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Rainbow Cookies

Rainbow cookies are quite possibly my favorite cookies. Ever. Whenever someone brings a cookie assortment from an Italian bakery, I always eat all the rainbow cookies first, and usually discard the rest.

The best rainbow cookies money can buy are available at Isaac’s Bake Shop, 1419 Avenue J in Brooklyn, NY, right across the street from Di Fara’s pizza, and just a few blocks away from where I grew up. (I still think it’s pretty funny that people come from Manhattan to our old local pizza joint out in Brooklyn. These are probably the same people who used to bitch about the commute when I’d invite them over to hang out at my parents’ place during high school!)

The second best rainbow cookies money can buy can be found at Ferrara Bakery at 195 Grand Street in Little Italy in Manhattan, and in their outpost around the corner on Mulberry Street just off of Canal Street. (Calling it Little Italy feels absurd at this point, though. I think we’ll all agree that Little Italy has mostly been swallowed up by Chinatown over the years. It fell victim to the most famous of the classic blunders: Never get involved in a land war in Asia.)

But the best rainbow cookies that money can’t buy can be found right here in my kitchen.

Rainbow cookies are usually colored to match the Italian flag, with stripes of green, white, and red, but my rainbow cookies reflect my ancestry and are instead colored to match the Hungarian flag, with stripes of green, white, and red.

The Italian flag looks like this:

But the Hungarian flag looks like this:

What makes them better than storebought rainbow cookies? Why are they worth the bother to make? Well, the layers are more intensely almondy and moister than the storebought kind. The jam is fresher, and if you’re really feeling into it, you can use any sort of interesting or even homemade jam instead of the regular kind. You can choose your favorite kind of chocolate, and you can put on just as much or as little as you like.

Sure, they take a few days to make, but you’re not actually working during all that time. The layers aren’t very fussy to bake or put together, and it’s really just a matter of waiting until the next night to glaze and chocolatize them. Probably the hardest part of the recipe is tempering the chocolate, which I still have trouble doing.

Before I learned about tempering chocolate and its 6 different crystal structures, 5 of which are up to no good, I had no problem tempering it accidentally every time. But once I learned how to temper it, I screwed it up constantly. So, if you’ve never heard of tempering, don’t read that part of the recipe! Murphy will undoubtly turn on you if you do. But if you’ve already been tainted by the concept, read on through the end and I’ll try to guide you through the process as best I can.

And here’s another perk: you can store these cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for several weeks, or probably freeze them indefinitely.

Rainbow Cookies
(adapted from Great Cookies by Carole Walter)
12 ounces almond paste (careful, this is not the same thing as marzipan)
1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 C granulated sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
Green and red food coloring
1/4 C seedless raspberry preserves
1/2 C apricot preserves
15 oz. semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Build the cake layers.

Position the shelves in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly butter the bottom of the three 12 1/4″ x 8 1/4″ baking pans. (This step will help glue the parchment paper to the baking pans, making it easier to prepare them further.)

Line the bottoms with parchment paper, then butter the parchment paper and the sides of each pan. Sprinkle some flour over them, and shake most of it out.

Finely chop the almond paste in your food processor, or grate it with a box grater or microplane.

In the bowl of a KitchenAid (or other electric mixer, we suppose), using the paddle attachment, mix the butter on medium-low speed just until smooth, not fluffy. Increase the speed to medium, add the almond paste, and beat until lightened in color, about 2 minutes. Pour in the sugar in a steady stream, beating for about 1 more minute. Then add the 4 egg yolks and the vanilla, beating well to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the salt and flour. Add a third of it into the mixer and blend just until incorporated. Add half of what remains, and do the same. Add the rest, and again mix just until incorporated.

Set the dough aside.

In a clean mixer bowl, using the whip attachment, beat the 4 egg whites until firm peaks form. This works best if you start at a low speed, wander away for a bit, raise the speed, wander away for a bit, &c, until it’s going strong and the whites are really frothing up well.

Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold one-third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten the mixture, then fold in the remaining egg whites in two more additions. This will be a pain in the ass. The dough will be thick and dense and you will feel like you can’t possibly fold in the whites, and you must be committing bubble genocide in the attempt. Persevere. It will all be okay in the end.

Divide the batter into thirds (each measuring approximately 1 2/3 C) and place each into a separate bowl. Color one portion with the green food coloring, blending until evenly colored. Color the second portion with the red food coloring, again blending until evenly colored. The remaining portion is not colored.

Spread the batters in the pans, each color in its own separate pan, smoothing the tops with a small offset spatula. Evenly distribute the batter as best you can. It will seem terrifyingly thin, difficult to spread evenly covering the whole pan. Again, just do your best, and it will all work out.

7. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the tops are firm to the touch and very slightly brown. Cool the pans on wire racks, then flip each pan to remove the cake layer and peel off the parchment.

Assemble the layers.

Set up a cookie sheet or cutting board covered in plastic wrap. Place the green layer on it. Using a small offset spatula, spread the surface evenly with 2 tablespoons of the raspberry preserves. Place the plain layer on top of the raspberry preserves. Align the two layers and press them together. Spread 2 tablespoons of the raspberry preserves over the plain layer, again using a small offset spatula. Then place the red layer on top of the raspberry preserves. Be sure that the three layers are evenly aligned, then press them together again.

Wrap the layered stack tightly with plastic wrap, sealing the ends securely, and place it on a clean cookie sheet. Place another cookie sheet on top of the wrapped stack and weigh it with two or three heavy cookbooks to compress the layers. Let the stack rest at room temperature for at least 24 hours, turning it over once or twice during the weighting period.

Glaze the layers.

Unwrap the stack and set it on a cutting board. Using a large serrated knife, trim 1/4″ from all sides. Then cut the stack into five equal strips Separate the strips and place them on a large wire rack set over a cookie sheet.

Place the apricot preserves and 2 tbsp water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 minute. Strain and discard the pulp. Brush a thin layer of the glaze on the top and sides of each strip, to seal the surface. Let stand for 1/2 hour or longer, to dry and set.

Cover the layers with chocolate.

Temper your chocolate. If you already know how, and have a preferred method, don’t even bother reading further. Just temper it, glaze the strips with it, cut them into cookies once it sets, and move on with your life. If you don’t yet know how to temper chocolate, though, read on.

Finely chop your chocolate. Set up a double boiler (we use a bowl set in a pot of water) and bring the water up to a simmer. Put 2/3 of the chocolate in the bowl, setting the rest aside for now. Slow melt it, stirring, until it hits about 113 F. Don’t let it get much hotter than that, or things may not work out.

Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the other 1/3 of the chocolate, letting it melt. Once it has melted in, pour the chocolate onto a dry, flat, cool surface. You’re going to fold it with an offset spatula as it cools, letting it thicken, until it hits about 82 F.

Once that happens, transfer it to a clean bowl and put it back on the simmering water. Heat it, stirring, until it hits about 88 F. Remove from the heat.

You can test whether the chocolate is properly tempered by putting a spoon in the freezer for a bit, until it gets cool. Dip the spoon into the chocolate. If it sets on the back of the spoon fairly quickly, getting hard and glossy in just a few minutes, your chocolate is properly tempered. Congratulations!

Now, put that lovely tempered chocolate to good use. Working one strip at a time, spoon about 1/5 of the melted chocolate down the length of the strip. Using a small offset spatula, spread the chocolate evenly over the top and sides, taking care to smooth all surfaces. Repeat with the remaining strips. Let the strips stand at room temperature until the chocolate hardens. Then, cut each strip into 5/8″ slices.

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17 Responses to “Rainbow Cookies”

  1. deb says:

    Oh YUM. I have been wanting to make these forever (and even have that same recipe bookmarked) but the problem is I am the only person I know who likes them, and that would be a disaster. “What happened to those cookies you made two days ago, Deb?” “Mmrffmnmph.”

  2. linda says:

    Never heard of rainbow cookies but they sound and look very very delicious!
    Tempering sounds easy but in practice…if only tempering machines were not so expensive..

