Five Days of Christmas Cookies (DAY 1): My Heirloom Cookies

If there is one recipe I know my children will remember me by it’s my Italian Tricolor Cookies. 

When Phil and I first started dating, he was always trying to impress me by bringing me to Little Italy in lower Manhattan.  Our first date was at the San Gennaro festival and for many years, we would return and reenact the first time we went out together; dinner at DaNico’s and fried zeppolis from a street side vendor.  I think the main reason I love New York City is the incredibly rich Italian culture that thrives.  The best (and first) cannoli I’ve ever had are from Café Roma and when they were open, I loved going to Tony’s for rice balls and fresh semolina bread.

Phil’s absolute favorite Italian dessert has always been tricolor cookies.  This cookie is really a mini cake.  Its three layers of thin cake (tinted red, white and green) made with almond paste and slathered with apricot jam.  The outside is enrobed in chocolate.  You can find them in the case of any classic Italian pastry shop.  For years, he would always buy a box from the bakery near our dorm and talk about how it’s the best cookie you could ever have.  Even though he loved them, I never thought about attempting to make them at home.  It seemed complicated.

Then, about 15 years ago, my mom was sitting in a hair salon thumbing through a Good Housekeeping and came across a recipe for tricolors.  She ripped it out and gave it to me.  “You should try making these for Phil,” she said.  I was intrigued.  Could I make this bakery classic at home?

Well, the recipe is perfect.  It makes the most delicious tricolor cookies you will ever have.  They are even better than the pastry shop’s version.  I have been making these cookies, every year since, for Christmas.  I hope is that even when I’m old and grey, my children and grandchildren will ask me to whip up a batch of these cookies for the holidays.  I’ll take out my tattered Good Housekeeping recipe and make them as part of a long-standing tradition.  Its one family heirloom I’m not giving up.

Italian Tricolors – Good Housekeeping (2001)

Makes 36 cookies

Prep time:         Total time: 

1 tube or can (7 to 8 ounces) almond paste, broken into small pieces
¾ cup softened butter (1 ½ sticks)
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 large eggs
1 cup AP flour
¼ teaspoon salt
15 drops red food coloring
15 drops green food coloring
2/3 cups apricot preserves
3 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vegetable shortening

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Generously grease three 8x8 metal baking pans.  Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper.  Grease and flour the paper.
  2. In a large bowl, with mixer at medium high speed, beat almond paste, butter, sugar and almond extract (there will be small bits of paste).  Beat in eggs, one at a time until blended.
  3. Reduce speed to low and add the flour and salt until just combined.
  4. Transfer 1/3 of the batter (about 1 rounded cup) to a small bowl.  Transfer another 1/3 batter to another bowl so you now have three bowls of batter.  Stir red food coloring into 1 bowl and green coloring into another bowl.  Leave one bowl untinted.
  5. Spoon untinted batter into 1 pan and with an offset spatula spread batter evenly.  Repeat with green and red batters in remaining pans.
  6. Bake layers on 2 oven racks 10 to 12 minutes, rotating pans between upper and lower racks halfway through baking time, until layers are set and toothpicks inserted come out clean.
  7. Cool in pans on wire racks for 5 minutes.  Run a knife around the sides of pans to loosen the cakes.  Invert layers onto racks, leaving parhcment paper attached; cool completely.
  8. When layers are cool, press apricot preserves through a sieve to remove large pieces of fruit.  Remove parchment from the green layer and invert onto a cutting board.  Spread with half the apricot preserves.
  9. Remove the parchment from the untinted layer and invert it onto the green.  Spread with remaining apricot preserves.  Remove the parchment from the red layer and invert it onto the untinted layer.
  10. In a small saucepan, heat the chocolate with the shortening over low heat until just melted.  Remove from the heat and stir until fully incorporated.
  11. Spread the melted chocolate mixture on the top of the red layer and let the excess drip down the sides.  Using an offset spatula, cover the top and sides with an even layer of chocolate.  Refrigerate until firm, at least an hour.
  12. To serve, with a serrated knife, cut stacked layers into six strips and then crosswise to create 36 even pieces.

Buon Appetito!