Every Christmas, I get a special baking request from my family to make an almond flavored Italian layered cookie. A staple in bakeries and grocery stores across New York City, as well as on my kitchen counter at Christmas time, it’s hard to find these tasty gems when you leave the Big Apple. If you are fortunate enough to find rainbow cookies outside of the New York City area, don’t get too excited with your find. Unfortunately, more often than not, the taste and quality tends to be lacking in the beautiful rainbow cookie if it doesn’t come from a good Italian bakery in New York. The best alternative for a delicious rainbow cookie is to simply make them at home. Once you master this simple, but time-consuming recipe, you’ll be able to easily quell that craving without a trip to New York and without having to sacrifice quality and taste. After all, who wants to waste the calories on a subpar cookie? Certainly not me!
What is an Italian Rainbow Cookie?
Many times, you’ll simply hear these cookies referred to as “rainbow cookies”, sans Italian. Although it is considered a traditional Italian cookie, it is not necessarily from the old country. Italian American immigrants are credited with creating this almond-paste colorful cookie in the good ole USA. But the name is somewhat deceiving. Don’t expect to find any colors of the rainbow in the rainbow cookie. Rather, the rainbow cookie is made to resemble the Italian flag! With the festive colors of green, red, and white in the rainbow cookie, it is easy to see why this cookie is very popular in cookie trays at Christmas time! However, don’t wait til December each year to enjoy the Italian rainbow cookie. With its dense sponge cake made with almond paste and layered with raspberry and apricot jam before being topped with melted chocolate, It’s so delicious, it should be enjoyed all year long.
Let’s Get Baking!
The Italian rainbow cookie, sometimes referred to as Italian flag cookies or 7-layer cookies, is a somewhat easy recipe, but one that requires a good bit of time and patience. Set aside some time to make these cookies and plan a few hours later to return to finish them off. You also might consider making two batches while you have all your ingredients out. The recipe doesn’t yield too many cookies, and trust me, they tend to get eaten up very fast.
Some essential baking items you’ll need to make baking these cookies a little easier include: 3 jelly roll plans (13” x 9”), parchment paper cut to fit the pans, cooling racks, double boiler, and a fruit strainer.
1) Prep. First, position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees F. Spray the pans with cooking spray and lay parchment paper in each one. Next, spray the parchment paper with more cooking spray.
2) Make the batter. Put your almond paste in a food processor to get it finely crumbled. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the almond paste, sugar, and the butter. Beat on medium speed until combined. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, until smooth. Add flour and salt and beat until just combined.
In a clean bowl, using a hand mixer, whisk the egg whites on low-medium until foamy. While whisking, slowly add another 2 tablespoons of sugar and continue to whisk on medium-high speed until firm peaks form. Fold about one-third of the egg white mixture into the batter with a rubber spatula, then gently fold in the rest. The batter should be fluffy.
3) Color the batter. Divide the batter evenly among 3 bowls. Stir enough red and green food coloring in 2 of the bowls to create a red and green batter. Leave the third bowl uncolored.
4) Bake the layers. Transfer the batter to the prepared pans (one pan for each color). Dip an offset spatula in water and spread the batter to the edge of each pan, smoothing the tops (the layer of batter will be very thin). Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, switching the position of the pans halfway through, until the cakes are cooked through and just beginning to brown around the edges. Let cool completely in the pans on wire racks.
5) Assemble the layers. Keeping the green layer on the baking pan, spread the raspberry jam evenly on top of it (use as much as is needed to make a thin layer).. Unmold the plain cake layer by inverting it onto the green layer. Peel off the parchment paper.
In a small pot, heat up about 1 cup of the apricot jam until it is somewhat liquefied. Over a small bowl, pour the apricot mixture in a fruit strainer to separate any large pieces of apricot from the jam. Spread the apricot jam on top of the plain layer. Unmold the red cake layer by inverting on top of the plain layer. Peel off the parchment paper.
Cover the cake with plastic wrap and place a large heavy book or a pan with heavy cans on top to weigh down the layers. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
6) Unmold the cake. Remove the weights and plastic wrap. Place a cutting board on top of the cake and flip to unmold it onto the cutting board. Remove the parchment from the top of the green layer.
7) Trim the cake. Trim the sides with a knife to make straight edges. Spray a wire rack with cooking spray; set the rack over a baking sheet. Carefully slide the cake onto the rack, using a wide offset spatula to help you, if necessary.
8) Cover in chocolate. Melt the chocolate (preferably in a double boiler) and pour over the cake. Use an offset spatula to spread and smooth the chocolate on the top. Let set slightly for a few minutes. Scrape wavy lines into the chocolate with a fork. If the lines in the chocolate don’t hold their shape, let the chocolate set a little longer and try again.
9) Cut the cake. When the chocolate has cooled for a few more minutes but still not set completely, it’s time to cut the cake into bite size pieces. Don’t wait until the chocolate has hardened, or you’ll have cracked chocolate when you try to cut the cake.
Slide the cake back onto the cutting board. Slice crosswise into strips, and then cut each strip into rectangular pieces. For clean edges, dip the knife in warm water and wipe it with a paper towel in between cuts.
10) Store in an airtight container. Your cookies will stay fresh at room temperature or in the fridge for up to 1 week, but it’s doubtful these tasty gems will last that long.