italian rainbow cookie cake

my older sister, stoopie, is celebrating her last birthday of her 20s today! oy! it feels like only yesterday that i was underage and romping around with her id, drinking screwdrivers and skim milk white russians as "22-year-old stoopie." we've been celebrating these past few days in chicago with our family, lots of food, and our signature impressions of al dente noodles. she's been asking me every few minutes if i got her this flask bangle as a gift, and i'm starting to think that she's actually serious about wanting one, but too late, i already got her cute earrings. 

speaking of booze though, this year was such a big stoopie year because a few months ago, she passed her first sommelier test!!!! i'm so excited for her to take the next test soon so she can officially be called a sommelier, and so her name and title can kind of rhyme. (phonetically, she will be so-molly-yay-jenna-yay.) one day i'm gonna bribe her to move to grand forks so that she can be the sommelier for my cake house, and we'll host 30-course wine and cake tasting menus.  

speaking of cake, i made her a birthday cake! an almond cake because i have all of these vivid memories of us making almond cakes when we were little. she would always have first dibs on the can of almond paste and if i was lucky, she'd give me a little nubbin of it. our family loves almondy things. we have our valentine's day italian almond cake tradition, but oddly, we never had italian almond cookies growing up.

i didn't even discover these cookies until i moved to new york, and even then, for the longest time, i had no interest in them. i didn't know that they were almond flavored, as i'd only heard them referred to as "rainbow cookies." i'd see them when i went to buy black and white cookies at zabar's or fairway, but i questioned why anyone would buy these artificially colored random looking things when they could buy a black and white cookie. i was skeptical, but the seed was planted in my brain when i saw my little new yorky cousins gobbling them up during rosh hashanah, and then finally, when i was served a fancy freshly made one at torrisi, i was convinced. i discovered that these little guys aren't cookies, they're dense, rich almond cakes, glued together with jam, and cut into perfect little bites. it was the punch of almond that got me, these things are loaded with almond paste.

i became so obsessed that stoop and mum made a batch in (what they thought were) juilliard colors for my senior recital. some time after that, i fished out miniature versions of them from the bottom of a sundae at kutsher's with devra and my cousin eitan, before we even discovered that we're cousins. that year around the holidays, i made a shitton using torrisi's recipe and fed them to the earliest version of san fermin, which was huge and had some lucius.

full disclosure: a younger, less experienced and more stressed out version of myself wrote this about my first time making them. i've since chilled out, but there is some truth in my earlier frustrations: making these cookies/this cake is a process. it takes an entire day if you're fast, two days if you cruise, and maybe even three if you feel like blanching your own almonds and/or making your own almond paste. it's a cake for your holiday break, or one to call in sick for. but, trust, it's worth it.

italian rainbow cookie cake

makes one 8-inch cake


6 eggs, separated

1 1/4 c + 2 tb sugar

1 1/3 c almond paste, chopped

2 c unsalted butter, softened

1 tb lemon juice

1 tsp almond extract

1 tsp kosher salt

2 2/3 c all-purpose flour

1 tsp red food coloring

1 tsp green food coloring

1/2 c + 2 tb apricot jam (or 6 tb apricot jam and 4 tb raspberry jam or vice versa)

12 oz dark or semisweet chocolate chips

1 c heavy cream

cocoa powder for dusting, optional

dinosaurs, optional



preheat oven to 350. grease and line as many 8-inch cake pans as you have. you'll need to make six layers total. (i have three cake pans, so i baked the layers in two batches, but if you just have two, you can bake in three batches.)

in a large bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. gradually beat in 6 tablespoons of sugar and continue beating until you have stiff peaks.

in another large bowl, beat together the remaining cup of sugar, the almond paste, and butter. add the egg yolks, one at a time. beat in the lemon juice and almond extract, and then gradually sprinkle in the salt. add the flour and beat until combined.

fold the egg whites into the almond paste mixture and then divide the mixture evenly into three bowls. mix the red food coloring into one, the green food coloring into another, and then leave the last one as it is.

divide each of these mixtures in half and pour into separate cake pans. (again, if you don't have all six cake pans, just fill however many you've got, and then cover the batter that you're not using until it's ready to bake.) use a spatula to spread the batter as evenly as you can in the pan and then bake for 10-12 minutes, until the tops are just set, or no longer shiny and wet. let cool slightly in the pans, run a knife around the edges, and then carefully flip onto a greased cooling rack or greased sheet of parchment. bake remaining layers.

when the layers are cool, stack them up on a cake board or plate, spreading 2 tablespoons of jam between each. don't put jam on the top. wrap the sucker tightly in plastic wrap and then refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. 

to make the chocolate ganache, place the chocolate chips in a large bowl. heat the heavy cream until it is just starting to boil, and then pour it over the chocolate. let sit for 30 seconds, and then stir it all together to get a smooth ganache. you can either pour the ganache over the cake or refrigerate the ganache for an hour, whip it up until it's pale and fluffy, and then frost the cake with an offset spatula (this is what's pictured). decorate your cake how you'd like, dust it with cocoa powder, add dinosaurs, and enjoy!

happy birthday, stoopie!!