Best Recipe for Italian Ribbon Cookies (aka Neapolitan Slices) - Delishably - Food and Drink
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Best Recipe for Italian Ribbon Cookies (aka Neapolitan Slices)

Margaret has a passion for cooking, baking, and creating recipes that satisfy her cravings for delicious and indulgent food.

These traditional Italian ribbon cookies are the perfect holiday cookie recipe.

These traditional Italian ribbon cookies are the perfect holiday cookie recipe.

An Italian Treat of Many Names

Italian ribbon cookies, rainbow cookies, Venetians, Neapolitan slices . . . whatever you call them, these delicious holiday treats are impressive and taste fabulous!

Imagine three thin layers of moist, rich almond cake tinted the colors of the Italian flag, stacked with a jam filling, and coated in semisweet chocolate. You've probably seen them in fancy bakeries, where they cost a pretty penny and fly off the shelves as soon as they're put out. They're especially popular around Christmas because of the festive colors.

A Family Christmas Tradition

This recipe has been a traditional part of my family's Christmas cookie assortment for more than 40 years, along with my grandmother's amazing rugelach cookies.

Originally, the recipe came from Party Cookies Only, a little known but wonderful cookbook published in 1972 to benefit a nonprofit environmental group called GASP (Group Against Smog and Pollution), thanks to the sponsorship of the H. J. Heinz Company. It was written by GASP member Jeannette Widom, who was an Allegheny County Fair Champion in Baking for many years. I have made most of the cookie recipes and they're all superb, but the Neapolitan Slices recipe is my favorite. It's also the recipe most often requested by the recipients of my homemade assorted holiday cookies.

Sadly, the cookbook is long since out of print, and the recipe is too good to be lost to time. So I've decided to share it, using my own instructions that include my helpful tips based on years of personal experience baking this recipe.

Use Gel or Paste Food Color for Best Results

I highly recommend using gel or paste food color to tint the batter for these cookies (and any other baking recipes). For many years, I used the same grocery store liquid food coloring my mother and grandmother had used. It wasn't until my sister, a talented home baker, told me about the advantages of the gel paste type that I finally tried it. What a difference!

The color of tinted batter or frosting is far superior to what liquid food coloring produces. You need only a tiny amount (I usually just dip the tip of a toothpick into the gel paste to pick up the right amount of color) compared to the amount of liquid food coloring needed to create the same shade. That means you can you get a very bright or dark shade without thinning out your batter or frosting, as would happen with with liquid coloring. It also means that even a small bottle lasts for a very long time. I particularly like Americolor gel paste food color because, unlike some other brands, it doesn't affect the taste of the finished cookies, cakes, icing, etc.

Start Making These Cookies at Least Three Days Ahead

These delicious treats are not difficult to make, but you'll need to make them over two days because the stacked almond cake layers need to be refrigerated overnight before coating with melted chocolate. They also taste significantly better if you let them sit for at least a day at room temperature in an airtight container. So it's best to start making these three days before you plan to serve them.

Italian Ribbon Cookies Recipe

Serving size: 1 cookie (although no one can stop at just one!)

Yield: Makes 8 dozen cookies

Equipment Needed

  • 3 half-sheet (shallow 9"x13") baking pans or rimmed baking sheets or 3 (9"x12") jelly roll pans
  • Electric mixer with two large mixing bowls, or an electric mixer with one mixing bowl plus an electric hand mixer and a medium-size mixing bowl
  • 4 large wire cooling racks
  • Large cutting board (at least 10"x14")
  • Another large, heavy cutting board, or a large flat baking pan and heavy books or cans of food to weight it down
  • Long, sharp knife
  • Wax paper
  • Plastic wrap
  • Offset spatula (used for icing cakes)

Ingredients

For the cake layers:

  • 8 oz. almond paste (NOT marzipan)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs, yolks and whites separated, room temperature
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • Red food coloring, preferably gel or paste
  • Green food coloring, preferably gel or paste

For the filling:

  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup seedless red raspberry jam, or warmed and strained apricot jam

For the chocolate coating:

  • 6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped, or semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable shortening

