Italian Rainbow Cookies

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I know cookies.  So, when I post a recipe, you can be sure it is a winner.  I have so many Christmas cookiesi in my collection that it is difficult to decide which ones to make each year.  Italian Rainbow Cookies always  makes the list is Italian Rainbow Cookies. In addition to their sensational almond flavor and moist texture, these bars also keep for a week or so.  I usually get about 4 1/2 dozen from each batch, so even though they may seem time consuming, you get a big yield without having to individually mold each cookie.

Print Recipe
Rainbow Cookies
Also known as Neapolitans, Venetians, Seven-Layer Cookies, these are tricolor strips of firm almond cake, topped with chocolate. Although a staple at Italian-American bakeries, they are not sold in Italy. Note that you will need three 9 X 12-inch identical pans. I use three heavy-gauge aluminum “quarter sheet pans,” easily available at kitchenware shops and online. These smallish baking sheets (which may measure 13 inches long) come in handy for a huge variety of kitchen chores beyond these cookies, but supermarket-style, disposable aluminum foil pans work of the same size work perfectly well, too.
Rainbow Cookies
Course Cookies, Desserts
Cuisine Italian
Servings
54 Cookies
Ingredients
  •  softened butter and flour for the pans
  • One 8-ounce can almond paste, coarsely chopped (see Note)
  • 1 cup sugar 
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
  • 4 large eggs, seperated 
  • 1/2 teaspoon  almond extract 
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt 
  • 1  green, red, and yellow food coloring (for stronger colors, use paste or gel)
  • One 12-ounce jar apricot or raspberry preserves (1 cup) 
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream 
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped 
Course Cookies, Desserts
Cuisine Italian
Servings
54 Cookies
Ingredients
  •  softened butter and flour for the pans
  • One 8-ounce can almond paste, coarsely chopped (see Note)
  • 1 cup sugar 
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
  • 4 large eggs, seperated 
  • 1/2 teaspoon  almond extract 
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt 
  • 1  green, red, and yellow food coloring (for stronger colors, use paste or gel)
  • One 12-ounce jar apricot or raspberry preserves (1 cup) 
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream 
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped 
Rainbow Cookies
Instructions
  1. Position racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter three 9 X 12-inch (either high-gauge aluminum quarter-sheet or disposable aluminum foil) shallow baking pans. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment or waxed paper. Dust the insides of the pans with flour, then tap out the excess.
  2. Process the almond paste and sugar together in a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade until the almond paste is completely pulverized, about 1 minutes. Set the mixture aside. Beat the butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until it is creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually beat in the almond paste mixture, and continue beating, scraping down the bowl as needed, until the batter is light in color and texture, about 2 minutes. One at a time, beat in the yolks, beating well after each addition, then the almond extract. Gradually beat in the flour with the salt.
  3. Using clean beaters, whip the egg whites in a medium bowl until soft peaks form. Stir about one-fourth of the beaten whites into the almond paste mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whites.
  4. Divide the batter into thirds, placing one portion in each of three bowls. Using food coloring paste, tint one portion of batter red. Spread the batter evenly in one of the prepared baking pans (an offset metal spatula does the best job). Tint the next portion green (be sure the spoon is clean of any residual red batter), and spread in another pan. Again, using a clean spoon, lightly tint the final portion yellow--it is already yellow, so just add enough to heighten the color. Spread it in the last pan.
  5. Bake until the cakes are firm when pressed in the centers with a finger and the edges are very lightly browned, about 12 minutes. (The layers will be about 1/4-inch high.) Do not overbake. Let the cakes cool in their pans on wire cake racks for 5 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the racks and remove the paper. Cool completely.
  6. Bring the preserves and 2 tablespoons of water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Rub through a wire strainer set over a bowl, discarding the solids in the strainer.
  7. Place the yellow layer, smooth bottom side up, on a cutting board or an overturned quarter-sheet baking pan. Spread with half of the preserves. Place the red layer, smooth bottom side up, on the yellow layer, and spread with the remaining preserves. Add the green layer, smooth bottom side up. Place another cutting board or baking pan on top to weight down the stacked cake layers. Let stand until the preserves are set, at least 2 hours. (Sometimes, I’ll cover the stacked layers, without the top board or pan, in plastic wrap and let them stand for a full day. This comes in handy during the busy holiday baking season when you might want to make cookies in stages.)
  8. Bring the heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat. Add the chocolate and let stand until the chocolate softens, about 3 minutes. Whisk until the mixture is smooth and the chocolate is melted.
  9. Using a sharp thin knife, trim the edges from the stacked cake layers to make a rectangle with smooth edges. The trimmings are the baker’s treat! Transfer the stacked cake layers to a wire cake rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the chocolate mixture over the top of the stacked cake layers. Spread evenly with a metal cake spatula, taking care to not let any chocolate drip down the sides. Let stand until the chocolate is cooled at set, about 2 hours (or refrigerate for 1 hour.)
  10. Slide the pastry onto a work surface. Using a sharp thin knife, cut horizontally into 6 strips, then vertically into 9 equal pieces per strip to make 54 rectangles. Separate the cookies. (The cookies can be stored in an airtight container in a cool place, separated by sheets of waxed paper, for at least 5 days.)
Recipe Notes

Note: Almond paste, made from ground almonds and sugar, is available canned or in foil-wrapped tubes at most supermarkets and at specialty food shops.  I have a slight preference for the canned paste, which is often moister than the tubes.  While there is a 1-ounce difference in the package weights, the discrepancy doesn’t make any difference.  Do not confuse almond paste with marzipan, which is prepared with ground almonds and corn syrup.  Marzipan has a softer consistency and sweeter flavor that is more appropriate for making candies than baking.



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