Zelten: Italian Christmas cake from Trentino Alto Adige

Last summer I went to Trentino Alto Adige situated in the Italian Dolomites.  Stunning scenery with pretty emerald-green valleys, deep blue skies and fine air: just like a nativity scene!

I enjoy going to the mountains during the summer months (as well as in the winter), I love those long walks in the woods and being in touch with nature. How nice rolling in the grass just like children do and gazing at the sky with those chubby-woolly-looking clouds. That’s where I can really recharge my batteries.

The region of Trentino is very popular among Italians as well as with foreign tourists. You can walk and then find plenty of lovely “refugio’s” to stop for a meal in the middle of the green valleys, with the sound of the cow’s bells happily grazing around.

As it is so close to the German border the majority of people, particularly in the province of Bolzano, speak German as well as Italian and in some areas they also speak Ladin, a local language similar to Latin and different to Italian. I always find it fascinating how you can sit in a coffee bar and order a drink in Italian, German, Ladin and of course they often speak fluent English too!

And it was in one of those coffee bar’s windows that I spotted a pretty and colourful cake made with lots of nuts and dried fruit which is usually being made during Christmas time:  the “Zelten”, from the German “selten” which means “rarely” as this is a rich cake made only for special occasions.

The recipe, which can vary depending on taste, was known in 1700 and it is something which would gather all the family to make a proper celebration. This is no quick recipe as it is made with bread yeast, it will need some time for priming but the result is excellent and well worth the effort.

I gave it a go and I have been very pleased with the result. Very rich, boozy, moreish and very festive indeed! And it makes an ideal Christmas present as it lasts well wrapped in cling film.

  • Prep Time : 3h
  • Cook Time : 30 minutes


  • flour + extra if needed – 250 g
  • walnuts and hazelnuts – 100 g
  • dried figs – 100 g
  • raisins – 50 g
  • pinenuts – 50 g
  • almonds – a handful
  • candied orange and lemon – 50 g
  • butter – 60 g
  • fresh yeast or a packet of dried yeast for bread making – 25 g
  • rum or brandy – 60 ml
  • egg – 1
  • salt – a pinch
  • sugar – 130 g
  • nutmeg


In a bowl dissolve the yeast in a little warm water ( about 1/2 glass); add the flour and and shape it into a small ball. Let it rest in a warm place covered with a cloth for about 1 hour. It should double in size;

Soak the raisins and the chopped figs in brandy or rum and leave them until the fruit has absorbed it all.

On a board chop the nuts and the candied orange and lemon then add it to the figs and raisins

Add the egg, the sugar, the salt, the softened butter, the dried fruit and nuts and grate some nutmeg; work well with your hands for about 10 minutes to make a smooth dough

Flatten the dough with a rolling pin to about 1 cm high and with a knife or with the help of a pastry cutter shape it as you like: hearts, rectangles, circles..

Heat a tbsp of runny honey in a pan then brush the tops of the pastry. Decorate with the nuts and candied fruit

Cook at 180C for about 25 minutes or until golden

Glaze the fruit on top with warmed up honey or with caramel

Let the cakes rest for 24 hours wrapped in cling film. Their taste will improve over time.

Serve with a sweet white wine like Vin Santo.


12 thoughts on “Zelten: Italian Christmas cake from Trentino Alto Adige

  1. Hi Alida!

    Oh what a glorious place to go on holiday. It is simply beautiful. I would love to visit such a place one day:)

    I think it is so incredible that you can create such beautiful food just by seeing something that catches your eye and then just go forward and make it.

    Those cakes are spectacular! I’m sure they are decadent and dee…li…cious!

    Thank you so much for sharing, Alida…Happy St. Nicholas Day!


  2. What a gorgeous scene from your holiday, Alida! I’m so jealous as I love such vistas and sometimes it seems hard to find them locally (perhaps I’m just not looking hard enough). These little cakes sound marvelous too and I love the use of all the nuts and dried fruit…


  3. Alida, I have never seen anything like this before! They are just amazing, so pretty to display and they must be really good! I love the way you showed how you make these. All the ingredients that I adore, figs, nuts, nutmeg, unbelievable! Love your story about visiting the Italian Dolomites. The mountains must have been fabulous to see. I love that scenery that you have posted. You lead a very exciting life. By the way, this is a winner in my book for the contest you entered “Celebration Cakes and Bakes” Thank you for sharing your story and your recipe. Blessings, Dottie 🙂


  4. That is a stunning holiday picture indeed. Your Christmas cakes look good too and are so very festive and perfect for this time of the year. Thanks for entering AlphaBakes.


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