Bake

Rainbow Cookies Meet Crumb Cake

December  7, 2021
5 Stars
Photo by MJ Kroeger. Prop Stylist: Molly Fitzsimons. Food Stylist: Lauren Lapenna.
Author Notes

Rainbow cookies are one of those classics that always brighten a dessert plate or holiday cookie box. Though sometimes known by different names (among them rainbow cake, Italian flag cookies, Venetian cookies, and seven-layer cookies), the treat remains pretty similar wherever you find it: three layers of thin almond-flavored sponge cake (two of which are dyed red and green) filled with raspberry or apricot jam and coated in chocolate, then cut into bite-size cookies.

“There are many traditional Italian almond-paste cookies, but rainbow cookies seem to have been created in America by Italian-American immigrants to honor the colors of the Italian flag,” writes Lidia Bastianich in Lidia's Italy in America. Today, rainbow cookies can be found at numerous Italian-American bakeries and some Jewish delis in the Northeast, likely because 19th- and 20th-century immigrants from these respective cultures settled close to each other. You might also find them at other European-American bakeries, particularly in New York and New Jersey, year-round, but most often around Christmas.

This variation on the classic was inspired by the ubiquitous crumb cakes often found in New York and New Jersey delis. If you’re lucky, you can find the elusive rainbow-cookie/crumb-cake hybrids at a select few establishments, but why not make your own?

Note: For classic rainbow cookies, simply skip the crumb topping. You can bake the cakes in an 8x8-inch metal pan if that’s all you have—bake the cakes at 350°F for 13 to 15 minutes; if using a glass baking dish, lower the oven temperature to 325°F and bake for 18 to 25 minutes (in a 9x9-inch or 8x8-inch pan). —Rebecca Firkser

