When I was a little kid (and I still lived in the northeast), I remember going to various bakeries with my mom (Swiss, German, Italian bakeries all served rainbow cookies, only the French ones didn’t, as they offered petit-fours, which I guess is like a French rainbow cookie in a way). And during every bakery visit, I always headed straight for the rainbow cookies.
As I stood surrounded by the dark wood-paneled (sometimes Bavarian stylized) bakery walls, admiring those colorful little rectangles behind the glittering glass pastry case, and smelling the aroma of warm sugar, all I could think about was how magical it all seemed.
It was through those early bakery trips that I came to fall in love with rainbow cookies.
A LITTLE HISTORY
Some quick facts:
Rainbow cookies are also called “Neapolitan/Venetian Cookies” or “7-Layer Cookies” (2 chocolate layers, 2 jam layers, 3 cake layers)
Some people also call them “Italian Flag Cookies” as they are colored to mimic the Italian flag.
They are the most prominent in the northeast US.
They aren’t from Italy, rather they are an Italian-American concoction, probably developed by Italian-American immigrants in the 1900s as a way to celebrate their heritage. And being Italian-American myself (emphasis on the AMERICAN part lol) I like that these are something unique to that heritage.
(the recipe I like the best/use is the one used by Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi of NYC’s Torrisi Italian Specialties)
Stuff You’ll Need:
- 2 tbsp + 2 cups butter, cubed and at room temp.
- 6 eggs
- 1 and 1/3 cups sugar
- 12 oz almond paste, chopped
- 2 and 3/4 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp red coloring (less or more coloring depending on how deep you want your colors)
- 1 tsp green coloring
- 3/4 cup orange marmalade, heated and strained
- 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
- Three 13 x 9 x 2 baking pans (I actually just use the same pan 3 times as I don’t have three 13×9 pans)
1. A few hours or a night before you plan to make these cookies, chop your butter and leave it out until it become room temperature/soft to the touch. If you don’t do this then you will really fail in your attempt to make these cookies.
Below you can see a still life of my softened, chopped butter, my eggs yolks, and almond paste.
2. When the butter is soft/warm you can get your egg whites in gear.
Separate your egg whites from the yolks, put them in a bowl, and beat until soft peaks form. Then slowly add 1/3 cup sugar. Continue beating until stiff peaks form. Cover and put the egg whites in the fridge to chill out.
Pictured below is about how “stiff peaks” should look.
…So now you beat the chopped up almond paste (DO NOT BUY MARZIPAN BUY ALMOND PASTE THEY ARE SIMILAR THOUGH NOT THE SAME) and the remaining sugar. About 4-5 minutes. The almond paste and the sugar will not want to bond, but you must force them together.
4. Add butter and beat until fluffy/well incorporated. Add yolks, flour, and salt. FOLD (do not mix, you must be gentle) in egg whites slowly.
Below you can see a blob of egg whites, which I am about to tuck into their batter bed.
5. Divide dough into three bowls. I just eye-ball it and add/subtract dough from each of the bowls until they look even. I haven’t had a problem with this technique, it works for me.
Make one red, one green, and one leave alone. Red, being a primary color, is a must have dye if you want to turn something red. Green can be bought, or you can create it with yellow and blue coloring (which is what I had to do in this instance).
SIDE NOTE: You can have fun with the colors and create “flags” other than Italy’s. Like for Bastille Day you could to the French flag with blue and red, or if you are a Team Argentina fan and a big game is coming up you would do blue and white/no dye (to mimic their jerseys), or for Republic Day in India you could do orange and green and put a blue M&M in the center…there are many possibilities!
6. Line baking pans with foil, leave overhang (this allows for easy removal). Grease with butter.
I use the same pan three times, so the foil is a life-saver. I just remove the foil, let the cake cool, remove the foil from the cake, and then I use the same foil for the next cake!
7. Bake each cake for about 9-12 minutes at 350 F. I would recommend checking them at 9 minutes and poking them with a tooth-pick. If the tooth-pick comes out dry, they are done. If it comes out wet, give them another minute. Repeat until tooth-pick comes out dry.
8. While your cake is baking, heat your orange marmalade until is almost boiling/liquified. Take it off the heat and strain the liquid from the solids into a bowl. Discard the solids, or better yet, save them to top on a bowl of oatmeal or something.
10. With a pastry brush, spread marmalade over the green cake (or you could start with the red, just don’t start with the white, as it goes in the middle). Stack the white layer on top of the green layer. Cover the white layer with remaining jam, then top with the red cake.
11. Wrap the cake in plastic wrap. It’ll be going into the fridge for a while, and you don’t want it to get dried out! Yuck! A dry rainbow cookie is no bene!!
Remember, you are not making biscotti!!
12. Cover in foil and top with a pan (or in my case, I used a baking sheet). Weigh down the pan. You can use anything heavy really, like canned goods. I happened to have this weight lying around (it is part of some antique scale decorating my house).
Leave this in the fridge for 8 hours or up to a day. You really want the layers to stick together, so the longer the better, BUT NOT TOO LONG!
13. When you are ready to remove your cake from the fridge, melt your BITTERSWEET chocolate (I’ve tried chocolate chips, semi-sweet baking squares, chocolate and butter, you name it. But what I’ve found is that the best final product is achieved with BITTERSWEET BAKING CHOCOLATE.
You can’t use direct heat to melt chocolate, as it will end up burning. Chocolate is very tricky that way. You have to be vigilant!
Some people own double-boilers. I am not one of those people, because my mom taught be a cheaper (you don’t have to buy more kitchen gadgets) that works well.
It is a make-shift double-boiler! Get 2 pots, one large and one small. Fill the large one with water, about half-way or less. Put your chocolate in the small pot. Turn the heat on a low setting. Watch as the chocolate melts, and stir.
14. Spread half of the chocolate on the cake. Then pop it in the freezer for 10 minutes (this hardens the chocolate).
Cover hardened chocolate side with wax paper/plastic wrap and flip over. Cover the other side with the remaining chocolate and freeze for 10 min.
15. Trim the rough, outside edges of the cake to create nice smooth sides.
This is the best part IMHO, as there is something extra fun about eating the trimmings. If friends or family are around, call them into the kitchen, as they no doubt will be delighted to help you “clean up.”
Side Note: You can cut them as thick or thin as you want. I usually aim for an 1.5 inches by 2 inches, but I’m not fanatical about it. Some people, like my mom, are very good at being very precise. I’m a bit more “organic” in my methods.
Even though this is not the first time I have made these, I have still come away from the experience having learned something. I have reaffirmed that bittersweet baking chocolate is the way to go, and that orange marmalade is indeed much much better (both in flavor and sticking ability) than apricot preserves (which I have tried in the past).
Also, I am slowly becoming aware that other people really really really enjoy my rainbow cookies. I get compliments on them frequently (I made tons and tons during the Xmas season to take to parties and to use as gifts).
In fact, today a friend of my mentioned how much her mom liked them, and I heard the same thing from my Auntie Pat on the phone the other day (I told her I’d send her some of my next batch). And it looks like I’ll be making them again soon, as it was suggested that I bring some to the game night my friends and I have planned.
Rainbow cookies spread like magic I guess…
Yes that is a reused Chick-fil-A container, as they say “waste not, want not.”
Ciao 4 Now
Madeline aka The Hopeful Hestia