Italian Rainbow Cookies Are Well Worth the Effort

December 14, 2015

Italian Rainbow Cookies are one of my all-time favorite cookies to bake during the holidays: They're really an incredible option to have up your sleeve around this time of year.

Photo by Nina Caldas

Not only does one batch of cookies yield 96 delicious bite-sized treats, but they will impress your family, coworkers, and friends. Sure, they're time-consuming and require a lot of planning ahead (no, don't even try to just “whip these up”), but in the end, when you're left with a technicolor platter of classic Italian bakery cookies, the sweat and effort you dropped in the kitchen will be worth it.

I make this version of an old Gourmet recipe every year around the holidays without fail, and every year, the comments get better and better. This is truly a cookie worth mastering.

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Italian Rainbow Cookies

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Top Comment:
“You can bake the layers one at a time if you don't have 3 pans or enough room in your oven. These are not only delicious and easier to make than they sound - they are impressive on a cookie tray! My daughter in law made them for a cookie exchange and no one would believe she didn't buy tham ...”
— Maureen M.

Makes 96 cookies

4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar, divided
One 8-ounce can almond paste
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Red food coloring
Green food coloring
10 ounces raspberry preserves, warmed
7 ounces dark chocolate melting wafers

Photo by Nina Caldas

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350° F. Grease, flour, and line the bottoms of three 9- by 13- by 2-inch (quarter sheet pan) with wax paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang.

In the bowl of a standard electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites at medium-high speed until they just hold stiff peaks. With the mixer running on high speed, add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating until whites hold stiff, glossy peaks. Transfer to another bowl, and wipe the bowl dry with a paper towel.

Switch the mixer to the paddle attachment and beat together the almond paste and remaining 3/4 cup sugar until well-mixed, about 3 minutes. Add butter and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks and almond extract and beat until well combined, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add flour and salt, mixing until just combined.

Fold half of egg white mixture into almond mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Divide batter among 3 bowls. Stir red food coloring into one bowl and green food coloring into another, leaving the third bowl plain. Keep in mind that the batter will bake up darker than it looks pre-bake. Pour the batter from one of the bowls into one of the prepared pans. Using an offset spatula, spread the batter into an even layer.

Photo by Nina Caldas

Bake the layer for 8 to 10 minutes, until just set (the cake may look undercooked, but this is what you want). Repeat with the remaining bowls of cake batter and sheet pans, transferring each baked cake to a wire rack to cool completely.

When all the layers are cool, invert the green layer onto a parchment- or wax paper-lined baking sheet (I like to use one of the cooled quarter sheet pans for this). Peel off the paper from the layer and brush on half of the heated preserves. Flip the white layer on top of green layer and peel off the paper. Spread with remaining preserves. Invert the red layer on top of white layer and discard the paper.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place another quarter sheet pan on top, right side up. Evenly distribute a heavy weight on top of the sheet pan (2 bags of flour is what I usually go for) and place in the fridge to chill for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Photo by Nina Caldas

Remove the weights and plastic wrap and let the layer sit on your counter for a few minutes to come to room temperature. Melt the chocolate wafers in a microwave-safe bowl in 30-second increments, until smooth.

Trim the edges of the assembled layers with a long serrated knife to even them out. Quickly spread half of the melted chocolate in a thin layer on top of cake. Place the cake back in the fridge to firm up the chocolate, about 10 to 15 minutes. Place a sheet of wax paper on top of the chocolate layer, place another quarter sheet pan on top, then invert the cake and remove the paper. Quickly spread with the remaining chocolate. Freeze the chocolate-covered cake until firm.

Photo by Nina Caldas

Cut lengthwise into 6 strips, and then cut each strip crosswise into 16 pieces. I like to use a sharp serrated knife that has been run under hot water to cut into the frozen cake. The cookies are MUCH easier to cut when the big cake is cold, so don't try to cut the it at room temperature—you'll just end up making a mess and having a really hard time.

Photo by Nina Caldas

The cookies can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer; I like to keep them in a large flat container and layer the cookies with a sheet of wax paper in between to keep them from sticking. The cookies will keep in the fridge or freezer for a long time and are delicious when they're slightly chilled.

Photo by Nina Caldas

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Denise Parker
    Denise Parker
  • Terri Mancinelli
    Terri Mancinelli
  • Jocelyn McAuley
    Jocelyn McAuley
  • Maureen Morales
    Maureen Morales
  • Nina Caldas
    Nina Caldas
blogger and wanna-be food photographer


Denise P. January 6, 2019
I found there is no need for parchment paper - it makes it difficult for me to spread the batter across the pan. I use apricot and raspberry as well. I never made these adding the eggs in whole - if it doesn't make a difference I will do that instead. It's one less step to do!
Terri M. December 21, 2015
Thank you all. It's near to impossible to find seedless preserves so I will do what you suggest and remove the seeds.
Maureen M. December 21, 2015
Apricot is also a good jam with these
Terri M. December 21, 2015
I'm about to take this recipe on and am wondering if the raspberry preserves should be seedless or not. Any input would be appreciated!
Jocelyn M. December 21, 2015
We warm up the jam and seive it to remove the seeds.
Nina C. December 21, 2015
I was just about to reply the same thing! If you use seedless preserves you can skip the sieving step. Warming the preserves makes them thinner and easier to brush on so make sure to do this, whether you use seedless preserves or not.
Maureen M. December 21, 2015
I prefer seedless because of the texture, but you can use either.
Jocelyn M. December 16, 2015
the chocolate on top is best amended with butter to make it cut cleaner without the cracking. The version we make has the chocolate layer as a chocolate icing (unsweetened chocolate melted with butter then whisked with coffee and powdered sugar), thus eliminating the cracking issue.
Maureen M. December 14, 2015
ummm - I meant them - also the baker gets to eat all the trimmings ...
Maureen M. December 14, 2015
The best cookie recipe ever!!! I've been making this exact recipe for years - except I grate the almond paste and just add the eggs whole. You can bake the layers one at a time if you don't have 3 pans or enough room in your oven. These are not only delicious and easier to make than they sound - they are impressive on a cookie tray! My daughter in law made them for a cookie exchange and no one would believe she didn't buy tham ...
Jocelyn M. December 16, 2015
we also add the eggs whole no problem. No need to separate them, esp as this is a weighted cake.
Nina C. December 21, 2015
Interesting, I've never tried adding the eggs whole! Will try this out next time.