Homemade Rainbow Cookies Are How I’m Honoring Christmas Tradition

I made the best of extra holiday time by recreating a family classic — and learned a few tricks along the way.

Photo by: Chantell Quernemoen

Chantell Quernemoen

Spending Christmas with my Italian-American family usually includes a few specific things: several plays of “Dominic the Donkey,” a massive Christmas Eve feast and, most importantly, a big box of Italian cookies from our favorite bakery. My parents typically buy an assortment, but the rainbow cookies are always the first to go. The cakey, tricolored cookies, smeared with raspberry jam and coated with a layer of dark chocolate, are a tried-and-true family favorite. And, since Christmas will be a smaller, low-key affair this year (leaving me with extra time on my hands), I decided to bake them myself.

When looking for the ideal cookie, Molly Yeh’s five-star recipe seemed like the way to go. You can always count on Molly for a delicate, delicious dessert — exactly what rainbow cookies should be. The recipe starts off by calling for egg whites that are whipped into stiff peaks, then folded into a mixture of butter, almond paste, almond extract, egg yolks, lemon juice, sugar and flour. The second I opened the almond paste, I was instantly hit with the wonderful scent of Italian bakeries, something that always screams “Christmas” to me.

I whipped the egg whites with my stand mixer and combined the other ingredients by hand. If I ever do this again, I will definitely switch the two. Almond paste is a thick, heavy ingredient that took a few minutes to fully incorporate into the dough. By the time I was done mixing it, my arm felt like I had lifted 50-pound weights! Luckily, folding in the egg whites was easy enough, and all that was left to do was separate the dough into three pieces, incorporate the food coloring and bake.

It’s highly important to line the loaf pans with parchment paper before baking each layer — you’ll use the paper to lift the layers out and let them cool. If, like me, you always struggle with spreading thick dough along parchment paper, try this little tip. Grab a binder clip or clothes pin, clip the paper to the side of pan and you’re all set! The clips will stop the paper from wrinkling and sliding, and it’ll be a breeze to spread the dough. After just a few minutes in the oven, the cakey layers will be ready to cool, spread with jam and coat with melted chocolate.

I am not a very precise baker — in general, I eyeball ingredients rather than measure. That being said, I definitely wish I had been more careful with the food coloring. Instead of the vibrant, colorful hue I’m accustomed to, my cookies wound up being somewhat pale. However, they tasted fantastic! I normally share my baking projects with friends or family who live nearby, but I’m not so certain these will make it out of my kitchen.

Ultimately, it was really exciting to replicate a family favorite at home, and I’m pretty happy with my test run. Though I will do a few things differently next time around, I realized that the scent and taste of rainbow cookies strongly evoke the holiday spirit for me, and that’s the best reward of all.

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