The history of the Bussolai of Burano, from a traditional family to a collective heritage

26 October 2021

Wake up at dawn, grains of flour in the air, scent of melted butter, the oven spreading out the heat at the right temperature to create a crunchy topping, and a soft content. The attitude belonging to somebody who perfectly knows his job and how to create a perfect s-shaped biscuit from a formless dough.

Just by entering the historic Carmelina Palmisano’s bakery in Burano means immersing in a world made of ancient traditions, of passion and, especially, of family relationships. Giorgio Senigallia knows it very well. He is Carmelina’s husband, business owner, and baker since he was ten years old. In this place, a little boy became a man by starting to learn a new job: the pastry chef, beyond an expert husband in the preparation of bussolai.

«In the past, after school, people used to go to work so as to learn a new job – the pastry chef Giorgio Senigallia tells – Tommaso Palmisano taught me everything I know. Later, he also would become my father-in-low. Firstly, I learned how to become baker, then a pastry chef. Now, at the age of eighty-two years old, I am still here»

So far, beyond forming part of the 1.600 years of Venice, the tradition of these shortcrust biscuits have been spreading out even outside the territory of Burano, reaching numerous foreign countries. It all started more than ninety years ago, thanks to two brothers loving the scent of baked bread and biscuits, craftwork, and looking people becoming enthusiast when tasting their creations.

During the first twenty years of the 1.900s, a family from Basilicata before moved to Caorle and after to Burano. Several differences transpired by passing from a city in Southern Italy to a city made of coloured houses, which is surrounded by water, and crossed by narrow canals. In spite of encountering many new habits to become comfortable with, the universal love for bread and good sweets, and for its power to join people with the vanilla aroma or bread fragrance remained. In this manner, two brothers decided to start two bakeries in 1926, with their Southern blood living in a Venetian islet among fishermen. Later, the two famous bakeries became artisanal bakeries, which are still present in Venice. The two are continuing to spread the confectionery tradition beyond the typical bussolai, one of the main Venetian sweet symbols in the world.

Traditionally, the bussolai were only used to be prepared in a specific time of the year. On the contrary, now these famous biscuits are prepared everyday, beyond being available in almost every supermarket and store shelf in Venice and in Veneto. The bussolai can have a classical circular shape or a modern s-shaped pattern. Therefore, they can follow their old tradition or can be stuffed according to the modern era. Whatever their old or new features are, everybody loves them. Just by tasting a bussolà, people would immediately feel the typical Venetian vibe, in whatever country of the world they are.

«The bussolai large production as known today, was born after the war together with the beginning of tourism – Giorgio Senigallia underlines – however, once a year, these sweets were prepared by all the families in Burano, during the days preceding Easter. When the biscuits were ready, were taken to one of the four bakeries in the city, in order to be cooked in the ovens which people usually didn’t have at home. Eventually, they were stored until Easter Sunday»

According to traditions, the bussolà have to present a circular shape, whereas, at a later time, the “s variation” was introduced, even becoming the most famous one. They can be prepared with bigger o smaller dimensions, but the original recipe of these biscuits remains the same. The dough is simple, because it is formed by a very fat shortcrust pastry containing a lot of butter, egg yolks, sugar, flour, and some vanilla aroma.

1 kg of flour contains 12 egg yolks, 6 hundred grams of sugar, and 3 hundred grams of butter. The dough is dry kneaded with no water. Once amalgamated, wrap small parts of the dough and then connect them in order to obtain their typical circular shape. Contrarily, if you want to obtain the “s-shaped” one, continue to deform the dough just by imitating the letter s.

«Nowadays, the production of this sweet can be realised either machined-made industrially or homemade – Giorgio Senigallia says – Here in Burano everything continues to be created by hand, such as in the past, and we create bigger bussolai. In order to satisfy large production’s requirements, we need machines. This is the reason why we created in Jesolo a pastry laboratory entirely dedicated to the production of bussolai. Currently, my daughter is working in the laboratory. So she is maintaining our traditional profession»

From being a biscuit only belonging to fishermen’s families, the bussolà started to become a biscuit available for everyone. First, this vanilla-flavoured sweet originated in an Easter tradition and, secondly, entered in people’s everyday habits by always maintaining the same flavour and the same fragrant texture of Burano and of its great history.