Let’s start with a proverb
As a Venetian proverb puts it, ‘chi ga santoli, ga bussolai‘ (if you’ve got godparents, you’ve got bussolai). Judging by this, they are something worth having, and indeed they are. Bussolai are delicious butter cookies from the Venetian island of Burano which achieve their golden yellow colour through the use of egg yolks. They are definitely one to add to my list of 10 of the best Italian pastries.
Originally eaten at Easter, these fabulous cookies are now available all year round in Venetian patisseries. Restaurants sometimes give them as after dinner cookies with coffee or a glass of dessert wine.
What about the name?
The name—which is bussolà in the singular, bussolai in the plural—comes from buso, the Venetian word for hole, since the cookies are round with a hole in the middle. In Venice proper there is a savoury version, also called bussolà, which is basically a circular breadstick.
The same cookies also come in an ‘s’ shape in which case they are called essi. No-one knows the origin of essi, but I like to think that they represent the Canal Grande which is also in the form of an ‘s’. Together, these cookies are also known as buranelli (biscuits from Burano).
And that proverb?
Going back to the proverb, what does it actually mean? You’d think that bussolai were perhaps given as christening presents, but that’s not the case. The proverb means something along the lines of ‘if you have people looking after you, you’ll get the good things in life’. And let’s face it, bussolai are definitely among the good things in life.