italian rainbow cookies recipe – use real butter (2024)

italian rainbow cookies recipe – use real butter (1) Recipe: italian rainbow cookies

This was the scene Wednesday night: an assembly line of gift bags, gift boxes, tissue paper, cards, ribbons, cookies, candies, labels, and a checklist scribbled four times over with crossouts, notes, tick marks, and arrows. Maybe I was tired or maybe I am getting smarter, but as the clock spun ahead into the night, I began to unload cookies from my “to make” list like ballast from a sinking ship. French macarons? No. Peppermint kisses? Nope. Mini sour cream coffee cakes? Jettisoned from the list. I like people, but I like them more when I’ve had more than 4 hours of sleep.

holiday cookies and candies

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After we had prettied up the packages and set them on the table to ship or deliver the next day, I let out a big sigh (more like an agonized primal scream) and said, “I’m not making anymore EXPLETIVE cookies! And I’m going EXPLETIVE skiing tomorrow!” We actually got four inches of snow overnight, so the logical next step was…

the lovely new high-speed lift that brings us to the powder 8 minutes faster

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it was good while it lasted

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And can you believe less than 48 hours after declaring NO MORE COOKIES, I was in the kitchen making… cookies? It’s true. I kinda blame Jennie Perillo for that. She posted a photo of her Italian rainbow cookies on Instagram last weekend, which prompted me to finally research the recipe and buy the ingredients – except I had all of those holiday cookies to crank out. I put the project on indefinite hold until Jennie posted ANOTHER photo of those gorgeous cookies on Thursday and I waved the white flag.

italian rainbow cookies

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All my life, I had zero interest in Italian rainbow cookies and here’s why: I assumed they were the same as Neapolitan coconut candies – little sweet tricolor rectangles which I thought were disgusting when I was a kid. No one in my Chinese immigrant family set me straight on the distinction between the two, most likely because they had no idea either one existed. Then a couple of months ago we stopped at Whole Foods to grab a salad and their cookie bar was 50% off. For some reason, I decided to give an Italian rainbow cookie a try and to my delight, it tasted of almonds.

almond extract, almond paste, flour, sugar, chocolate, eggs, salt, apricot preserves, butter, red and green food coloring

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There are a lot of recipes for Italian rainbow cookies on the web. They’re also called seven layer cookies or three layer cookies or Italian flag cookies, and they more or less follow the same process and list of ingredients. I found Deb‘s discussion to be quite helpful regarding the chocolate layers and the slicing, but decided on a smaller quantity for my first batch because you never quite know what you’re getting into when you decide to bake something at high altitude. Jennie’s recipe amounted to about 75% of Deb’s quantity and I liked the way she baked all three colors in one pan. So I reduced Deb’s recipe by a quarter and baked it up Jennie’s way. Either way, these are not quick cookies, so set aside a full day or parts of two days.

Most people whip the egg whites first and then make the batter, but I like to reverse that order because no good can come of letting whipped egg whites sit around and deflate while you make the cookie batter. Also, the recipe calls for almond paste, which is not the same as marzipan. Marzipan has a higher ratio of sugar to almond than almond paste. Some of you already know this, some of you do not. Remember what Gandalf said, “I’m trying to help you.”

beat the sugar and almond paste together

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add butter

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mix in the egg yolks and the almond extract

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add salt and flour

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I whipped the egg whites to stiff peaks and then added some sugar to make a delicate meringue. The batter is pretty thick, so it helps to temper it with half of the fluffy and light meringue to reduce the density. This makes it easier to fold in the remaining meringue.

whip the egg whites and a pinch of salt to stiff peaks

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whip on high speed while slowly adding the sugar until glossy and stiff

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temper the cookie batter with half of the meringue before folding in the rest

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Next you divide the batter into three equal portions. You can eyeball it or you can weigh them out to get a more precise division. Of course, I weighed them. Now we add food coloring to the batter. It’s a lot of food coloring so the layers are vibrant – like a rainbow. I normally try to avoid artificial coloring and flavoring when I can. I’m fairly certain I ingested a lifetime’s worth and then some growing up as a child of the 70s. But I think it’s okay every now and then. You can certainly omit the coloring and the cookie would taste the same, but it wouldn’t look nearly as pretty. Also, you don’t have to use red and green. I have seen some beautiful ombre rainbow cookies in addition to scientifically accurate rainbow cookies that employ the ROYGBIV (Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet) spectrum. You can also try natural food coloring and see how that works out. That’s the beauty of home cooking: you make it what you want.