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease three shallow 9"x13" baker's half-sheet pans, line them with parchment paper, and grease the parchment paper.
  2. Crumble the almond paste in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Add the butter, sugar and egg yolks and beat on medium sped until light, scraping the bowl once or twice as needed. Stir in the flour just until well combined (do not beat).
  3. In another mixing bowl, beat the egg whites to the soft peak stage; i.e., soft peaks form when the beaters are raised slowly. This can be done with the same electric mixer you used for the almond paste mixture if you have an extra mixing bowl for it (just wash and dry the beaters well), or you can use an electric hand mixer or whisk and a medium-size mixing bowl. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter until thoroughly blended.
  4. Remove one-third of the batter (approximately 1 1/2 cups), put it in a medium bowl and blend in red food coloring a very small amount at a time to tint the batter a pretty shade of pink. (I prefer a fairly pale pink, but you can tint it whatever shade of pink you prefer.) Scrape the pink tinted batter into one of the prepared pans and spread it evenly all the way to the corners. Repeat with another third of the batter, tinting this portion an attractive green shade and spreading it evenly in another of the prepared pan. Leave the remaining third of the batter untinted and spread it evenly in the third pan.
  5. Bake the layers just until the edges are golden brown (approximately 10-12 minutes). Do not overbake; the cake layers will be too dry! Invert the layers on large wire racks. Lift off each pan, carefully peel off the parchment, and turn the cake layer right side up to cool on another rack. (This is why you need 4 cooling racks for 3 cake layers.)
  6. When the cake layers have cooled completely, place the green cake layer on the cutting board and spread the top with half the seedless raspberry jam. (I like to warm the jam slightly in a small saucepan and stir it to thin it out a bit; I find that it makes spreading the jam easier.) Stack the untinted cake layer on top, spread it with the remaining jam and top the stack with the pink cake layer.
  7. Cover the cake layers with plastic wrap and weight them down with a large, heavy cutting board (I've also used a large, flat pan topped with some books or cans of food spread out evenly over the surface of the pan).Refrigerate the weighted, plastic wrapped cake overnight.
  8. The next day, prepare the chocolate coating by melting the chocolate bits and shortening in the top of a small double boiler (or in a bowl set on top of a saucepan half-filled with hot water; the water should NOT touch the bottom of the mixing bowl). Stir the coating until very smooth. I've also made the coating successfully by microwaving the chocolate bits and shortening in a microwave-safe bowl at 50% power for 90 seconds, stirring well, and then heating at 50% for another 30 seconds and stirring well again, and repeating as needed just until the chocolate is fully melted. Don't be tempted to rush the process or you risk scorching the chocolate and having to start from scratch with more chocolate and shortening.
  9. Place two cooling racks over sheets of wax paper. Use a long, thin, sharp knife to cut the cake into four equal strips (roughly 2 1/4"x13" each). Place two cake strips on each cooling rack, spacing them well apart. Using a large offset spatula (the type used for frosting cakes), coat the top and sides of each strip with the chocolate coating. (If you prefer, you can coat just the tops of the cake strips; both are traditional.) Allow the chocolate coating to dry completely.
  10. Lift the layered cake strips onto the cutting board and cut each strip into 1/2" slices with a thin, sharp knife. Place the cookies in a plastic food storage container (I use a freezer storage container, which tends to be sturdier and more air-tight) in single layers, separated by cut-to-fit sheets of wax paper) and allow them to sit at room temperature for at least one day before serving. I like to freeze some so I have a delicious sweet treat to serve unexpected guests during the holidays. The cookies defrost quickly.

Like This Recipe for Tricolor Italian Rainbow Cookies? Please Rate It!

These Cookies Freeze Beautifully

I usually make a big batch, save some to eat over the next few days, and freeze the rest. That way, if company drops in unexpectedly, especially over the holidays, I can serve them an elegant and delicious sweet treat with little or no notice.

Place the cookies into freezer containers, separating each layer with a sheet of freezer paper. It's better to put them in many smaller containers than in fewer, larger ones, so that when you remove only some of the cookies, there will be less air in the container when you put the rest back in the freezer.

