardens for a long time. But those substitutes are just as good – you'll get something closer to zaeti/zaleti/gialletti in this case. As for the Euganean hills, they really are a stunning, still largely undiscovered area of Italy, and the food there is just fantastic.

    • turinmamma.com October 20, 2015

      I'll definitely give your recipe a go with the subsitutes you suggested. I think you're right too about how jujube shrubs ended up in the countryside of Veneto and on the face of it, not elsewhere in Italy. It makes sense given the trading the Republic of Venice did with the Near East in the past.

    • Emiko October 21, 2015

      Rosemarie, I can bring you some from Tuscany next week if you like — the markets here are full of them!

    • Rosemarie October 22, 2015

      Emiko, if it's not too much trouble for you to travel with them, I'd really appreciate your offer to bring them here. I have definitely never seen them here in Piedmont. Thank you and a presto!

    • Valeria November 3, 2015

      Oh snaps, well spotted! I added the sugar (150 g). I think dried jujubes would work just as well, particularly if plumped up in some liqueur…I'd be interested in tasting the difference!


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