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Tri-Color Cookies aka Rainbow Cookies

by on December 5, 2011 · 22 comments

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.

tri-color cookies

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.

Tri-Color Cookies

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.

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Published on December 5, 2011

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Adam December 5, 2011 at 3:02 pm

I know my grandmother doesn’t make these, and I can’t honestly remember ever having one. But now I’m intrigued and am going to have to ask her about it. I’m also going to have to be sure to try yours out, definitely nice and colourful for Christmas :).

Linda December 5, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Interesting…you used the Solo Almond Filling rather than Solo Almond Paste ( or Odense Almond Paste?) I haven’t used the filling in years, but my recollection is that it is almost syrupy rather than dense and stiff like almond paste. I have used Solo Almond Paste for this cookie, but the filling that you used should certainly help with the is cookie’s tendency to dry out. I just got back from Wegman’s (the best supermarket in the world, as those of us in the Northeast know) and wish I’d seen this posting before I went, as I would have bought a can of the filling and tried these tonight. I’ll guess I’ll have to go back tomorrow :). Looking forward to the results of your continued experimentation with this cookie!

Mackenzie@The Caramel Cookie December 5, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Never heard of these before but they look so pretty!

Louise December 5, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Carole Walter uses raspberry preserves between the layers, aligns them perfectly, then wraps the layered stack tightly with plastic, sealing the ends. It’s placed on a clean cookie sheet. Another cookie sheet is placed on top and then it’s weighted with two or three heavy cookbooks to compress the layers. The stack rests at room temperature for at least 24 hours, but is to be turned once or twice during that time. The edges get trimmed to straighten everything, then it’s cut into five equal strips. An apricot glaze gets applied to the three sides of the strip and allowed to dry for 1/2 hour or whatever it takes. Then chocolate is applied to three sides. After the chocolate hardens at room temperature, the strips are cut into 5/8 inch slices. Stored in an airtight container, the cookies keep up to three weeks.

karen December 5, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Last year I made the version from Smitten Kitchen. I think it is the same one that is on epicurious. I used regular almond paste. They came out great!

Anna December 5, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Linda, I used the only one I could find in Austin! I don’t think anyone around here sells Solo almond paste so I used the one that says “cake & pastry filling”. Maybe I’ve invented a new version. Anyway, the filling works well.

If I use paste I’ll have to use Odense.

Katrina December 5, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Fun, I just saw some of these that were a very deep green/red/and white for Christmas. Have never tried them either.

Sue December 5, 2011 at 6:41 pm

As soon as I saw these and read about your cookies I thought of Joe’s cookies which I was so impressed with a few years back. http://desertculinary.blogspot.com/2005/05/seven-layer-cookies.html
I haven’t made them, but his of course look so perfect!
I don’t even know if they’re the same thing. They both look good though!

Joe December 5, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Sue – I was going to post directly to that recipe. That’s the best one we’ve come across and it is *always* one of our most re-requested recipes.

London Accountant December 6, 2011 at 4:29 am

When I’ve made layered cookies like this before I usually put a layer of something between the cookies – be it chocolate, or a jam/jelly-sh things. But then, does that mean it leans technically towards being defined as a “cake”? (and does that even matter?)

Debbie December 6, 2011 at 5:40 am

My favorite cookie ever!!! I grew up on these. I’ve never made them before since they looked to be so time consuming. The best ones I’ve ever had are from a bakery in Brooklyn, NY called Green’s. Wegman’s carries them….don’t know if you have a Wegman’s out your way or not.

jess @ baking in brooklyn December 6, 2011 at 6:42 am

OMG I love these cookies so much! I live in NYC and I’ve been testing all the bakeries around me to find the best. I cannot wait to see what your investigation reveals!

Tracy December 6, 2011 at 6:56 am

Yep, I see these all the time in western NY. I’ve never tried to make them, though. Yours look great.

Lisa Ernst December 6, 2011 at 7:18 am

I can’t believe I’ve never seen, let alone tasted, this type of cookie! And they include chocolate. On first look, I immediately though of petit fours, something I loved as a kid. Now I want to find some Rainbow Cookies to try, probably won’t be baking them right away. :-)

Suzanne December 6, 2011 at 1:55 pm

I made these cookies for Christmas last year and they are fun to make and a nice addition to a cookie tray. They are now going to be a permanent addition to our holidays! They are different than what you describe above, but I thought I’d alert you and your readers to them.

http://www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/Neapolitan-Cookies/Print

Shannon December 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Oooh! I’m interested to see your results comparing different recipes. I’ve made the version from Gourmet (Epicurious / Smitten Kitchen) for the past 2 holiday seasons. I use Odense almond paste (but you need to feel the tube and make sure to get a soft one) and seedless raspberry preserves. I think this version is very true to what you’d get at a good bakery, but I haven’t tried any other recipes to compare to.

Alexandra December 6, 2011 at 4:51 pm

I’ve seen these before, but never attempted to make because it always seemed so difficult. I have a jar of almond paste in the pantry and will have to try making them. You made it seem so easy. They look fabulous!

Eric in AZ December 6, 2011 at 5:52 pm

I check your website everyday…keep up the great work!!! I make these cookies at least once a year and use a recipe that is similar to the allrecipes.com one,,,,,Mine was a recipe from a New york newspaper back in the 80’s…the only differences are that the butter is 6 oz instead of 1 cup, add one teaspoon almond extract and after the layers are refrigerated over night with raspberry preserves they are cut into butter stick size and dipped in chocolate…I used 6 oz milk chocholate and 6 oz semi sweet with 6oz of butter .(may need to double the amount to make it easier to dip) …you can store them as sticks and cut as needed. I make a double batch in 17.25×11.5 wilton pans…you can see the pic on allrecipes its number 52 I believe. I’ll send you better pictures and suggestions on making it easier….they do get easier with practice.

Anna December 6, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Thanks for the comments, everyone! I’m happy to see others are as interested in these cookies as I am.

I tried to reply to each one but I was getting redundant ;).

Looks like the next recipe I try will be Joe’s version of the Gourmet recipe.

Eric, thanks for checking CM every day! I’m so glad to hear that. And thanks for the input on the cookies. It seems that the amount of butter really varies between recipes. I love the idea of dipping butter-stick size pieces, but I’d probably make a mess.

Stephanie December 7, 2011 at 8:17 pm

I grew up on Long Island, NY and had MANY a rainbow cookie. The recipe I’ve found to be closest to the ones I used to eat from the italian bakeries in Queens and Long Island is this one:

http://www.icecreambeforedinner.com/2009/01/rainbow-cookies.html

It is quite moist and the cake is fairly dense/chewy. I’ve tried others that produce an airier lighter cake, but I much prefer the denser cake texture. Good luck in your quest!

Eric in AZ December 11, 2011 at 10:13 am

How did your cookies turn out for the cookie exchange? Which recipe did you like the best from all your trials? Would love it if you posted pictures of your final result

Anna December 11, 2011 at 10:58 am

Hi Eric,
The cookie exchange is this afternoon and I’ve spent the morning coating “butter-stick sized” frozen chunks of cake. I’ve got a really long post to put up at later today, but right now my favorite recipe is Joe’s. His is the one that’s similar to the one on allrecipes.com but with 20 tablespoons of butter. I have a lot more to post later.

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