Meet the cookie recipe that single handedly made me want to start my own site. Sure, I sat on blog the idea for awhile before getting things up and running (hence the name Starting in December but the posts start in June) but who’s looking at the calendar? Never before had I undertaken such a daunting baking project in my own home, and eleven hours later when the cookies were finished I felt like sharing the recipe with anyone and everyone who would listen. (Should we ever meet at a social function, let me apologize in advance for my babbling about food tendencies. )
Apparently, these tasty little treats are often available in Italian bakeries and shops, but were a completely new confection to me. Now, of course, I have come across them several times in my cookbooks and in articles about almond flavored desserts. Isn’t that always the way? More cake than cookie, each serving contains seven layers of holiday goodness — 1) chocolate, 2) almond cake, 3) apricot jam, 4) almond cake, 5) apricot jam, 6) almond cake, and 7) chocolate. The coloring of the cake layers is completely discretionary but if you go the red, white and green route you can get the double whammy of symbolism for both Christmas and the Italian flag. (Wouldn’t these be perfect for a baby shower with pink, blue and white layers? Oh, the possibilities are endless).
For someone who adores almonds, bittersweet chocolate and all things Christmas, these cookies were an instant favorite. I was initially scared off by the eleven hour preparation time recommendation, but calmed down when I read through the recipe. Most of the hours are sucked up by either baking or chilling, all of which are perfect for a rainy, winter-y afternoon. Heck, you could even bake a few other batches of other cookies while you wait for these to finish. Aside from the time commitment, these seven layer cookies require little more than your patience. The result is divine — spongy almond cake, festive colors, a hint of fruity sweetness from strained apricot jam, and a gentle snap of the chocolate coating.
4 large eggs, separated
1 8 oz can almond paste
2-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1t almond extract
2c all purpose flour
25 drops red food coloring
25 drops green food coloring
1 12 oz jar apricot preserves, heated and strained
7 oz bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
Special equipment: a small offset spatula and a quarter sheet pan (9- by 13- by 1-inch)
Move an oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 13- by 9-inch baking pan (quarter sheet pan) and line bottom with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 ends, then grease paper.
Beat whites in a 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.
Switch the mixer’s attachment to the paddle, beat together almond paste and remaining 3/4 cup sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add room temperature butter and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. 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. Stir red food coloring into one and green food coloring into another, leaving the third batch plain. Set white batter aside. Chill green batter, covered. Pour 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.)
Using paper overhang, transfer layer to a rack to cool, about 15 minutes. Clean pan, then line with wax paper and grease paper in same manner as above. Bake white layer in prepared pan until just set. As white layer bakes, bring green batter to room temperature. Transfer white layer to a rack. Prepare pan as above, then bake green layer in same manner as before. Transfer to a rack to cool.
When all layers are cool, invert green onto a wax-paper-lined large baking sheet. Discard paper from layer and spread with half of preserves. Invert white on top of green layer, discarding paper. Spread with remaining preserves. Invert red layer on top of white layer and discard wax paper.
Cover with plastic wrap and weight with a large baking pan. Chill at least 8 hours.
Remove weight and plastic wrap. Bring layers to room temperature. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Keep chocolate over water.
Trim edges of assembled layers with a long serrated knife. 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 parchment paper and place another baking sheet on top, then invert cake onto sheet and remove paper. Quickly spread with remaining chocolate. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
Cut lengthwise into 4 strips. Cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide cookies (or cut them into any size shape you desire).
Note: Cookies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment, in an airtight container at room temperature 2 weeks. Cookies also freeze very well.
* Either a hand-held electric mixer or a stand mixer should work for this recipe.