The sight of this cake rips my heart with joy. It's something I've been meaning to make for a while now. I based it on the Italian Rainbow cookie (sometimes also called the Venetian or the Tri-Color), which to me has always been the queen of the bakery store cookie assortment. Perched among the crumbly butter cookies like regal peacocks, these cookies put those pastel petit fours to shame with their bright colors and intense flavor.
It's an Italian American thing--a moist little cookie made from tiny dense layers of almond sponge sandwiched together with raspberry and apricot jams before being coated with a final layer of bittersweet chocolate. Growing up in North Jersey, these cookies were present at every single family or community function, from PTA meetings to birthday parties. I used to load up on them, grabbing them three and four at a time and tucking them into an open napkin when nobody was looking. Later, I'd find a quiet corner where I could devour them slowly and methodically, one sweet almond layer at a time.
There is something about the combination of bitter almonds and raspberry that has always delighted me. It's the taste of decadence: rich with intensity, and yet just a hint of something illicit. Bitter almonds are poisonous, after all... The flavor in this cake comes from a combination of almond extract (which in actuality is extracted not from almonds, but from that flavorful little nut hidden inside peach pits) and almond paste. Note that almond paste should not be confused with marzipan, which is different, but still makes an appearance in this cake (read on...).
This cake is a gigantic version of that childhood favorite. I was never satisfied with those tiny little cakes, and was always left wanting more. This cake is basically my way of saying, "you can have as much as you want!"
It was a fairly simple conversion to make. I only had to slightly modify the origianl recipe (which I've been making for a year now), by lightening and leavening the cake. I alternated these moist, fluffy layers, with jam and--for an extra bit of almond flavor--a thinned out layer of marzipan (I told you it would make an appearance). I knew the hard, bittersweet chocolate coating would be too harsh on a cake of this size, so I made a silky semi-sweet chocolate ganache using thick farmer's market cream and just a hint of almond extract. The colors come from food coloring, and are the traditional red and green layers of the original cookie (just one of the hundreds of edible Italian flag homages--Italians, it seems, like to eat their flag), with the marzipan serving as the "white."
I baked it in 9 inch rectangular pans and then cut and stacked to form an almost terrine-like brick. Over this carefully constructed structure, I poured the silky ganache (and how I wish I could have poured and photographed at the same time as there few things more beautiful than watching chocolate ooze over the sides of a pile of almond cakes). I left to cool on the countertop overnight, and then cut in half in the morning. I brought one half into work, where my coworkers devoured it with their morning coffee. I saved the second half for my dad, who stopped by after work tonight to pick it up. The station he work at is just over the bridge, about 10 minutes from my apartment, so when he finishes the evening newscast he regularly pops over to partake of that day's baking. (You didn't really think that I ate all of this stuff by myself, did you?)
I'll be posting the recipe for this shortly and would love to know what you think.
Oh! And if the pictures and description aren't enough to entice you to bake this, perhaps the knowledge that your apartment will smell like sweet almonds for the next several days will do the trick! I promise you...it's incredible!
Italian Rainbow Cookie Cake
1 cup butter (2 sticks) softened
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
8 oz almond paste. (1 can, please note that this is different than marzipan)
1 tube marzipan (Which is different than almond paste...)
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups of sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
red and green food coloring
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
1/4 cup apricot preserves
1 cup heavy cream
12 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped (or you can use chips in a pinch)
2 13×9x2 inch pans, buttered and floured
1. In electric mixer, blend almond paste, butter, sugar, yolks and extract until fluffy.
2. Sift together flour and baking powder, then slowly add to almond paste mix.
3. In another bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold meringue into paste mixture until fully combined (the mix will be a bit sticky).
4. Separate the mixture evenly into two bowls and dye each batch a different color.
5. Spread mixture evenly into the pans and bake each separately at 350 degrees for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. You’ll know they are ready once the edges start to brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
6. While cooling, divide the marzipan in half and roll out two rectangle-shaped sheets on parchment or wax paper, approximately 8x6 inches each.
Assembling the cake:
1. Cut each sheet in half, so you have four evenly-sized cakes. (You can trim at the end so don’t worry if it’s not absolutely perfect.)
2. Start with a green cake and spread completely with raspberry jam. Feel free to spread as thinly or thickly as you like (I'm all in favor of thick!). Spread raspberry on green cake. Top with a layer of marzipan followed by a red cake. Top red cake with a layer of apricot followed by the second green cake. Top the green with another layer of raspberry and the second sheet of marzipan. Top with the final red cake.
3. Use a serrated knife to trim the edges of the entire cake and even out into a perfect rectangle. Brush off crumbs. (These extra bits are fantastic toasted with a bit of butter on a skillet or tossed into a bread pudding recipe. Or you can just eat them while watching television, like I did...)
4. Prepare the ganache by heating 1 cup of heavy cream in a small saucepan. Take care to not let it boil. Add the chocolate and stir continuously until melted completely. Remove from flame and mix in a dab of butter for a bit of extra shine. Continue stirring in concentric movements to cool. It will be ready when the chocolate is just slightly warmer than your lip. (Dab a bit on the inside of your lip—if it’s just slightly warmer then you’re good to go. If it burns, then I’m sorry... ;)
5.Pour this over the entire cake and let cool.