  3. katy says:

    my cousin always makes these and brags about how difficult they are to make. now that i see the recipe, they actually do sound quite difficult! i tried to temper chocolate without a thermometer recently and it didn’t work at all (i turned it into ganache). these instructions sound good though!

  4. brilynn says:

    You know, I’ve never had one of these! I’ve seen them on a few blogs but I don’t think in real life, I’ll have to search some out, or better yet, make my own.

  5. Hah, I remember watching a movie and they turned the flag and bluffed it that it’s Italian ship…forgot which movie, Nick Cage was in it…some weapons smuggling movie. Hehe.

    But I have never seen rainbows cookie before, that’s very interesting.

  6. McAuliflower says:

    Hey- I know those crack cookies. :) But I call them Ribbon Cookies. Admit- you are tempted to make them true rainbow cookies…

  7. peabody says:

    What fun, I can see why they are your favorite.

  8. Danielle says:

    deb – They keep so well, you can just vow to mail most of them off to distant friends.

    linda – Also, I’m told tempering machines are really slow.

    katy – They’re more time-consuming than difficult, and they’re not even so time-consuming. The trick is finding a few days where you can plan in advance to have the time you need for all the steps.

    brilynn – You should! Next time we do a package exchange I’ll have to mail you some.

    RM – Heheheh.

    McAuliflower – It’s so true. I really am.

    peabody – Yeah!

  9. Yvo says:

    The Princess Bride reference, Danielle- f*cking awesome. Even more awesome is- and forgive me for being a teensy bit weird for remembering this- the memory of us talking about Princess Bride, oh, over 10 years ago, in shop class, and you telling me that the movie was nowhere NEAR as fantastic as the book (which I’ve still yet to read; argh). And undoubtedly has an unhappy ending. Haha. I almost spit out my tea when I read “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” Thank you.

  10. Dana says:

    I’ve never had these, but I recently saw a recipe for them in Sherry Yard’s new book and marked the page. I’ll have to make them soon!

  11. Cakespy says:

    Oh my goodness! I grew up in New Jersey and *love* these cookies, such a part of my childhood. Thank you for the memory!!

  12. Annemarie says:

    Ah, these bring back memories. My friends and I used to gorge ourselves whenever going to little Italy, and after one of us found a recipe for these cookies it became a ritual amongst us to make these for our parties and trade-off who would bake them. Haven’t made them in years, but it may be time again…

  13. My mom makes these at Holiday time each year. They’re one of my favorites too. She makes them the Italian way, but since my husband is Hungarian, your way would fit right in at our house!

  14. Danielle says:

    Yvo – I can’t believe you remember that! That’s awesome. I’m glad somebody got it, and extra glad that it was you.

    Dana – You should!

    Cakespy, Annemarie – I love how nostalgic they are for so many people.

    StickyGooeyCreamyChewy – Awesome.

  15. jcherry says:

    I’ve made these many times and agree that they are very very difficult. I liken them to baking a scratch pie. While you’re doing it, it’s a pain, but the first bite makes it all worthwhile.

    Suggestions to curb the cursing:

    1: when you’re cutting the cookies (after the choco’s on top), heat the knife. I’ve tried serrated, filet, boning, and chefs knives. A hot chef works the best. Just have a pan of boiling water nearby and dip it into the pot. Alternately- soak a towel in water and nuke it until really hot. Place the knife in the folds (you did prefold, right?) between cuts. It wipes the knife and heats it at the same time.

    2: If that’s too much- once the choco hardens, somehow invert the sheet so that the choco’s the last thing you cut through. No need to heat the knife for this step-

    Hope that helps any fellow rainbow cookie cursers (and eaters)

  16. Nick says:

    These are by far my favorite cookies as well. The problem is they are always so expensive. They are also uncommon, I feel like a lot of people don’t know what they are anymore. It sure seems like a lot of work to make though, I’d probably just buy them. Although homemade must be divine, I’d rather not have several trays of the delights sitting around! Thanks for sharing.

    - The Peanut Butter Boy

  17. Sigh….tongues are dwelling already because im addicted cookies and chocolates!

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