Thursday, January 6, 2011

Three Colors, Three Times the Awesome

Day six.  I've baked nothing.  That may have more to do with bronchitis than personal resolve, but still.  In the meantime, I offer you the final installment of The Holiday Baker...

I know I've already professed my undying love for shortbread, but...  There may be a cookie I love even more.  I speak of the Italian tri-colored cookie, a.k.a. rainbow cookies, a.k.a. Neapolitan cookies. 

I'll be brutally honest.  These cookies are a bit of a pain to make.  The results, however, are so worth it.  Seriously.  So good.  And you end up with a ton of them.  And they keep well.  (Not that they'll last that long.)

The recipe I first used, and have stuck with, hails from my beloved

4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 (8-oz) can almond paste
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
25 drops red food coloring
25 drops green food coloring
1 (12-oz) jar apricot preserves, heated and strained
7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped

Special equipment: a heavy-duty stand mixer; a small offset spatula

  • Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 13- by 9-inch baking pan and line bottom with wax paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 ends, then butter paper.
  • Beat whites in mixer fitted with whisk attachment at medium-high speed until they just hold stiff peaks. Add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating at high speed until whites hold stiff, slightly glossy peaks. Transfer to another bowl.
  • Switch to paddle attachment, then beat together almond paste and remaining 3/4 cup sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add butter and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks and almond extract and beat until combined well, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add flour and salt and mix 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 and green food coloring into another, leaving the third batch plain. Set white batter aside. Chill green batter, covered. Pour red batter into prepared pan and spread evenly with offset spatula (layer will be about 1/4 inch thick).
  • Bake red layer 8 to 10 minutes, until just set. (It is important to undercook.)
  • Using paper overhang, transfer layer to a rack to cool, about 15 minutes. Clean pan, then line with wax paper and butter paper in same manner as above. Bake white layer in prepared pan until just set. As white layer bakes, bring green batter to room temperature. Transfer white layer to a rack. Prepare pan as above, then bake green layer in same manner as before. Transfer to a rack to cool.
  • When all layers are cool, invert green onto a wax-paper-lined large baking sheet. Discard paper from layer and spread with half of preserves. Invert white on top of green layer, discarding paper. Spread with remaining preserves. Invert red layer on top of white layer and discard wax paper.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and weight with a large baking pan. Chill at least 8 hours.
  • Remove weight and plastic wrap. Bring layers to room temperature. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Keep chocolate over water.
  • Trim edges of assembled layers with a long serrated knife. Quickly spread half of chocolate in a thin layer on top of cake. Chill, uncovered, until chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes. Cover with another sheet of wax paper and place another baking sheet on top, then invert cake onto sheet and remove paper. Quickly spread with remaining chocolate. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
  • Cut lengthwise into 4 strips. Cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide cookies.
Literate Baker notes:  After reading some reviews, I decided to try adding the eggs together, rather than beating the whites separately.  Having tried them both ways, there is hardly a difference, so I firmly support eliminating that step.  I believe there should be one layer of apricot preserves and one layer of raspberry jam, so that's what I did.  Oh, and I only put the chocolate on the top this time.

I'm not sure how these cookies manage to be so rich and so light at the same time.  I'm not sure how I manage to eat ten in one sitting.  Maybe they're magic.  Or sprinkled with god-dust (ten points if you know that reference).  Anyway.  I wish I had some now.  For the record, thinking about already-consumed baked goods is a sub-par way to...

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