When you're ready to serve them, take out as many of the frozen cookies as you want and place them, slightly separated, in a single layer on a serving plate. Cover them lightly with plastic wrap and let them defrost at room temperature for 1/2 hour.

Questions & Answers

Question: How do I cut these cookies without having the chocolate coating crack?

Answer: The chocolate coating contains vegetable shortening that will help prevent cracking to a certain extent. You need to cut the cookies as soon as the melted chocolate has cooled and set. As long as the kitchen isn't too cold, the coating shouldn't crack when you cut it. You can refrigerate or freeze the cookies after they have been cut, but don't do so before they have been cut.

Question: Is there chocolate on the bottom of youR Italian Ribbon cookies?

Answer: No, the chocolate coating is only on the top and sides.

© 2013 Margaret Schindel

Have you ever made or tasted Italian ribbon cookies? If not, would you like to try?

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 16, 2019:

You're very welcome! I've tried many other recipes and this one comes the closest producing to the authentic Italian treats we used to buy at Ferrara's Bakery in Manhattan when I was growing up.

Sheila Netherland on December 16, 2019:

I love these cookies and I'm so glad tou shared the recipe...you rock....thank you

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on November 01, 2018:

Thanks so much, Cynthia - they really are beautiful, aren't they? And the red and green layers make them perfect for Christmas. I hope you get a chance to try them - they taste even better than they look! Please note that the layers should be thinner than those shown in the photo. Enjoy!

Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on November 01, 2018:

Such beautiful cookies! They would be perfect to add to my line-up of Christmas cookies. Actually, I am sure they would end up being a holiday favorite.

Liza from USA on September 27, 2018:

Wow, I never knew about this beautiful rainbow cookies. Seems like it perfect for the holiday season which is coming up soon. I'd love to try making this! Thanks for the recipe.

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 12, 2017:

Hi Barbara, the batter SHOULD be very thin, because you're sandwiching together three layers. Have you baked the cakes yet? They should rise in the oven.

My assembled rainbow cookies - three layers, jam filling and melted chocolate "icing" - usually are only about 3/4" tall. (The photo isn't mine; those rainbow cookies are thicker than mine.) Hope that helps!

Barbara on December 12, 2017:

I just made these, followed the recipe EXACTLY and did not have enough batter to cover the three 9x13 pans. I had to spread the batter so thin they won’t turn out looking like yours. Rather they will look like three very skinny cookies sandwiched together. Do you really get enough batter to make three 9x13 flat cakes?

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on July 23, 2015:

Hi, Miss Elf! So lovely to see you here. Thanks for your delightful comment about my Italian Ribbon Cookies recipe. These cookies are more time consuming than the usual kind that you drop from a spoon or cut into bars, but they are SO worth it! I usually bake the almond cake layers one day and then fill and ice them the next day. They seem to disappear the minute I finish cutting them. ;) I promise you that if you make a batch, your relatives and friends will insist that you keep making them every year at the holidays! :)

Wednesday-Elf from Savannah, Georgia on July 23, 2015:

Wow - these look fantastically delicious! I've never had Italian Ribbon Cookies, but sure would like to try them. Could I get on your holiday cookie list for your famous homemade assorted holiday cookies? Just kidding. May have to give this recipe a try and have my relatives & friends drooling over them come holiday time! :-)

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 09, 2014:

Thanks, Chelsey! I'm confident that you'll love them.

Chelsey from Ottawa, Ontario on December 09, 2014:

Looks awesome. I want to try this for the holidays!

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 08, 2014:

@peachpurple, yes, rainbow cookies are very popular sweets in many parts of the world. Thank you for teaching me another name for them. :)

peachy from Home Sweet Home on December 08, 2014:

this rainbow cookies are similar to our local rainbow cakes too, kuih lapis

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on February 13, 2014:

@paulahite: Thanks so much for letting me know! I'm off to check it out now. :)

Paula Hite from Virginia on February 13, 2014:

Love this! Its also featured on "Whats Cooking at Squidoo"'s Google+ page!

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on January 30, 2014:

@Bonfire Designs: I've never been called a rainbow cookie hero before... I love it! So glad you enjoyed the recipe. Just wait until you taste them!

