Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rainbow Cookies and Afternoon Tea

Rainbow cookies
I first discovered (and fell in love with) these little almond paste and butter filled squares when I was in NYC this past October. Even then I thought about making them for the holidays - it just seemed so right given their festive red and green color scheme. I knew it would be a project, but I also knew the recipe was likely to make a lot - and they would probably keep well since they're so dense and moist. When Sherry Yard's Desserts by the Yard landed in my lap a couple of weeks ago, I figured it was serendipity. The book says that at Spago, these are served as petit fours after dinner. When I tweeted that I was embarking on this project I actually heard from a friend who used to make them there for that very purpose. She confirmed what I was already learning - that they are indeed labor intensive, but very much worth the effort.
The laden table
I made them specifically for a Sunday afternoon gathering of some girlfriends - a holiday tea and handmade gift exchange. Everyone was asked to bring some cookies to share and a gift for the exchange (handmade by someone, but not necessarily the guest herself.) We drank rose champagne and white hot chocolate with vanilla bean and orange, (tea? what tea?) and ate cute little open-faced sandwiches, fancy cheeses, scones, and cookies. It was a lovely afternoon. At least I enjoyed it, and it's always a good sign when you have fun at your own party, I think. Here's the menu:
cucumber with mint butter and curried chicken salad tea sandwiches
Holiday Afternoon Tea
December 14, 2008

Pierre Robert, Cave Aged Gouda and Stilton/Gloustershire Cheeses
Prosciutto and Salami
Frog Hollow Farms Peach Chutney
Bread and Cie Baguette

Cucumber with Mint Butter and
Curried Chicken Salad Tea Sandwiches on Brioche
Puff Pastry Bites with Feta and Caramelized Onions
Roederer Brut Rose

Ginger Scones
Assorted Cookies
Eclipse White Hot Chocolate with Vanilla Bean and Orange
Jora's ginger scones
Everyone made delicious cookies and candies - there were ginger spice and butter cookies, dark chocolate fruit and nut clusters, some with milk chocolate, some with white chocolate, lemon and cornmeal, and even vegan gingerbread men. Jora made the scones, and Angie brought homemade toffee.
We ate all we could, and everyone took home as many leftovers as they were willing.

Making the rainbow cookies was really a two day process - not because it's especially difficult or tricky, but because there are several steps. First, a rich dough is made with almond paste, butter, sugar, flour and almond flour. This is divided into thirds, two of the parts are colored red or pink and green, and the third is colored yellow or left plain (I left mine plain.) The cake layers are baked just until dry on lined sheet pans, cooled, and then carefully stacked on top of one another. Each layer is brushed with simple syrup, and raspberry and apricot jams are spread between the layers. The stacked layers are then weighted and refrigerated overnight to soak up the syrup, and the next day, the whole cake is glazed with chocolate and cut into squares. The result is a melt in your mouth hybrid of cake, cookie and candy - buttery and rich, kissed with fruity jam and dark chocolate. It's one of those things that is more than the sum of its parts, and each of its parts are pretty delicious all by themselves.

There were a few things about the recipe that didn't work for me though - my food processor was not large enough for the whole batch of dough, and I have a hard time believing that anyone in a home kitchen would have one that would be - so I've modified it to use a stand mixer for part of the process. I also think the directions could be a little more specific. I drew on some of my pastry schooling in the process, so I'll put those details in. One of the major reasons this recipe is worth the effort is that it makes a TON of cookies (120 one inch squares, according to the recipe.) I have half of the batch frozen, and I lost quite a bit to scraps (which are very tasty snacks in and of themselves) and I still had dozens of the little suckers. The finished cookies taste even better a few days after they're made, and will keep for at least a week or two refrigerated.
Rainbow cookies cross section

Rainbow Cookies
adapted from Sherry Yard's Desserts by the Yard

For the cake:
12 ounces almond paste
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 pounds butter (6 sticks) softened and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
6 large eggs, separated
3/4 cups almond flour (I used Bob's Red Mill)
3 cups All Purpose flour
red food coloring
green food coloring

1 recipe simple syrup (place one cup of sugar and one cup of water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stir to dissolve sugar and allow to cool.)
3/4 cup apricot jam
3/4 cup raspberry jam

For chocolate glaze:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 stick butter
1 1/2 tablespoons corn syrup (The original recipe calls for 5 Tablespoons of corn syrup, but I used this amount and it worked great.)
1 1/2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Spray 3 12x17 inch half sheet pans with pan spray and line with parchment. (The spray will keep the paper from sliding when you are spreading the thick batter.) Lightly spray the parchment.

Place the almond paste in a food processor and blend for two minutes. Add the sugar and pulse until the mixture has the consistency of wet sand. (I had some problems getting my food processor to "grab" the mixture - it just wanted to spin through it, but I kept scraping and pushing it down and finally got it incorporated. )

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat to soft peaks. Transfer beaten egg whites to another bowl, and fit the mixer with the paddle attachment.

Transfer the sugar and almond paste mixture to the bowl of the mixer and add one quarter of the butter. Beat the butter into the mixture. Continue to slowly add the butter 1/4 at a time until it is incorporated and the mixture is fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and blend in the egg yolks one at a time on low speed. Still on low speed, blend in the almond flour, then the All Purpose Flour - just until incorporated. Last of all, fold in the beaten egg whites thoroughly but gently.

