Rainbow Italiano

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.


  1. I can vouch for the fact that Italians eat their flag. I have cousins named Franky and Joey, I know.

    Anyway, that cake looks spectacular.

    I wish I had a job that would support my culinary experimentation.

  2. You know how I feel about rainbows! :) I LOVE!

  3. Oh, what a gorgeous tribute to the classic little cake! Yum.

  4. Is there a pink and green theme going on in your blog? Les madeleines had similar colors... It looks delish, btw.

  5. I agreewith the previous psots. Your posts have been full of beatiful colors lately!

  6. Beautiful cake! I'm looking forward to the recipe.

  7. There is something to be said about methodical eating. ;-)

    What a cake! Now if I had made something like that for the sicilians, I might have had to meet each of their mothers!!

  8. Beautiful cake! I remember eating many of those as a child. Congratulations on making it to the top 10 in the DBC contest! Good luck! :)

  9. I think it was Anthony Bourdain who said one should not consume food of a color that does not naturally occur in nature. This, however, might be perfectly legitimate reason to skip his advice. Looks tasty!

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Its almost 1 am and now I'm hungry

    -fiorella aka sara

  12. what a beautiful, layered cake!

    you've been tagged! :)

  13. Can you make the same cake but with blue, white and red layers? Like the French flag.
    You know, for your sensible Francophiles readers. Haha.
    Looks finger-licking good!

  14. I saw your post on Tastespotting a few days ago and my jaw dropped - I am a rainbow cookie fanatic and always wanted to make a giant one. Yours looks gorgeous and so tasty!! Can't wait until you post the recipe!

  15. Hmm...blue, white, and red, Zen? I just might be able to manage that... ;)

    Thank you all so much! I"m glad you enjoyed.

  16. Thank you for posting the recipe - it looks great. Really enjoy your writing and recipes.

  17. This looks amazing. You should let me know if the apartment above yours comes open. You know, just in case you need a taste-tester close by. I'm happy to oblige. Sacrifice for such a greater cause ;-)

  18. This serves as a testimonial for Alejandra's rainbow italiano cookie cake (the cookie version of the cake mentioned). They were a hit at work, home and elsewhere ;) Every individual that tried it instantly loved it! My boss even took a few home to his wife. Absolutely delicious.

    Thank you babe!!

    Love you always,

  19. I made your cake- your directions and measurements were impeccable. and the cake came out to PERFECTION. I made this for my friends birthday and she ate some of the trimmings with me, and it got RAVE reviews. I am of Italian decent and no one in my family could come up with a dessert recipe as good as this!

    You are brilliant.

  20. I made the rainbow cake and it was amazing. Everyone in my family loved it! I decided that in the future, I'm going to leave out the layer of marzipan because on the first day, the taste is too strong - by the second day, it mellows and sort of joins with the cake and then you barely taste it. But that's just me.

    But while I was getting it into the pans, I noticed that neither layer actually filled the length of the 9 x 13 pan. Only 2/3 for one and 3/4 for the other. and they certainly weren't too thick at that length - almost thinner than your picture actually. Any suggestions for what i did wrong?

    It still came out wonderfully though - it was just a little less wide than yours probably.

    I love the idea of the blog! In fact, I found it when I was searching for a bakery to ship rainbow cookies to me down in DC since no one here knows what I'm talking about when I miss them out loud. I made your cake instead and it was pretty amazing!

  21. I don't see the Rainbow Cookie Cake on Etsy! Am I looking in the wrong place? Thanks.


  22. This is an amazing recipe. It is a labor of love to make it, with all the assembling, but the result is mmm delicious. Do you use a squared off (meaning the edges) baking pan? I used a glass rectangle pan which has rounded edges and then I found because the thick batter comes up the sides a little the rounder parts of the bottom edges were a little thicker than the middle of the cake. Also, I had to use a pastry cutter on the almond paste - it was quite thick and maybe even a tad dry when I tried to combine it with the butter. Once I used the pastry cutter and the butter was completely super soft by then, it combined pretty well and chunks were gone.

    Also since it already had all the butter and good stuff, I decided to use half and half instead of heavy cream for the ganache, still came out perfect. And I used ghirardelli chocolate.

    I was a little amused by the marzipan - when I rolled it out it looked like provolone cheese. I couldn't get it to roll to the exact measurement so I took the liberty to cut and smoosh it back to fit the size and it worked out.

    Mine looks a little more homemade (i.e. not so perfectly squared off) than yours, but the taste is fantastic. Better than any bakery bought rainbow cookies we've ever had. And better than my mother-in-law's (my husband said so) but I won't tell her that, I'll let him deliver the message.


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