Bonfire Designs on January 30, 2014:

Rainbow Cookies!! A family favorite but I buy them and never even thought of baking them myself - you are my new rainbow cookie hero!

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on January 14, 2014:

@Jerzimom: Thanks, Cheryl! They're really amazing. :)

Cheryl Fay Mikesell from Mondovi, WI on January 14, 2014:

I've never had these but they sound delicious!

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 25, 2013:

@burntchestnut: Thanks! I hope you get a chance to try the recipe. These really are fantastic. :)

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 25, 2013:

@smine27: Thank you so much, Shinichi! I'm grateful for your wonderful compliment. Enjoy! :)

burntchestnut on December 25, 2013:

I'd like to try making these.

Shinichi Mine from Tokyo, Japan on December 24, 2013:

Gosh I think this could be my favorite dessert recipe of the year!

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 22, 2013:

@CrazyHomemaker: My pleasure! I can't wait to hear how you and your family like them. Enjoy! :)

CrazyHomemaker on December 22, 2013:

Never had them or made them. I'm going to try this one! Thanks for sharing this recipe.

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 19, 2013:

@mommyplus3kids: You're very welcome. I'm so glad you'll be making them. They're amazing! :)

mommyplus3kids on December 18, 2013:

Never made them. Will absolutely try them. Thanks for sharing.

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 16, 2013:

@tammywilliams09: Thank YOU, Tammy, for your lovely feedback! I'm so glad you enjoyed the recipe, my discovery of these wonderful Italian Ribbon Cookies at Ferrara Bakery in New York City's Little Italy, and the many names by which they are called. Happy holidays!

tammywilliams09 on December 16, 2013:

Those look delicious! Thanks for sharing your story about visiting the Ferrara Bakery. I did not know the cookies had so many names. The next time I see any of those names then I will understand what they mean.

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 16, 2013:

@Max Globe: Max, I have a sweet tooth, too, and I promise that if you make these scrumptious cookies you will love them!

Max Globe on December 16, 2013:

The cookies remind me traffic lights, but having a sweet tooth, I would like to taste them!

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 15, 2013:

@SheGetsCreative: I hope you do get a chance to bake up a batch from this wonderful recipe. You'll be in rainbow cookie heaven! :)

Angela F from Seattle, WA on December 14, 2013:

Haven't made them...yet!

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 14, 2013:

@PaigSr: Thanks for the laugh! :) I guess the only way out of your dilemma will be to bake a batch for yourself. When you do, I guarantee you'll be delighted with the results!

PaigSr from State of Confusion on December 14, 2013:

Just looking at the picture I will be hinting to the wife on this one. OK so I am the baker in the house and she is the cook. How do I hint to myself?

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 11, 2013:

@Zodiacimmortal: Hi, thanks for visiting! Your traffic light cookie idea sounds quite tasty, however it would be a completely different cookie than these traditional Italian Rainbow Cookies. The almond paste is a key ingredient in the cake layers and is essential to creating the dense, moist texture as well as the authentic almond flavor of the cake. The filling is jam, rather than almond paste. And the chocolate coating is an essential part of the overall taste. So although angel food cake layers flavored with some combination of red velvet, mint, pistachio, citrus and/or vanilla flavorings and sandwiched together with almond paste sounds yummy, despite the possible similarity in appearance, both the taste and texture would be completely different from these traditional Italian cookies. I hope you enjoy your own traffic light cookie idea, and maybe you will try these traditional Italian Rainbow Cookies some time to taste the difference for yourself. Happy baking! :)

Kim from Yonkers, NY on December 11, 2013:

I don't think I commented on your 'Traffic light' cookies yet .. (and if I did sorry for a possivle repeat) anyway I've always called them traffic light cookies & remember when I was little these usually had almond paste between them and they were so good. Now I forget what it is they use, they are still good but not as satisfying, to me anyway I hear they are very expensive to make and was thinking the other day to make things easier.. why not just use some angel food cake mix, food coloring & flavoring (maybe make each layer a different flavor, like one can be red velvet The green a mint or pastachio flavor & the yellow a citrus or vanilla flavor (with this idea I think it would be best to have chocolate between each layer but I want to make my own just so I can have the almond paste between!