adding food dye

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mix until uniform

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Despite having folded fluffy, light meringue into the batter, it is still pretty thick stuff. But that’s a good thing if you want to bake all three layers in one pan, because it means they won’t run together into a form of abstract art. I actually made two batches of these cookies because I worried that the cookie layers of my first batch were too thin. The first time around, I baked the layers in a rimmed 11×17-inch baking sheet. I haven’t eaten enough of these cookies to know what size they should typically be. So on the second round, I baked the same amount of batter in a smaller pan (9×13-inch), which produced taller cookie layers. Some folks bake the layers one at a time in a single 9×13-inch pan. If you do the thirds method, I recommend folding your parchment in thirds so the creases guide where each batter boundary should be.

All of the baking instructions I’ve read warn against overbaking the layers. A toothpick inserted into the center of the pan should come out clean even if the cookie is still very soft. I give a range of recommended baking times, but my layers took longer – possibly because my oven sucks, because of my elevation, or because it’s me. So don’t rely on the timer the first time around. Use the toothpick test. And you definitely want to line the pan with parchment because that’s the easiest way to handle the layers as you remove them from the pan. Once the cookie has cooled, lift the layer out using the extra parchment overhang on the sides. I found it infinitely helpful to lift the layer by holding the four corners (this requires another set of hands). Holding the two ends with two hands felt very unstable, as if the layers would buckle.

spread the first batter on one third of the pan

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all three batters

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baked and cooling

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slicing the layers

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Before assembling the cookie stack, heat the apricot preserves and strain out any chunky bits. And if you have serious objections to apricot, you can use orange marmalade or raspberry preserves instead. I personally think the apricot is lovely. Set the green layer on a sheet of wax paper and brush half of the preserves over the layer. Set the plain layer on the green cookie and spread the rest of the preserves on the plain cookie. Top the whole thing with the red layer. If you make the thicker cookie (in the 9×13-inch pan) you will have a smaller surface area, which means you should use a little less of the preserves for each layer. If the preserves are spread too thick, they will ooze when you cut the cookies and make a mess.

strain the warmed preserves

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brush preserves on top of the cookie layer

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top the stack with the red layer

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cover with wax paper and weigh down with a baking pan or cutting board

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Let the stack chill in the refrigerator for several hours. While my second stack (the taller one) chilled, my shorter stack was ready to trim and coat in chocolate. To spread the chocolate, you can either melt it gently over a water bath or in the microwave (half power, 30 seconds at a time), or you can temper the chocolate. The benefit of tempered chocolate is the distinctive snap, lovely shine, and greater ability to withstand temperature fluctuations after the chocolate has set. However, untempered chocolate is softer and might actually cut more easily. I haven’t tried untempered chocolate, but I wanted to toss that out there.

Spread half of the chocolate over the cookie stack, smoothing it nicely. You can coat the edges if you like, but I didn’t. Tempered chocolate will set up in minutes. Untempered chocolate can be placed in the refrigerator to help it set faster. If your chocolate fell out of temper while waiting for the first layer of chocolate to set, then you’ll want to re-temper it before spreading the rest on the other side of the cookie stack.

trim the edges of the cookie stack

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tempering chocolate

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spread half the chocolate over the stack

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When the last layer of chocolate has set, wrap the cookie stack in wax paper and freeze the entire thing for a half hour or more. Freezing helps to firm up the cookie layers which are soft at room temperature and crush easily under the force of cutting the hard chocolate lid. I’ve used both a serrated knife and my santoku knife to slice the cookies and prefer the santoku, which does a better job making a clean cut through the bottom hard layer of chocolate. Whatever you use, there will be shards of chocolate everywhere. These cookies are quite intense, so they don’t need to be cut very large.

both stacks with chocolate on top and bottom

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slicing the frozen cookies

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comparing the height of the two batches

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So what did I think? I first tasted the scraps of cookie stack without any chocolate and thought they were good, not great. But when I took a bite of a proper cookie with the two chocolate layers, I felt that this was perfection. The bitterness of the dark chocolate balances nicely with the sweet, soft layers of almond cookie and the tangy sweet apricot preserves. These cookies are fun and pretty and best of all, delicious. And to think I was missing out all those years!


