In our home, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without these pretty little layer cookies. My grandmother has made them every Christmas since I can remember, and also on special occasions every so often. I always called them Layer cookies growing up, but they can be called Seven Layer Cookies, Venetian Cookies or Rainbow Cookies. They have always been my favorite cookie my grandmother makes, but I’ve been making them for myself ever since my first year out of college, because going home isn’t always an option for the holidays. I have to admit, the first year I made them, it was very intimidating, but they are actually fairly easy, just time-consuming.
For the almond paste, I prefer the one in the plastic sleeve over the canned version. It seems to be a little softer and easier to work with, but the canned one will work too. The downside to the almond paste in the sleeve is there will be leftover paste if you can’t find an 8oz package.
There are a lot of very similar/identical recipes floating around the internet for these, but I referenced the one from Gourmet below; it was essentially the same as my grandmother’s with one major difference. My grandmother always does both apricot and black raspberry jam; the apricot is for in-between the pink and yellow, and the black raspberry always gets sandwiched between the green and yellow.
Seven Layer CookiesAdapted, slightly, from Gourmet, December 2005 Makes about 5 dozen cookies active time: 1 1/2 hr; total time: 11 hr 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 6 drops yellow food coloring 6-oz apricot preserves, heated and strained 6-oz black raspberry preserves, heated and strained 7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
Put oven rack in middle position and pre-heat 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 and set aside.
Switch to paddle attachment, then beat together almond paste and remaining 3/4 cup sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add half the butter and mix well to remove any almond paste lumps. Add remaining butter, and beat about 3 minutes until light and fluffy. 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; I like to use a scale for this to make sure the layers are nice and even. Stir red food coloring into one, green food coloring into another, and yellow into the remaining bowl. Chill green batter, covered. Spread 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 a little.)
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 yellow layer in prepared pan until just set. As yellow layer bakes, bring green batter to room temperature. Transfer yellow layer to a rack. Prepare pan as above, then bake green layer in same manner as before. Transfer to a rack to cool. It is important that you do not stack the layers as they are cooling, or when cooled. The layers are very tacky because of the almond paste, so they will stick.
When all layers are cool, invert green onto a wax-paper-lined large baking sheet. Discard paper from layer and spread with black raspberry preserves. Invert yellow on top of green layer, discarding paper. Spread with apricot preserves. Invert red layer on top of yellow layer and discard wax paper.
Cover with plastic wrap and weight with a large baking pan; I also like to set a heavy pan on top of the baking sheet or a few cookbooks. Chill at least 8 hours.
Remove weight and plastic wrap. Bring layers to room temperature. Melt half of chocolate in the microwave safe bowl on defrost (low and slow) checking every so often until melted; all microwaves are different, so I won’t give time estimates, just keep an eye on it. 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. Melt remaining chocolate and spread over cake. If you feel more comfortable, or you don’t have a microwave, you can always melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth.
After 30 minutes trim edges of assembled layers with a long serrated knife. Cut lengthwise into 4 strips. Cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide cookies. I typically make 1″ squares, since that’s how my grandma does them, but if you like rectangles, you can cut them differently. When cutting, I find that it is easy to cut the cookies right after the 30 minutes is up, just when the chocolate is set, if you rest them too long the chocolate starts to crack. It’s also helpful to clean the knife blade with a warm damp rag every few passes to remove any crumbs that stick to the blade, so the cuts come out nice and even.
Cookies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment, in an airtight container at room temperature 2 weeks.