When holiday preparations begin, I genuinely enjoy the annual tradition of dusting off my old recipe box filled with dishes we only eat this time of year. Like many cooks, I have my go-to recipes that I love to make in December. It’s not that I don’t adore these recipes year round, but this time of year evokes that culinary nostalgia for baking recipes that symbolize holiday cheer.
For me, it’s holiday cookies that instantly conjure images of snow-capped houses and family dinners. So once the aroma of my cookies begins to waft out of the kitchen, everyone in my house knows the holidays are in full swing. Over the next four weeks, I will be sharing my favorite holiday cookies that not only represent what this time of year means to me, but also showcase the melting pot of cuisines and recipes we feast upon in the United States.
When I think of the absolute quintessential holiday cookie, Italian tricolor cookies (often called rainbow cookies) are the first sweet bite that comes mind. And while they don’t have Italian origins, you will generally find them in the cases of any Italian bakery with a fancy cookie-by-the-pound section. A cake-like cookie confection, these rainbow cookies are built by three sheets of cake made up of flour and almond paste, a smear of apricot jam in between each layer, and enrobed in melted chocolate for a decadent finish.
Why are they Italian? Well, because the layers are tinted red, white, and green, of course (the beloved colors of the Italian flag). So it’s not only a nod to the Boot, but it’s also a visual (and edible) celebration of the holiday colors.
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While these cookies may seem difficult to make, all you need is three 8×8 pans and these fancy-looking cookies will come together in no time. After making a simple dough and dividing it into three sections, all you’ll need to do is dye one sheet red and the other green; the final one will remained untouched. After a quick bake in the oven, the thin layers are covered in jam (think the best kind of jelly sandwich) and drenched in melted chocolate. Stick the entire thing in the fridge to firm up, then slice into bite-sized squares.
Italian Rainbow Cookies Recipe
Although cookies are undeniably divine warm out of the oven, these cookies can be made a few days in advance; they’ll still taste great even three days later.
Italian Tricolor Cookies
- 1 tube or can (7 to 8 ounces) almond paste, broken into small pieces
- ¾ cup softened butter (1 ½ sticks)
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 3 large eggs
- 1 ¼ cup AP flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 20 drops red food coloring
- 20 drops green food coloring
- ½ cup apricot preserves, divided
- 8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease three 8x8 metal baking pans. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper. Grease and flour the paper.
- In a large bowl, with mixer at medium high speed, beat almond paste, butter, sugar and almond extract (there will be small bits of paste). Beat in eggs, one at a time until blended.
- Reduce speed to low and add the flour and salt until just combined.
- Transfer 1/3 of the batter (about 1 rounded cup) to a small bowl. Transfer another 1/3 batter to another bowl so you now have three bowls of batter. Stir red food coloring into 1 bowl and green coloring into another bowl. Leave one bowl untinted.
- Spoon untinted batter into 1 pan and with an offset spatula spread batter evenly. Repeat with green and red batters in remaining pans.
- Bake layers on 2 oven racks 10 to 12 minutes, rotating pans between upper and lower racks halfway through baking time, until layers are set and toothpicks inserted come out clean.
- Cool in pans on wire racks for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the sides of pans to loosen the cakes. Invert layers onto racks, leaving parchment paper attached; cool completely.
- When layers are cool, press apricot preserves through a sieve to remove large pieces of fruit. Remove parchment from the green layer and invert onto a cutting board. Spread with half the apricot preserves.
- Remove the parchment from the untinted layer and invert it onto the green. Spread with remaining apricot preserves. Remove the parchment from the red layer and invert it onto the untinted layer.
- In a small saucepan, heat the chocolate over low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and stir until fully incorporated.
- Spread the melted chocolate mixture on the top of the red layer and let the excess drip down the sides. Using an offset spatula, cover the top and sides with an even layer of chocolate. Refrigerate until firm, at least an hour.
- To serve, with a serrated knife, cut stacked layers into six strips and then crosswise to create 36 even pieces.
Header image courtesy of Anna Gass.