My Italian Rainbow Cookie Cake.
I first posted about this cake back in February 2008, just a few weeks after I started this blog, when my photography skills still justified that "mediocre" adjective in the tag line. The cake was a hit, though, and I think it's still the one about which I get the most passionate letters from readers. Mostly people like me who spent their childhoods trying to snag as many of these amazing little cookies as they could from the family dessert platter. My giant cake version was a bit of a dream come true for them (and, obviously, for me).
Some of you may not know this, but my obsession with this cookie was so great that a couple years ago (back during the really bad photos days), I started a small dessert catering business centered entirely on these wonderful treats.
The cookies, if you haven't tried them, consist of three layers of thin almond sponge cake filled with raspberry and apricot jam, all topped off with a layer of bittersweet chocolate filling. My little business was a hit, and at my peak I found myself baking about 30 batches of them a week. This inspired me to start offering the full-size cake versions to local customers. I've since tapered off on all the baking (really, it was just too much even for me), but I still have a few loyal customers who request my cake each year for their birthdays and other family celebrations.
The recipe I'm featuring today is the version that I've tweaked and revamped over the past couple years. I've got this cake down to a science by now and figured out ways to make the process as easy and quick as possible. The round shape with three layers is also a little more versatile as it makes for a perfect birthday cake and can be decorated however you like. Sometimes I use food coloring to dye marzipan, which I then mold into little bouquets of roses or cut into hearts and polka dots that I press into the sides. Depending on the occasion or recipient, I play with the colors in the layers (think shades of green for St. Patrick's or a lovely rainbow of pastels for Easter). I even make a version filled with lemon curd and topped with white chocolate ganache, although we'll leave that for another post.
I served this cake on Sunday at my fake-Thanksgiving along with anise-scented poached pears and fresh kiwi sorbet; definitely not traditional holiday desserts by any means, but delicious and festive nonetheless. Because of the brilliant colors, I think this cake would be particularly suited for the Christmas or New Years dessert table. It certainly may not be the most elegant or the fanciest of my dessert recipes--no crushed macadamia nuts, saffron, or chardonnay in this one--but it's probably one of the most fun. And your guests who have sentimental attachment to the traditional rainbow cookies will absolutely appreciate it.
Oh and please don't think this is just about nostalgia and novelty! This cake really is damn good. Moist spongy layers rich with almond are accented by high-quality apricot and raspberry preserves (you'll want to splurge on a good brand like Sarabeths or maybe even something fancy and French. Of course, good ol' Smuckers works too!). The frosting is a simple bittersweet chocolate ganache which can be left plain or decorated as you like with white frosting and pearlized sugar beads.
However you end up serving it, you're guaranteed to end up with a cake that's festive enough to capture the imagination of the adults in the room, while simultaneously delighting the children.
UPDATE: The contest is over! I didn't win, but a million thanks to all of you who voted. And let me know if you try the recipe at home!
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Italian Rainbow Cookie Cake
makes one 9" round layer cake
3 sticks butter, softened
1.5 cups granulated white sugar
6 large eggs
12 ounces of almond paste, grated with a box grater
1 tablespoon pure almond extract
1 cup milk
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3 teaspoons baking powder
red food coloring
green food coloring
yellow food coloring
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
1/4 cup apricot preserves
For the ganache:
1 cup heavy cream
12 oz semisweet chocolate
Special equipment: Three 9" round pans, buttered and floured, with a circle of parchment paper on the bottom
1. In the base of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. About 5 minutes. Add the eggs and continue to beat for 3 more minutes. Add the grated almond paste, almond extract, and milk, and beat until well combined.
2. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder then slowly add to the almond paste batter and mix until combined.
3. Separate the mixture evenly into three bowls. Dye each bowl a different shade (one green, one yellow, one red).
4. Pour each color of the mixture into individual pans making sure to smooth out the top. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 20-25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack. Remove the parchment paper and let cool completely.
5. While the cake is cooling, prepare the ganache by heating 1 cup of heavy cream in a small saucepan just until bubbles start to form around the edge. Turn off the heat and pour over the chocolate in a large bowl. Stir continuously until melted completely and smooth. Let cool to room temperature.
Assembling the cake:
6. Start with the pink layer of the cake and spread with the raspberry jam until it nearly reaches the edges of the cake. Top with the yellow cake. Spread this with the apricot preserves. Top with the final green layer.
7. Use a spoon to pour the ganache over the cake, using an offset spatula to even the sides and make sure the cake is completely covered. Use as much ganache as you need. Let sit at room temperature in a cool spot for 1-2 hours until completely set. Decorate the cake as desired (optional).