Happy Birthday, Jeff. I made these cookies for you.
Jeff was my brother and today would have been his 40th birthday. He died a year and a half ago, after a long struggle with life. Some people are just too sensitive for this world, and Jeff was one of them.
I made these cookies because they were his favorite and I felt like I had to do something to mark this day. I’ve been engaging in a lot of therapeutic cooking and baking since he left this earth, so this seemed like the perfect, all-consuming project. For the unfamiliar, the rainbow cookie is a staple of northeastern Italian-American bakeries. They feature red, white and green stripes of almond paste-enriched cake, layered with apricot preserves and slicked with a thin layer of bittersweet chocolate.
It’s a bit perverse that Jeff enjoyed these cheery confections so much. After all, a rainbow is our reward for weathering the storm. Who doesn’t delight in seeing one arch the sky as the thunder reluctantly fades out like John Bonham’s drums in Moby Dick? They’re a sign that we can relax our shoulders, exhale deeply and, now that that’s over, move on with our day and our lives.
Though we may try, none of us ever finds the end of the rainbow. It’s always a little further away: over another hill, behind a stand of trees and forever beyond our grasp. We appreciate rainbows despite their caginess.
At some point Jeff stopped seeing rainbows and all they represent. But he loved these cookies to the end, so happy 40th, brother.
I made these using Gourmet’s 2005 recipe via Deb Perelman at the always wonderful Smitten Kitchen.* Without her great notes—particularly the suggestion to cut these while frozen—I would have shed more tears as I made these.
*Curiously, both refer to these as seven-layer cookies, which was new to me.
- 4 large eggs, separated
- 1 cup sugar
- 8 oz almond paste
- 1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened from 2 1/2 sticks
- 1 tsp. almond extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 25 drops red food coloring
- 25 drops green food coloring
- 12 oz apricot jam, heated and strained
- 7 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped use a good quality chocolate
- Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 13- by 9-inch baking pan and line bottom with parchment or wax paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 ends, then butter paper.
- Beat whites in mixer fitted with whisk attachment at medium-high speed until they just hold stiff peaks. Add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating at high speed until whites hold stiff, slightly glossy peaks. Transfer to another bowl.
- Switch to paddle attachment, then 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.
- Fold half of egg white mixture into almond mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.
- Divide batter among 3 bowls. 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).
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- Cover with plastic wrap or foil and weight with a large baking pan. Chill at least 8 hours.
- 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. (Alternately, you can do what I did, per Deb Perelman’s suggestion: melt the chocolate 3.5 ounces at a time to ensure it doesn’t seize up between steps.)
- Trim edges of assembled layers with a long serrated knife. 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.
- Cut lengthwise into 8 strips, or fewer if you prefer larger cookies. Cut strips crosswise about 3/4 inch to one inch wide, depending on how large (or small) you’d like your cookies.
- Don’t be alarmed when small bits of sugar and almond paste fly out of the bowl as you beat them. I used a stand mixer with the paddle as instructed, started at a low speed and this still happened.
- Don’t be tempted to stack your cakes once cooled. The butter will prevent the chocolate from adhering to the finished cakes.
- Evenly divide your jam after heating and straining, since you will end up with less than the 12 oz you started with. I used a scale to do this.
- Freeze the whole thing before attempting to cut. It will make your life much easier, trust me.