I knew it would come to this and here we are. Merry Christmas my friends and welcome to Day 12 of the 12 Days of Cookies! The final cookie is a little special, it is Christmas after all, and one I have zero expectations of you actually making today. Perhaps you’ll file it away in your mental recipe box for next year or maybe you’ll just look at the pictures, smile and move on. Whichever is fine by me because this one is a bit involved. A real project-type cookie made for special times. Neapolitan Cookies, Seven Layer Cookies, Italian Flag Cookies or Rainbow Cookies, whatever you call them we can all agree that they are a stunner.
All month I’ve been posting cookies that were baked, photographed and written by Thanksgiving knowing I had zero time to do this project during December but I never really locked on a Day 12. I had a few ideas that didn’t work out but I figured I’d get to it at some point. As Christmas approached, I wondered when that day would be. I was mentally scrambling for an appropriate cookie to end the series with a bang and coming up empty. Then, around the middle of the month as I hurried through my living room, the cover of the Bon Appétit December issue caught my eye. The photo of the ombre layered cookies was gorgeous. I had an idea. Maybe it was time to bake those Italian rainbow cookies I’d always wanted to try. Sure. Why not? Why not when pressed for time throw a complicated, multi-step recipe into the mix? Typical.
I had just the person to give them to. My friend Dan Smith is a wonderful chef and a great guy. A few weeks back while in San Diego for the annual Wine & Food Festival, we’d gone to Little Italy for dinner and he bought a box of Italian rainbow cookies to bring home for the holidays. As an Italian, he told me these cookies were near and dear to his heart and part of his family’s holiday tradition. I, of all people, can understand a sentimental favorite. A few days later, on the way to the airport, he sadly realized he had left the box at the hotel. I would bake these cookies for him and right this wrong.
So I did. Let me be honest; this recipe is a pain in the butt. Or so I thought at first (more on that later.) First off, the recipe calls for 12 ounces of almond paste but I discovered this rather pricey ingredient typically comes in packages of 8 or 10 ounces. Ugh. This is so annoying. Then there are three separately dyed cakes to deal with, and then the glazing and stacking and what not. Oh lordy, the glaze! I somehow managed to get chocolate everywhere.
I thought my attempt was a complete disaster but pressed on anyway. I don’t give up easily. But then after all the glazing and the flipping and the chilling, I cut them into pieces. Lo and behold, they were gorgeous! The stripes were stunning and the cookies were fantastic; almond-y, with just a hint of bitter chocolate and so moist. I guess a pound of butter will do that. But the best thing ever was when Dan opened the box and looked at me in disbelief. “You made these? For me?” And then he gave me the biggest hug ever with what might have been an ever so slight glisten in his eye. It was fantastic. This is why I bake.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: TWOFOLD. I don’t think that initially, there is any stress reduction therapy happening with this recipe. It might actually induce a bit of stress. It’s a time consuming project that can seem overwhelming but here’s what I’m going to tell you: what seems intimidating at first is really not that hard. Relax and break it into achievable segments. 1) bake the cakes. 2) glaze/weigh the cakes. 3) breathe deeply through the four glazing stages. 4) cut the cookies into pieces. Done. The glazing is by far the messiest. If you’d like to stop with a glaze on just the top and the bottom, that’s fine. Most recipes have it this way but I like all four edges glazed in a light layer of chocolate. It looks better and if you’re going to take the time to make these, then take the dang time. Once you get past the initial aggravation, a funny thing happens. You look at your pretty rows of striped cookies and think DAMN. Then you give them to someone and there is a little bit of freak out moment. People love these things. I mean loooooove them. They know they’re special and they treat them differently than your standard holiday cookie. And isn’t that really what we’re going for here?
Six years ago: Gingerbread with the Kids
Five years ago: Christmas Cookie Primer, Gingerbread with the Kids
Four years ago: Homemade for the Holidays
Three years ago: Gingerbread with Bourbon Sauce
Two years ago: Peppermint Cookie Platter, Pumpkin Roulade
Last year: Scratch Rum Cake
12 Days of Cookies Recap:
— Day 1 – Pretzel Caramel Shortbread
— Day 2 – Fig Mezzaluna
— Day 3 – Dutch Windmills
— Day 4 – Bourbon Peach Rugelah
— Day 5 – Chai Spiced Meringue Kisses
— Day 6 – Almond Joy Bars
— Day 7 – Swedish Kringla
— Day 8 – Chile Lime Macaroons
— Day 9 – Orange Cranberry Cornmeal Shortbread
— Day 10 – Eggnog Buttons
— Day 11 – Ginger Palmiers
ITALIAN RAINBOW COOKIES – adapted from this recipe
Makes around 6 dozen cookies
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter for greasing the pans, room temperature
6 large eggs, separated
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
12 ounces almond paste (not marzipan), broken into 1″ pieces
2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks), cubed, room temperature
2 ¾ cups + 1 Tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon dark rum, such as Myer’s
red & green food coloring
¾ cup seedless raspberry jam
1 Tablespoon dark rum
16 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped, melted
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line three 13″x9″x2″ sheet pans with aluminum foil (aka commercial “quarter sheet pans”), leaving an overhang then grease sides and bottom with the 2 Tablespoons butter; set aside.
