As of today I’m on the search for the best tri-color aka “rainbow” cookies. If you live in the northeast or in a community with Italian bakeries, you’ve probably seen these pink, yellow and green little cakes. I discovered them in my late teens while staying with my grandma in New York. Italian bakeries sold them, and while the cookies always looked good, some were better than others.
A good tri-color cookie should have a) almond flavor and b) fresh preserves and c) a tasty chocolate topping. I was never too worried about the thickness or softness of the layers, because in most cases I’d be happy to get one that wasn’t dry. Maybe once I master a few batches I’ll start getting picky about thickness.
So this weekend I tried my first recipe. I read as many different recipes as I could and then narrowed it down to four which had various distinguishing properties I perceived as significant.
1) 8 inch pan Tri-Color Cookies — a version made in 3 8 inch square pans in which the eggs aren’t separated, The recipe had great reviews and was the one I tested first (photo above!). The issue is it only makes 16. That won’t really work for a cookie exchange. I did successfully double it, though.
2) Allrecipe.com — a version from Allrecipes.com made in three 13×9 inch pans where the eggs are separated. This one had high ratings, but the reviewers made major changes and nearly everyone complained there wasn’t enough almond flavor. Plus it wasn’t very specific as to what type of almond paste/filling to use. Still, reading all the reviews as helpful.
3) Cake Central Tri-Color Cookies — A perfected version of the one above by a lady who used three disposable 9×11 inch pans. This one requires the purchase of three 9×11 inch pans, however, the instructions are perfect with just enough detail and not so much you get bogged down in minutia like “discard paper” etc. I have to check and see how much pans cost.
4) Gourmet Magazine Tri-Color — a highly rated version from Gourmet Magazine which is similar to the second version but uses more butter. It’s super-detailed to the point where I got lost reading it, but it’s similar to the Allrecipes.com version with more almond flavoring and more butter. I’m pretty sure this one will be very good. Interestingly, it calls for an 8 hour chill-time.
Another major distinguishing factor (asides from the flavor of preserves, which is obvious and subjective) is what type of almond paste to use. Some recipes say to use regular almond paste – the type in the tube that you have to crumble, while my friends who have been making these cookies for a while swear by Solo brand almond pastry and cake filling. After reading tons of reviews and recipes, I tracked down the Solo brand almond filling and used that (which I now know to be different than Solo brand paste, but which works well!).
So this was my first attempt. It’s a revised version of the first recipe on the list. And since I only own 2 8-inch pans, I made the batter, baked two cakes, then re-lined one of the empty pans and baked the rest of the batter without any problems.
These were so good that I made a second batch and doubled the recipe. The doubled version worked fine too. These were so good I’m not sure I even want to try the others, but I can’t really go on a quest to find the best by only trying one.
6 oz (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
7.5 oz Solo almond pastry/cake filling (Comes in a 12.5 oz can and needed to weigh it)
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 teaspoon salt (omit 1/2 teaspoon if using salted butter)
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (4.5 oz)
Apricot jam (about ¾ cup) or your favorite flavor — put through a sieve to remove chunks
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vegetable shortening
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 8 inch pans with non-stick foil. If you have 3, use 3.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer. Beat in the almond pastry filling and the almond extract.
In a second bowl using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and salt together until eggs are very light. Pour the egg mixture into the almond mixture and stir well. By hand or using the lowest speed of a mixer, stir in the flour until it is fully blended.
Divide batter evenly among three bowls so that you have about 1 cup of batter per bowl. If you have a scale, weigh the total amount of batter and divide it evenly by weight.
Dye one bowl of batter pink and another green. Leave the third bowl plain or add a little yellow to it if you like.
Bake cakes at 350 F for 12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let the cakes cool completely in the pan. If you’ve baked two cakes, bake the two cakes, remove one baked cake by grasping the foil and lifting it outl, then re-line the pan with fresh foil and bake the third layer.
Lay a large sheet of plastic wrap on a flat surface and transfer your cooled green cake to the plastic wrap. Spread preserves over the cake.
Carefully place the plain cake on top of the preserves. Spread the plain cake with a second layer of preserves. Carefully place the pink cake on top of the plain cake to make a stack. Holding the plastic wrap, lift your stack of cakes up and set in one of the empty pans.
Melt the chocolate and shortening in a microwave or over the stove. Pour the mixture over the pink layer and spread evenly. Chill until chocolate is set. Lift from pan and set on a cutting board. Trim the edges with a Chef’s Knife, then cut the square into 16 smaller squares.