  • Prep time 6 hours
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Makes About 54 cookies
Ingredients
  • For the Rainbow Cookies:
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (2 sticks, 226 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 (7-ounce) tube (198 grams) almond paste
  • 2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon red food coloring
  • 1/4 teaspoon green food coloring
  • 6 ounces (170 grams) smooth apricot or raspberry jam (or 3 ounces/85 grams of each)
  • ounces (127 grams/¾ cup) chopped bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips (70% to 82% preferably)
  • Flaky sea salt
  • Rainbow or chocolate nonpareil sprinkles (optional)
  • For the Crumb Topping:
  • ¾ cups (90 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons (40 grams) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons (57 grams) unsalted butter, melted
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Make the batter. Heat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 9x9-inch metal cake pan with cooking spray, then line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on 2 sides.
  2. Place the egg whites and a pinch of salt in a very clean bowl of a stand mixer or large bowl. Using the stand mixer’s whisk attachment or an electric mixer, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until the mixture forms soft peaks. With the mixer running, slowly add ¼ cup (50 grams) of the sugar in a steady stream, then increase the speed to high and beat until the mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks. Transfer to a medium bowl.
  3. In the same bowl (no need to clean it), combine the extracts, remaining ¼ cup (50 grams) sugar, butter, almond paste, and ¾ teaspoon salt. Beat with the stand mixer’s whisk attachment or an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed (you might find there are a few little lumps of almond paste in the batter—this is okay). Switch to the stand mixer’s paddle attachment (or keep using the electric mixer) and beat in the egg yolks on medium-high speed until totally combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in the flour on low speed until just incorporated.
  4. Transfer about one-quarter of the egg white mixture into the cake batter and use a flexible spatula to fold the mixture together until just combined. Fold in the remaining egg white mixture in 2 additions until barely combined—there can be streaks of egg white (don’t worry, you’re about to mix this batter more).
  5. Divide two-thirds of the batter evenly between 2 medium bowls (leaving the remaining third of the batter in the original bowl—each bowl should have about 295 grams of batter). Mix the red food coloring into one bowl and the green food coloring into another. (You can use less dye for more pastel cookies; the more dye, the more richly saturated the baked cookie color, but the baked cakes will be paler than the batter.)
  6. Scrape one bowl’s batter into the prepared pan and smooth into an even layer with an offset spatula. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until dry to the touch and starting to pull away from the edges of the pan. Let cool for 5 minutes, then lift the cake from the pan with the parchment edges and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Re-grease the pan and line with fresh parchment (or peel off and reuse the parchment from the cake) and repeat with the next 2 batches of batter.
  7. Once the cakes have cooled completely, line a sheet pan with a sheet of plastic wrap and a piece of waxed paper. Remove the parchment and place the green cake layer into the center of the pan, then spread with half (85 grams) of the jam. Gently place the white cake layer over the jam, then spread on the remaining jam. Place the red cake layer on top, then wrap the cake in the waxed paper and plastic wrap. Transfer to the refrigerator on the sheet pan. Weigh down the cake by filling the 9x9 pan with a few cans and placing directly on top of the wrapped cake (you can also just place a heavy skillet on top). Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 24.
  8. Make the crumb topping. Heat the oven to 300°F. In a medium bowl, use a fork to mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon (if using), and salt. Gently mix in the butter until the mixture forms large crumbs. Use your hands to scoop up big chunks of crumb topping, then crumble with your fingers directly onto a parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake for about 15 minutes, until barely firm, then let cool completely in the pan.
  9. Assemble the cookies. Melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler. Unwrap the chilled cake and transfer with the waxed paper to a cutting board. Using an offset spatula, spread a scant half (63 grams) of the melted chocolate over the top of the cake (don’t worry about evenly spreading over the edges, they’ll be trimmed). Transfer to the refrigerator and chill, uncovered, until the chocolate sets, about 30 minutes. Carefully flip over the cake, and spread the remaining melted chocolate over the surface. Immediately press the crumb topping evenly over the top, breaking up the crumbs into smaller pieces as you crumble. Sprinkle the flaky salt and sprinkles (if using) over the crumble. Let set for 5 minutes at room temperature. Use a large knife to trim the edges, then slice into 1x1½-inch pieces. Return to the refrigerator and chill for another 30 minutes. Once set, serve or store in an airtight container between layers of waxed paper, if layering. Cookies can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • @ostreetkitchen - Becca Jacobs
    @ostreetkitchen - Becca Jacobs
  • Gina Ursino
    Gina Ursino
  • Monica Galbraith
    Monica Galbraith
  • Barbara Chapman
    Barbara Chapman
  • lisitasan
    lisitasan

8 Reviews

@ostreetkitchen -. December 14, 2021
Just made these and I am a huge fan! I made it over the course of 2 days to make things easier for me but didn't have any issues with the steps. The recipe is super clear and the result is wonderful.

I did add some sprinkles and vanilla extract to my crumb topping to make them more funfetti-like.

 
Author Comment
Rebecca F. December 22, 2021
hooray! So glad you enjoyed :)
 
Gina U. January 20, 2016
I have been making these for over 20 years. In Italy it is tradition to make them at Christmas and easter. In fact if you make them at any other time it is considered bad luck. I do not message with tradition and I stick to Christmas and Easter. The cookies are incredible and everyone's faces light up when they see them.
 
Monica G. December 22, 2015
I was a little bit worried when my batter didn't "pour" as stated in the recipe, but it tastes wonderful! These are absolutely beautiful, and while it was quite a few steps and many dirty dishes, it was completely worth it!
 
Nina C. December 23, 2015
Yay! Happy you enjoyed them!
 
Barbara C. December 15, 2015
what exactly are dark chocolate melting wafers? And where do I buy them?
 
Nina C. December 15, 2015
I used Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Melting Wafers, I think they melt really smoothly. Since the chocolate comes in small pieces, you don't need to chop up a bar of chocolate, making them really easy to use. I buy them at my regular supermarket.
 
lisitasan December 8, 2015
These are among my favorite holiday cookies to make, and I can't wait to try out this recipe. I also highly recommend using apricot preserves between the layers.