One of my favorite holiday traditions growing up as a kid was watching my mom create the beautiful “rainbow” cookies I would sneak before, during, after, and way after dinner on the nights leading up to Christmas morning. These delicate, delicious almond treats are traditionally found in Italian-American bakeries, but over the last few years have seemed to lack that homemade appeal that I so longingly crave around the holiday season. So this year, I decided to take matters into my own hands.
Time: About 2-3 hours on DAY 1 and 1 hour on DAY 2
Equipment: Standing mixer (highly recommended) or hand mixer will do just fine, mixing bowls (at least 4), spatulas, a good knife, baking pans (13 x 9 for single batch, large baking sheet for double batch), wax paper (A MUST).
Helpful but not necessary equipment: Small kitchen scale
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 (8-oz) can almond paste
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
25 drops red food coloring
25 drops green food coloring
1 (12-oz) jar apricot preserves, heated and strained
7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
*This yields about 5 dozen cookies (if you cut them small), but I highly recommend doubling the recipe and making more!
- Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350℉. Butter a 13 x 9 inch baking pan (or large baking sheet if you’re doubling the recipe) and line bottom with wax paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the ends, then butter paper.
2. Beat egg whites in mixer fitted with whisk attachment at medium-high speed until they just hold stiff peaks. Add 1/4 cup sugar slowly, beating at high speed until whites hold stiff, slightly glossy peaks.
3. Switch to paddle attachment and in another bowl (separate from the egg whites) beat together almond paste and remaining 3/4 cup sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add butter and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks and almond extract and beat until combined well, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add flour and salt and mix until just combined.
4. Fold half of egg white mixture into almond mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly. The texture will be thicker than a pancake mix, but lighter than chocolate chip cookie dough.
5. Divide batter among 3 bowls. (TIP: If you have a small kitchen scale, this is where it came into play for me. To ensure that the layers are even, I measured them out evenly in ounces, about 13.5 ounces each but that could vary) Stir red food coloring into one and green food coloring into another, leaving the third batch plain. Set white batter aside. Chill green batter, covered. Pour red batter into prepared pan and spread evenly with offset spatula (layer will be about 1/4 inch thick).
6. Bake red layer 8 to 10 minutes, until just set. (It is important to undercook. They’ll look like they’re not done, but a tester does come out clean.)
7. Using paper overhang, transfer layer to a rack to cool, about 15 minutes. Clean pan, then line with parchment or wax paper and butter paper in same manner as above. Bake white layer in prepared pan until just set. As white layer bakes, bring green batter to room temperature. Transfer white layer to a rack. Prepare pan as above, then bake green layer in same manner as before. Transfer to a rack to cool.
8. When all layers are cool, invert green onto a parchment or wax-paper-lined large baking sheet. Discard paper from layer and spread with half of preserves. Invert white on top of green layer, discarding paper. Spread with remaining preserves. Invert red layer on top of white layer and discard wax or parchment paper. (TIP: Be mindful of the amount of apricot preserves you put onto each layer. I used a brush to lightly brush the preserves throughout and it worked perfectly. Too much preserves will prevent the cakes from being able to set and will cause big problems when it comes to cutting)
9. Cover with plastic wrap and weight with a large baking pan. Chill at least 8 hours (or overnight, won’t matter if you go over 8).
10. Remove weight and plastic wrap. Bring layers to room temperature. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Keep chocolate over water. (TIP: I melted half the chocolate for the top, then melted the second half once I took the layers back out of the freezer from cooling)
11. Trim edges of assembled layers with a good knife (some recommend a serrated knife but I thought a regular knife worked just fine). Quickly spread half of chocolate in a thin layer on top of cake. Chill, uncovered, until chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes. Cover with another sheet of wax paper and place another baking sheet on top, then invert cake onto sheet and remove paper. Quickly spread with remaining chocolate. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
12. Cut lengthwise into as many strips as you’d like (I actually measured the layers out with a ruler and cut them 1 inch wide). Cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide cookies.
Once you’ve completed the cookies and eaten your fair share of them, to keep them fresh, place them in an airtight container and put them in the fridge. You can keep them room temperature for about 2 weeks, but the fridge will help keep them fresh.