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making up for lost time

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Italian Rainbow Cookies
[print recipe]
from Smitten Kitchen and In Jennie’s Kitchen

3/4 cup (6 oz.) granulated sugar, divided into 3 tbsps and 9 tbsps
6 oz. almond paste (NOT marzipan – they are different)
15 tbsps unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs, separated
3/4 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp + pinch salt
18 drops red food coloring
18 drops green food coloring
1/2 cup (6 oz.) apricot preserves, heated and strained (warmed as needed)
6 oz. semisweet dark chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. For shorter cookies, line an 11×17-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, leaving 2-inches of overhang on two opposite sides of pan. For taller cookies, line a 9×13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving 2-inches of overhand on two opposite sides of the pan. Tip: I like to fold the parchment in thirds along the short axis of the pan, essentially dividing the pan into thirds.

Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, beat the almond paste and 9 tablespoons of the granulated sugar together for about 3 minutes until more or less mashed together. Add the butter and beat on medium speed until pale and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Beat in the egg yolks and the almond extract for another 2 minutes until combined. Add the flour and 1/4 teaspoon of salt, mixing on low speed until just combined.

In a clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites and a pinch of salt together on medium speed using the whisk attachment until the whites just form stiff peaks. Slowly pour the 3 tablespoons of sugar into the egg whites while whipping on high speed until the meringue becomes stiff and glossy. Stir half of the meringue into the almond batter to lighten the dough. Fold the remaining half of the meringue into the batter so there are no white streaks.

Divvy the batter into three equal portions in three separate bowls (you can leave one portion in the mixing bowl). Add 18 drops of green food coloring to one bowl of plain batter and add 18 drops of red food coloring to another bowl of plain batter. Stir each bowl until the batter is uniform in color. Spread the green batter over a third of the baking pan. Spread the plain batter over the next third of the pan. Finally spread the red batter over the final third of the pan. Use an offset spatula to help push the batter into the corners. It won’t flow before baking, but once it is in the oven, the batter will flow some and fill any gaps. It’s okay for the batters to touch.

Bake the 11×17-inch pan for 8-13 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (the cookie will be soft – that’s okay). If using the 9×13-inch pan, bake anywhere from 11-19 minutes (it all depends on your pan and your oven and your batter) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan on a rack.

Once cooled, you can remove the cookie to a work surface. Use four hands (on the four corners) to quickly and carefully lift the layer to your work surface. Two hands run the risk of potential structural collapse of your layer as you transfer it out of the pan. Cut the layers into three equal sections according to their color. Set the green layer on a sheet of wax paper. Brush half of the strained warmed apricot preserves over the green layer. Set the plain layer on top of the green layer. Brush the remaining half of the apricot preserves over the plain layer. Top the ensemble with the red layer. Lay a piece of wax paper over the top of the stack and gently press down with your hands to level the three layers to a uniform height. Weigh the top down with something flat like a baking pan or a cutting board. It doesn’t need to be outrageously heavy. Chill in the refrigerator or a cold place for 4 hours or overnight.

Remove the cookie stack from the refrigerator and trim the edges with a knife (and a ruler if you’re that kind of person… I am that kind of person). Allow the stack to come to room temperature. Temper or gently melt half of your chocolate. Spread the chocolate evenly over the top layer of the cookie stack to cover the entire surface. Allow to cool and solidify. You can place the stack in the refrigerator, too. When the chocolate layer is completely set, cover it with wax paper and invert it so the bottom is facing up. Temper or gently melt the rest of the chocolate and spread it evenly over the surface of the cookie stack as you did for the other side and allow it to set. Wrap the stack in wax paper and freeze for 30 minutes or longer. Remove from freezer and slice into desired dimensions. For the tall (9×13-inch pan) cookies, I got 34 cookies at 1/2 inch by 2 inches. For the short (11×17-inch pan) cookies, I got 56 cookies at 3/4 inch by 1 1/4 inch. These will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks, or in the freezer for a month (or more).

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italian rainbow cookies recipe – use real butter (37)

December 17th, 2017: 10:44 pm
filed under baking, chocolate, confections, cookies, dessert, eggs, fruit, nuts, recipes, sweet

italian rainbow cookies recipe – use real butter (2024)


What are Italian rainbow cookies made of? ›

Composition. Rainbow cookies are typically composed of layers of brightly colored, almond-based sponge cake (usually almond paste/marzipan), apricot and/or raspberry jam, and a chocolate coating. Commonly referred to as a "cookie," their composition is closer in many ways to a layered cake or petit four.

