The rainbow cookie’s background is as difficult to trace as the cookie itself is to resist (I just ate six). While some believe the cookie was first invented in Italy and brought to New York, others maintain it is the product of Italian immigrants already in America in the  early 1900s, thus making it an Italian-AMERICAN invention. This more popular version of the story states that Italian immigrants missing home designed a cookie to resemble the Italian flag – green, white, red – makes sense. In addition to having a boatload of vague and difficult to confirm origin stories, the cookie has just as many names. The Rainbow Cookie, The Seven Layer Cookie, The Venetian, The Neapolitan, the list goes on.

Living in New York, frequenting Jewish delis and bagel shops, I had only ever heard it called the rainbow cookie and had wrongfully assumed it was a Jewish creation. As the cookie is usually wedged between hamentashen and rugelah in the display case, it is an easy mistake to make. So how did the rainbow cookie, an Italian cookie, find itself in Jewish company? Again, we are working in the world of guesswork; but, one idea is that the cultural treat transfer is simply the result of proximity. Jewish immigrants and Italian immigrants living in New York were often neighbors with neighboring businesses (bakeries) – again – makes sense.

Although my research left me disappointed by lack of a clearcut origin story, one thing agreed upon across the board is that they are a celebration cookie. Christmas, birthdays, housewarming gifts, new babies, anniversaries – these bright bites are often found on tables of joyous occasions.

Let’s review what we know.  We know they were invented sometime in the early 1900s, probably by Italian immigrants living in America. We know that they are often given as gifts and present at celebrations of Italian-American families. And finally, I know, and I hope you are about to discover, that they are delicious. I mean really delicious.

Here’s my recipe:

Measure out all ingredients – but you know that already.

Cream together butter, almond paste, and sugar being careful to break up all the almond paste. Add the egg yolks and almond extract.

Add the flour.

The dough will resemble sugar cookie dough. It will be thick and sticky.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites on high until they form stiff peaks.

Fold the egg whites into the batter a little at a time. Be careful not to deflate them.

Divide the cookie dough into three equal portions and dye one bowl green and another red.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease three 9×13 inch cookie sheets, line them with parchment paper and then grease the parchment. Spread each color onto its own cookie tray. Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes until lightly browned around the edges.

Let each layer cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove the red and white layers from their pans and transfer to cooling wracks to cool completely. Leave the green layer in its pan to cool completely. Once cool, slather the green layer with apricot jam. Slide the white layer on top of the green and press down lightly. Remove the parchment from the top of the white layer and cover it with apricot jam. Place the red layer on top. Wrap the entire thing in plastic wrap. Place a cutting board or cookie tray on top, weigh down with heavy plates or cans, and place in the refrigerator to press for eight hours or overnight.

Once the cookie has set, trim the edges to make clean lines.

Cover the top with melted chocolate and use a fork to make the wave pattern. Place in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes. Once the chocolate has set, flip the cookie and repeat the chocolate process. Place in the fridge to chill for another 30 minutes.

Cut that big cookie into cute little squares, about 1×1 inches.

There you have it – The Rainbow Cookie. I hope you’ll bring some to your next event and if someone asks, “What the hell is this?” you can tell them…kinda!

Rainbow Cookies

  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients: 
One 7 ounce tube of almond paste
2 sticks of butter, at room temperature
1 cup of granulated sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon of almond extract
2 cups of all purpose flour
red food coloring
green food coloring
1/2 cup of apricot jam
1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, cream together the almond paste, butter, and granulated sugar.

Beat in the egg yolks and almond extract.

Add the flour and mix until just combined.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites on high until stiff peaks form.

Carefully fold the egg whites into the cookie dough a little bit at a time.

Once the egg whites are incorporated, divide the batter into three bowls. Using the food color, turn one bowl of batter green and another red. Leave one bowl uncolored.

Grease three 9×13 inch cookie trays. Line each with parchment paper and grease them again. Pour each batter into a separate tray and place the trays in the preheated oven.

Bake cookies for 10 minutes.

Let each layer cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove the red and white layers from their pans and transfer to cooling racks to cool completely. Leave the green layer in its pan to cool completely.

Once cool, slather the green layer with apricot jam. Slide the white layer on top of the green and press down lightly. Remove the parchment from the top of the white layer and cover it with apricot jam. Place the red layer on top.

Wrap the entire thing in plastic wrap. Place a cutting board or cookie tray on top, weigh down with heavy plates or cans, and place in the refrigerator to set for eight hours or overnight.

After chilling, remove the cookies from pan and trim for a clean edge.

Melt the cup of chocolate chips and slather half of it across the top of the cookies. Use a fork and make small waves in the chocolate to create a pattern.

Place the cookies in the fridge so the chocolate can set. This will take 10 – 20 minutes.

Once the chocolate is set, flip the cookie over and repeat the chocolate process on the other side.

Return to the fridge to set again.

When you are ready to serve, cut the rainbow cookies into 1×1 inch squares.

They will keep for one week in an airtight container in the fridge.