italian rainbow cookies

When I think of Christmas my mind immediately wanders to cookies, specifically these Italian Rainbow Cookies. They’re a staple of my childhood. We used to buy them at the pastry shop but it’s also one of the few baked goods my mother made from scratch, along with her gingerbread.

If you’re in the “eh” camp with it comes to rainbow cookies, my guess is you’ve never had a truly good one. As with black and white cookies, there’s a lot of mediocre rainbow cookies out there! No access to a truly great Italian pastry shop like the ones I grew up with in Brooklyn? No problem. Now you can bake up a batch of these Italian rainbow cookies in your very own kitchen.

Italian Rainbow Cookies | get the recipe at www.injennieskitchen.com

What are Italian Rainbow Cookies?

I decided to make a batch of Italian Rainbow Cookies for my secret cookie peeps. They’re a yummy way to connect my past with my present. I’ve been eating these cookies longer than I can remember; maybe even before I knew how to walk.

We grew up buying them from Court Pastry in Brooklyn, along with savoiardi cookies, anisette biscuits, and Regina cookies. This is where my girls had their first taste of cookies, too. Any Brooklyn Italian mama will agree that anisette biscuits make for rather yummy teethers.

Italian Rainbow Cookies | get the recipe at www.injennieskitchen.com

Are Rainbow Cookies easy to make?

Now, this may sound surprising, but Italian Rainbow Cookies are much easier to make than you might imagine. The only tricky part is the coloring, so plan in advance if you prefer to use an all-natural, vegetable based product. In the past, I’ve used India Tree food coloring with success. I couldn’t find it when I set out to make the cookies this year, and ultimately had to go with a synthetic food dye.

How do you make the layers in Rainbow Cookies?

Most recipes instruct you to bake the cookie dough (really it’s a cake-like batter) in three separate trays. I used to make it that way, and then one day had an epiphany. Why not use one large rimmed baking sheet and divide the batter since it’s thick enough to stay in place without colors seeping into each other? It worked like a charm!

Italian Rainbow Cookies | get the recipe at www.injennieskitchen.com

The other great thing about making these rainbow cookies is that they stretch further than you might imagine. I like to cut them into smaller pieces, providing a yield of eight dozen cookies. You can cut them larger, if you like, but it means less cookie love to spread with friends and family.

Can you make Rainbow Cookies without almonds?

I’ve contemplated this question a lot myself since someone in my extended family has a nut allergy. Truthfully, though, the almond paste is what makes this cookie’s flavor so distinct. You can certainly replicate the effect using a vanilla cake base colored with food dye but it would taste completely different. Regarding the almond paste, I highly recommend making your own (my easy, egg-free almond paste recipe is here)—the taste is incomparable!

We may be far from Court Pastry these days, but it’s nice to know all we have to do is stroll into the kitchen when we’re craving a taste of home.

Note: this post was updated on 12/20/2020.

Six Years Ago: Homemade Hot Cocoa + Chocolate Ganache

Five Years Ago: Peanut Butter Bon Bons {no bake!}

Four Years Ago: Chocolate Gingerbread Doughnuts

Three Years Ago: Easy Homemade Eggnog

Two Years Ago: Candied Pecans {easy homemade gift-giving}

One Year Ago: Gingerbread Rice Krispy Treats

Italian Rainbow Cookies

Makes 96 cookies

Album Pairing: My Favorite Things by John Coltrane

I’m going to repeat this even though it’s listed next to the ingredient—almond paste and marzipan are not the same. Make sure you pick up the correct tube when buying it since they usually stock these next to each other in the baking aisle. It’s pretty expensive here in the U.S. which I haven’t quite figured out why. I stock up when I’m in Paris and Montreal where it’s much more affordable (plus I love the brands I get there).

I’ve made these cookies from start to finish the same day, but you can also do it in stages. Bake the layers the night before, and pick up with the remaining steps the next day. My apartment is cool enough that I can store the finished cookies in a covered container at room temperature with no worry about the chocolate melting.

And one more note about the food coloring. You’ll notice that exact amounts are not listed. That’s because the amount really depends on what brand you use. So, go ahead and eyeball this to achieve the color you like best.

One last thing—many recipes call for using orange marmalade. I like apricot preserves, so that’s what I use. Feel free to swap in whatever you like. You can even use seedless red raspberry preserves, which if memory serves correct, that’s what my mom used to use when making them.

3 large eggs, separated

2 sticks (224 grams) unsalted butter (at room temperature), cut into pieces

6 ounces (168 grams) almond paste (not marzipan), crumbled into bits

3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated natural cane sugar

1 1/3 cups (200 grams) whole wheat pastry flour or regular all purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Red food coloring

Green food coloring

1/2 cup (120 grams) apricot preserves, heated & strained to remove the rind

4 ounces (112 grams) bittersweet chocolate chips, melted

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line an 11-inch by 17-inch rimmed baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper long enough to hang over the edges of the pan; set aside.

Add the egg whites and half of the salt to a deep bowl. Starting on slow speed, and gradually increasing to medium-high, beat until stiff peaks form; set aside while you prepare the batter.

Add the butter, almond paste, and sugar to a separate, clean deep bowl. Beat on medium-low speed until well blended, 4 to 5 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high, and beat until fluffy. Add the yolks, and beat until well mixed. Add the flour and salt; beat on medium-low speed until just mixed.

Spoon half of the egg whites into the bowl with the batter. Using a rubber spatula, stir until well blended. Add the remaining whites, and fold in until combined (and there are no visible white streaks).

Divide the batter evenly among 3 bowls. Mix red coloring into one bowl, green coloring into the second bowl, and leave the third bowl plain. Spoon each of the batters into 1/3 of the prepared pan (once finished, the pan should have three separate rows of batter; it’s okay if the edges touch). Bake until just set, 9-11 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack, and let cool completely.

Use a sharp knife to cut the cooled cakes into sections, according to their color.

Place the green layer on a cutting board. Use a pastry brush to spread half of preserves on top. Place the plain layer on top, and brush with the remaining preserves. Place the red layer on top, and gently press down to make sure the layers stick to each other. Arrange a sheet of waxed paper, or parchment on top. Use a few cans, or very heavy book, to weigh down the layers. Set them in a cool place for at least four hours, or overnight.

Transfer the cake to a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Cut the sides to make the ends smooth and even. Spread half the chocolate over the top of the cake in a thin layer. Use the remaining melted chocolate to frost the sides with a thin layer of glaze. Set the cake in a cool, dry place until the glaze sets up, and hardens (an hour in the fridge works great, too). Cut crosswise into 16 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 6 pieces. Store cookies in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

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