What is the most popular Italian cookie? ›

Most Popular Italian Cookies
  • Amaretti. These lovely almond-flavoured biscotti were supposedly first made during the Middle Ages. ...
  • Ricciarelli. ...
  • Baci di dama. ...
  • Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti. ...
  • Savoiardi. ...
  • Canestrelli. ...
  • Biscotti al Cocco. ...
  • Pizzelle.
Oct 22, 2020

What are those Italian cookies called? ›

In a hurry?
Cookie NameRegion of OriginKey Ingredients
CantucciTuscanyAlmonds, Flour
AmarettiLombardyAlmond Paste, Sugar
RicciarelliTuscanyAlmond Flour, Sugar
PignoliSicilyPine Nuts, Almond Paste
3 more rows
Dec 24, 2023

Why are rainbow cookies so good? ›

With its dense sponge cake made with almond paste and layered with raspberry and apricot jam before being topped with melted chocolate, It's so delicious, it should be enjoyed all year long.

What are Italian rainbow cookies called? ›

Also known as Venetians, or Neapolitans, these classic Italian American treats are thin, dense layers of brightly colored layers of almond cake piled with jam, and frosted with chocolate.

Do they eat Rainbow Cookies in Italy? ›

History of the Rainbow Cookie

Some argue Rainbow Cookies are a traditional holiday dessert found in bakeries throughout Italy—certainly almond-based pastries are commonplace. However, even if this is the case, they never were as ubiquitous as they are in the States.

What is the most popular Italian cookie in the United States? ›

Biscotti Amaretti is the most famous Italian cookie of all. Made without flour or any added fat this almond macaroon is light, crunchy and intensely almond.

What is the number one cookie in the world? ›

Oreo is the best-selling cookie in the world. It is now sold in over 100 countries. Oreo was first produced in 1912 by the National Biscuit Company, now known as Na-Bis-Co.

What is the #1 cookie in the US? ›

Nearly 93% of all American households serve and enjoy cookies as treats or after meals. However, it's the chocolate chip cookie that's the most popular in the U.S. and around the world. How much do youknow about chocolate chip cookies?

Where did Italian rainbow cookies come from? ›

Rainbow cookies originate in Italy, but Italian Americans added the color scheme to celebrate their heritage. The yellow layer used to be a white layer, so you'd have the Italian flag.

What is the oldest Italian dessert? ›

How about panforte? This is one of the oldest Italian desserts on the list, believed to date back to 13th century Tuscany.

Which Italian cookie literally means twice baked? ›

The word biscotto, used in modern Italian to refer to a biscuit (or cookie) of any kind, originates from the Medieval Latin word biscoctus, meaning 'twice-cooked'.

Who invented Italian rainbow cookies? ›

While nostalgia seems to be the driving force behind this cookie, it can be pretty difficult pinpoint the exact history or creator. Rainbow cookies were made popular in the late 1800's and early 1900's by Italian-American bakeries, particularly those found in New York City (think: De Lillo's or Cafe Ferrara).

Is Oreo making rainbow cookies? ›

The limited-edition Oreo Pride Pack is available for pre-sale online now. It'll hit retailers starting May 18. Back in April, Oreo showed its allyship by dropping a two and a half minute short film in support of the LGBTQ+ community.

What strain is rainbow cookies? ›

A rare and relatively new mix of Animal Cookies and Sunset Sherbet, Rainbow Cookies has been popping up more in Denver of late, and while the flavor isn't exactly unique, the high is both relaxing and malleable.

What is the origin of the Italian rainbow cookie? ›

Sicilian immigrants are believed to have invented the dessert in New York. The dessert also goes by the name of a seven-layer cookie thanks to the way the ingredients are layered. Rainbow cookies feature three layers of cake, two layers of raspberry jam, and two layers of chocolate.

What kind of cookies are in an Italian cookie tray? ›

This classic assortment includes our Pignoli ( pine nut ) cookies, Chocolate Almond Macaroons, Cranberry Almond Biscotti and Amaretto Almond Biscotti.

What are Pizzelle cookies made of? ›

Pizzelle are a traditional Italian waffle cookie made from eggs, sugar, anise (or vanilla), butter or oil and flour. The word “pizzelle” means small, flat and round…. which is actually, exactly, what the cookie is.

What cookie originated in Italy? ›

Italian Biscotti: Twice-Baked Traditions

Biscotti are traditionally made with simple ingredients like flour, sugar, eggs, and nuts. Almond biscotti, one of the most famous variations, showcases the nutty richness that defines Italian biscotti.


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