If there’s one food I associate with family holidays, it would be Italian rainbow cookies.
My dad’s side of the family is 100% Americanized Italian, and that involves a lot of food traditions. We have seafood on Christmas Eve and make Easter pies on Good Friday. We have pasta on Sunday afternoons. We (edit: not my sister and I) say random foods using Italian accents.
Italian rainbow cookies, also known as tricolor or seven layer cookies, are actually an Italian American invention, colored to look like the Italian flag. Using almond paste and extract, they take on an almond flavor, and are filled with apricot or raspberry jam and covered in chocolate on the top and bottom.
From my birth, I believe, these cookies have been at every single family event I can remember. Which is why I never really took any interest in them. They were associated with the other hard, traditional cookies from Italian bakeries that I didn’t go near. But my friend Jackie loves them, so I decided to try my hand at recreating a homemade version for her for her birthday.
I’m very glad I did.
I do regret not taking as many really good final product pictures, as I was racing to get them out the door to her. 😦
I’m not going to lie and say this recipe was easy. It was a little time consuming and multi-stepped. However, the outcome was phenomenal. Much better than cookies from a bakery!
There are three major steps to the cookie:
- Three cookie layers
- Two apricot filling layers
- Two chocolate layers
Start by separating four eggs and whipping the whites. When they’re fluffy, gradually add 1/4 cup sugar, then transfer to a different bowl and set aside.
This recipe uses almond paste, which is always fun! Mix it with the rest of the sugar until it has reached the texture of fine sand, about three minutes, then beat in softened butter until it is pale and fluffy, about three minutes, and the egg yolks and almond extract, about two minutes. On low speed, mix in the flour and salt until just combined, then carefully fold in the egg whites. Fold in half first to lighten the batter, then the other half.
Separate the batter into three small bowls of the same size. I believe I put about 2 1/4 cups batter into each. Color one bowl red and one bowl green, and leave one plain.
Cover the green bowl and place in the refrigerator. Spread the red batter over a prepared 9×13 pan greased and lined with parchment paper. Bake this layer for 8-10 minutes. It will look undercooked, but it will pass the toothpick test.
Transfer this layer to a wire rack to cool, and reline the pan. Repeat the baking process with the white layer while bringing the green layer to room temperature. When the white layer is done, bake the green layer.
Phew. Now it’s time to make the apricot filling. You will need a 12-oz jar of apricot preserves, a smallish medium saucepan, a strainer, and a bowl. Heat the preserves in the pan over medium heat until they have thoroughly melted into liquid.
Then strain them into the bowl, pressing a rubber spatula against the strainer to yield as much liquid as possible.
When all the cookie layers have cooled, line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and invert the green layer onto it. Spread half of the apricot filling on top of the green layer, then stack on the white layer. Top this with the other half of the filling. Stack on the red layer. Cover the layers with plastic wrap and weight with another baking sheet. Chill for at least 8 hours.
After it has been chilled sufficiently, remove the weight and plastic wrap and bring the stack to room temperature. Meanwhile, melt 7 oz bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler. Trim the edges of the stack with a long, serrated knife. Eat the trimmings.
Quickly spread half of the chocolate on top of the cookies in a thin layer, and return it to the fridge for fifteen minutes, uncovered.
Lay out parchment paper on top of another baking sheet and invert the stack onto it. Spread the other half of the chocolate onto the new top side of the cookies. Chill for thirty minutes, then cover and freeze for at least an hour before cutting.
Bring to a party!
Seven Layer Italian Rainbow Cookies from Smitten Kitchen
- 4 eggs, separated
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 8oz can almond paste (I used a 7 oz tube)
- 2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 25 drops red food coloring
- 25 drops green food coloring
- 12-oz jar apricot preserves
- 7 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9×13 pan and fit with parchment paper, leaving a two inch overhang on either side of the pan, and grease the parchment paper.
- In a stand mixer, beat the egg whites with a whisk attachment on medium-high speed until they just hold stiff peaks. On high speed, add 1/4 cup of sugar a little at a time until the whites hold stiff, glossy peaks. Pour into another bowl and set aside.
- Using the paddle attachment, beat almond paste with remaining 3/4 cup sugar until the mixture is the texture of fine sand, about three minutes. Beat in the butter until pale and fluffy, another three minutes. Add the yolks and almond extract and beat another two minutes.
- On low speed, mix in flour and salt until just combined.
- Fold in half of the egg whites to lighten the batter, then the remaining half.
- Pour the batter into three small bowls. There will be about two and a quarter cups of batter per bowl. Mix red food coloring into one bowl, green into another, and leave the third plain. Cover the green batter and chill.
- Pour the red batter into the pan and spread with a rubber spatula to cover the entire bottom of the pan. Bake 8-10 minutes until just set, when an inserted toothpick comes out clean. It will look undercooked.
- Remove the layer from pan using the paper overhang and transfer to a wire rack to cool about 15 minutes. Re-grease and line the pan. Bake white layer in the same fashion. Meanwhile, bring the green batter to room temperature and repeat baking process with this layer.
- While the layers are cooling, thoroughly melt apricot preserves in a medium pan over medium heat. When melted, strain liquid into a small bowl. Discard solid pieces.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and invert the green layer onto it. Spread with half the preserves. Invert white layer on top and spread with the other half of the preserves, then top with red layer. Cover the stack with plastic wrap and weight with a baking pan, then chill at least 8 hours.
- Remove the plastic wrap and pan and bring to room temperature. Melt chocolate in a double boiler and stir until smooth, then remove from heat.
- When stack is ready, trim the edges with a long, serrated knife so they are even. Spread half the chocolate on top of the stack in a thin layer. Chill uncovered for fifteen minutes.
- Place wax or parchment paper on top of the stack and invert onto another baking sheet. Spread the remaining half of the chocolate in a thin layer on top of the stack and chill uncovered for thirty minutes.
- Cover and freeze for at least an hour, then cut with a long, serrated knife.
This homemade version of Italian rainbow cookies, I found, is sooo much better than the bakery-bought version that appears at every one of my family events. They were soft, with very distinct flavors. I plan on doing a comparison the next time I get together with my family 🙂 After the long process, I’d have to say these cookies were pretty worth it. First of all, a cookie that is not ready right away prevents me from eating half the batch straight out of the oven. Second, baking is such a relaxing thing for me, and this project kept me occupied and destressed for two days. It was nice. If you are making these for an event, definitely start early, at least one or two days before. The cookie layers can easily be made ahead and frozen; just be sure you defrost them before working with them. Except when cutting. I took the suggestion from Deb of Smitten Kitchen of cutting these frozen, and it was relatively easier than cutting at room temperature. The final product was very pretty, and can be cut into small pieces. For all my fellow Italian-Americans, you’re welcome 🙂
PS- Mia has been with us for a week now! Yay!