Weigh the batter on a kitchen scale, and divide it into three portions of equal weight. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, stir 1-2 drops of red paste food coloring into one portion, and 1-2 drops of green food coloring into another. One third of the batter should be bright pink and one third light green. (Sherry also suggests dying the third section yellow, but I opted to leave it natural.)

Scrape all of one colored batter onto one end of a half sheet pan and spread it evenly, pushing the batter with the spatula to the outer edges of the pan, making sure the layers are at least 1/4 inch thick. Slide your finger or a damp paper towel around the inner edge of the pan to remove any excess batter. Repeat with the remaining 2 portions of batter.

Place the pans in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. (This is a good time to make the simple syrup.) Rotate the top and bottom pans from top to bottom and turn them around. Turn the middle pan around. Bake another 10 minutes, or until the cakes are dry and firm to the touch. They should not brown and they should not rise. Allow the cakes to cool in the baking sheets for 10 minutes.

When the cakes have cooled, place another empty half sheet pan in front of you upside down. Spray the pan with pan spray and place a layer of parchment paper on it with several inches of overhang. Invert the white or yellow cake onto the parchment covered upside down pan, and peel the parchment off the top of the cake. Brush the cake liberally with simple syrup and spread with the apricot jam using an offset spatula. Repeat this process with the pink layer, brushing it with simple syrup and spreading it with the raspberry jam. Top with the green layer and brush it liberally with simple syrup. Trim any crumbling edges and remove the loose crumbs.

Use the parchment overhang to slide the cake off the pan and place in one of the now-empty half sheet pans. Cover the cake tightly with plastic or wax paper and place one of the other empty pans on top. Weight it evenly with something else in the fridge, and refrigerate the cake overnight. (At this point, the cake can also be wrapped airtight and stored in the freezer for three to four weeks.)

Make the chocolate glaze:
Combine the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and microwave on low power until the butter is melted. Stir to melt the chocolate. Stir in the corn syrup and the Grand Marnier. The glaze should be smooth, shiny and pourable. (It will cool and set when it is poured on the refrigerated cake.)

Remove the cake from the refrigerator and unwrap it. Pour about 1/3 of the glaze in a wide strip down the middle of the cake and spread it gently with an offset spatula, stopping just before the edges. Be careful when gliding over the surface that you avoid scraping the cake and getting crumbs in the glaze. When the glaze has cooled, repeat the process until the glaze is about 1/8 of an inch thick (you will probably have quite a bit left over.) When the glaze is firm and starting to dry, you can use a pastry comb or fork to make a squiggly pattern in the top of the chocolate if you like. Refrigerate the cake again for at least thirty minutes or until the glaze is completely set.

To cut the cake, use a sharp narrow knife dipped in warm water and wiped dry. Cut only in one direction - being careful as you pull the knife up through the cake so that the glaze does not peel off the cake. Also be careful in picking the cut pieces up off of the paper, as the bottom cake layer may want to stick to the parchment. The finished glazed cake can be frozen - cut or uncut - for two to three weeks as long as it is well wrapped.


  1. My mouth is literally watering looking at the pictures. The cakes are gorgeous. When we were little, my mother used to always bring them home from parties. Now I want to try making this!

  2. Great party and I loved those cookies best of all.

  3. You and Deb from Smitten Kitchen must be on the same psychic wavelength or something. I'd never even heard of these until I checked my RSS feeds this morning!

  4. What a nice spread! Your cookies look amazing - invite me to a party! :)

  5. Alice, in your store you highlighted the all clad pot rack which bolts into the back of the wall. I need one that bolts into the side walls over my cook top. The back is tiled. Have you seen one with that design?
    Ellen Turnage

  6. That party (and the cookies) sounds wonderful! I may have to copy your format next year... :-)

  7. I am sooooooo sad I accidentally left without cookies - those rainbow babies were to die for!

  8. How funny is this? I guess you can see how far behind on my RSS feeds I am this week! I might have at least waited an extra day or two before posting the same thing. :)

    Glad you loved them, too. I am so glad we're giving this retro cookie another day in the sun.

  9. Those are so pretty! I've got to try them.

  10. Even though I shouldn't have been able to graduate from Junior High School it still looks good. God damn, for a 13 year old, I have quite the refined palate.


  11. Rachel - thanks! I cannot leave them alone. Seriously, they are totally worth the trouble.

    Jora - mwah!

    K - no kidding huh? I had to check when I saw your comment and lo and behold. Great minds think alike I guess.

    Maris - thanks!

    Ellen - let's talk offline - I do not know of such a thing off the top of my head, but maybe we can google it.

    Tracey - it was a lot of fun!

    Krista - I still have some, too bad you guys aren't coming on Tues!

    Deb - yes, well - I guess I'll get over it at some point. By "it" I mean my bitterness about your 100+ comments vs. my 10. Sigh. ;-)

    Kim - they are fun!

    Heather - you're funny. I guess if Kim can forgive you I can too. Everybody kiss and make up now! Life is too short to stay mad.

  12. Growing up in Hong Kong, we valued afternoon tea. Your blog post reminds us to slow down, especially in the Holiday season to enjoy great food with family and friends.

  13. Omigod those are too perfect and pretty and I want one RIGHT NOW!!!

  14. Thank you so much for the detailed report! My husband is from NY and these are his favorite cookie. A family friend had given me her recipe several years ago but I'd been intimidated to try it. May have to finally give it a go over the holidays!