I think I just died and went to heaven. Seven layer heaven. Like a rainbow. With almonds. And apricot jam. And bittersweet chocolate. These are labor intensive and the wait for the finished product will have you fidgeting in your chair. The work is worth it.
If you haven’t been to New York and tasted these delectable bites from one of the prolific Italian bakeries there, you’ll wish you had sooner. These are a rarity outside of the busy and hum of the East Coast. Ask for some of these in Los Angeles and you’ll get a blank stare. And maybe a blink. Here is your chance to create your own and quite possibly better than the Italian bakeries’ versions. These almond cakes layered with jam and covered in chocolate abound in Italian-American bakeries. Often, however, if bulk processed, they use artificial (ack!) almond flavoring. It is noticeable to almond aficionados and an atrocity, to say the least. Seeing that this recipe had real, yes, real almonds in it, I just had to try it.
I embarked on this recipe over a weekend, garnering babysitting help from the in-laws. It was easy: you take care of Peach and Grub and I’ll make you something sweet in the kitchen. Being from New York state and now transplants to southern California, these cookies are hard for them to come by. My secret weapon: almonds. Manna. No one could refuse such an offer. If you like almonds, you may be wooed, too. Believe me, these are worth the effort.
- 4 large eggs, separated
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 (8-ounce) can almond paste (I used a 7-ounce tube because I could not find the 8-ounce can)
- UPDATE: Make sure you buy almond paste and NOT marzipan. The glucose content is higher in the marzipan.
- 2½ sticks (1¼ cups) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 25 drops red food coloring
- 25 drops green food coloring
- 1 (12-ounce) jar apricot preserves, heated and strained, divided into two equal parts
- 7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped*
- Special equipment: a heavy-duty stand mixer; a small offset spatula (I did not have one, but wished I did to make spreading the batter more uniform.)
- Put oven rack in middle position and preheat 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 ¼ cup sugar a little at a time, beating at high speed until whites hold stiff, slightly glossy peaks. Transfer to another bowl.
- Switch to paddle attachment, then beat together almond paste and remaining ¾ cup sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add 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. (I eyeballed this and felt I estimated well, but a scale would have made me feel more confident.) Stir red food coloring into one and green food coloring into another, leaving the third batch plain (white). Set white batter aside. Chill green batter, covered. Pour red batter into prepared pan and spread evenly with offset spatula or knife (layer will be about ¼ inch thick).
- Bake red layer 8 to 10 minutes, until just set. (It is important to undercook. Do not let the layers become crispy!)
- 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 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. (I also weighted mine with a heavy book to help the layers stick together.) Chill at least 8 hours.
- Remove weight and plastic wrap. 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 wax 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. (I chilled mine for a couple of hours for easier cutting.)***
- Cut into 1-inch squares and remember to share. Addiction is expected. If I were thinking clearly, I should have made a double recipe and attempted to freeze some of the cookies for later enjoyment. Or we may have inhaled those too, breaking all New Year's resolutions about cutting down on sweets.