- For the cakes: in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt; set aside.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the almond paste and 1 cup of the sugar on medium-low until incorporated and there are no longer any big chunks of almond paste, 4-5 minutes. (note: next Christmas ask for a Beater Blade attachment).
- Gradually add the cubed 2 cups of butter as you increase the speed to medium-high.
- Beat until fluffy and well blended. Scrape the bowl.
- Beat in the egg yolks and rum, then flour mixture. Scrape the bowl.
- Transfer the almond batter to a large mixing bowl and set aside. Wash the batter mixing bowl. (note: while you’re at it, ask for an extra mixing bowl next Christmas too.)
- Put egg whites in the now clean bowl and with the whisk attachment, beat on medium-high until foamy.
- Add the remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a slow, steady stream and increase the speed to high; beat until stiff peaks form.
- With a rubber spatula, fold in whites into the almond batter in 3 additions. The first addition may be a bit challenging as the batter is rather thick and stiff; just work it in to lighten the batter and go from there.
- Divide batter evenly among 3 bowls. You can eyeball it but the best way is to use a scale. My batter worked out to three bowls of 1lb 4 ¼ ounces each though yours may vary by a little.
- Tint one bowl red, one bowl green and leave one plain. I use AmeriColor gel colors (10 drops Super Red for the red bowl and 10 drops leaf green + 4 drops forest green for the green layer) though I’ve read you can use regular grocery store food coloring at 1 teaspoon each. (note: since we’re asking for things, ask for the AmeriColor gel pack too.)
- Spread 1 bowl of batter into each prepared pan; smooth the tops. (note: while you’re at it, an offset spatula is a great tool everyone should have. Add it to the list.)
- Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until just set, 10-12 minutes. Let cool in pans.
- Build the layers: In a small saucepan, whisk together the raspberry jam and rum until smooth. Let cool slightly.
- With a pastry brush, spread half of the jam over green cake.
- Using foil overhang, lift the plain cake layer out of pan.
- Invert onto the green cake layer; peel off and discard the foil.
- Brush the remaining jam over plain cake layer.
- Lift the red cake layer out of pan; invert onto plain cake layer and wrap the entire cake with plastic wrap and a sheet of foil.
- Top the stacked cake with another 13”x9”x2″ pan.
- Weigh down the pan with several heavy canned goods to compress the cake layers.
- Refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.
- Unmold: Remove the cake from the refrigerator, remove the cans and top pan and unwrap the cake.
- Transfer the cake with the red layer on top to a parchment paper lined cutting board or sturdy flat surface.
- With a sharp knife, evenly trim the edges.
- For the glaze: Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave (50% power in 1 ½ minute intervals, stirring between bursts, until fully melted.)
- Stir in the vegetable oil until fully blended.
- With an offset spatula, spread a thin layer of the chocolate glaze on the top of the red cake. Chill for 15 minutes.
- Remove the cake from the refrigerator, top with a piece of parchment and a cutting board or sturdy flat surface and flip the cake so the unglazed green layer is now on top.
- Remove the parchment and spread a thin layer of chocolate glaze on top of the green cake. Chill 15 minutes.
- Remove the cake from the refrigerator and with a sharp knife, cut the cake into 1 ¼” strips from the short side. You should have around 9 strips total.
- Give each strip a quarter turn so an unglazed striped side is now on top and spread a thin layer of glaze on each strip. Chill 15 minutes.
- Remove from the refrigerator and flip again; top with a piece of parchment and a cutting board or sturdy flat surface and flip so the final unglazed side is on top.
- Spread a thin layer of chocolate glaze on top and chill for 15 minutes.
- Remove from the refrigerator and cut each log into individual pieces about ¼” thick. A warmed knife (I warm my quickly over my gas stove burner) makes this a little easier if you find the chocolate glaze cracking and flaking off.
- Store airtight at room temperature up to 5 days.