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 08, 2013:

@chezchazz: Hi Chazz - yes, these cookies have been around practically forever, and as I mentioned there are lots of recipes for them, all with only slight differences. I've been baking this recipe for more than 40 years and it just wouldn't be Christmas without them! :)

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 08, 2013:

@esmonaco: My pleasure! As I said, I've been baking these for more than 40 years and they're part of the holidays for me. Enjoy the recipe! :)

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 08, 2013:

@Phoebs78: Thanks, Phoebs! They're even prettier (and certainly more luscious) in person, and very festive for the holidays, indeed. :)

Chazz from New York on December 08, 2013:

Yup. I posted my recipe for these on 10/16/2010. www.squidoo.com/italian-bakery-tri-color-venetian-neopolitan-cookies-recipe.

Eugene Samuel Monaco from Lakewood New York on December 08, 2013:

Hey Thanks for the recipe, I haven't had these for years, I do remember them as my grandmother would make them around the Holidays.

Phoebs78 on December 08, 2013:

These look so pretty :) Perfect for the holidays.

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 07, 2013:

@LiteraryMind: Thanks! Now you can bake them yourself, too. :D

Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on December 07, 2013:

I love these. They are one of the first cookies I grab out of an Italian cookie assortment plate.

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 07, 2013:

@sousababy: Thanks, Rose! These actually aren't difficult to make, just a bit time-consuming. Fortunately you can make them in stages. Then again, better yet to have your ma-servant bring them to you, preferably with a nice, tall glass of cold milk (or a cup of hot tea, coffee or cocoa, whatever your pleasure). I've never had maple cream cookies before - they sound yummy! :)

sousababy on December 06, 2013:

I'm not talented enough to attempt these (but my man-servant probably is). They look incredible and delicious. My favorite holiday cookie is probably maple cream.

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 06, 2013:

@Susan Zutautas: Thanks so much, Susan! As I said, I've been making these for more than 40 years and I can't imagine a more scrumptious cookie...although My Grandmother's Amazing Rugelach Recipe are awesome, too - just totally different...which is why I have to make both for the holidays! :D

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on December 06, 2013:

Adding your recipe for Italian Ribbon Cookies to my must make for Christmas list. They looks delicious!

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 06, 2013:

@marsha32: Thanks so much, Marsha! These scrumptious and unusual cookies really are a special treat. Why not try baking a batch this holiday? :)

marsha32 on December 06, 2013:

I'm with Graceonline. Anyone who gets to eat these sure is lucky! That picture is so big and really makes me hungry.

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 06, 2013:

@ecogranny: Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Kathryn! When I bake these around the holidays I always try to freeze a bunch of them so I can stretch out the enjoyment, but even so (and despite the fact that the recipe makes 8 dozen cookies), they never seem to last long enough. We're always sad when we finally treat ourselves to the last of the batch. Actually, they're a bit time consuming to make, but there's nothing difficult about the recipe. And you can make it in stages at your own pace. You can even bake the cakes well in advance, stack them with jam, wrap them in plastic, weight them down in the fridge overnight and then freeze them until you're ready to coat them in chocolate and slice them. Holiday baking can be really hectic, so I often do just that. Enjoy!

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 06, 2013:

@Diana Wenzel: I'd be up for a holiday cookie swap with a few other lensmaster friends if we could only find a mutually convenient spot to meet. In the interim, I fear you'll have to settle for baking a batch of them yourself with this awesome recipe. Enjoy!

Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on December 06, 2013:

Can you just email me a plate of those please? Seriously, I admire anyone who will make such a delicate and complicated pastry. They look absolutely fabulous. Wonderful story and recipe!

Renaissance Woman from Colorado on December 06, 2013:

When are you inviting us all over for high tea featuring these ribbon cookies? Such a feast for the eyes. I'm thinking, though, that I'd like to take that feast one step farther.

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 06, 2013:

@Ruthi: Thanks so much for the lovely compliment, Ruthi! They really are amazing cookies and, while time consuming, totally worth the effort for the scrumptious results. :)

Ruthi on December 06, 2013:

Your photo has me wanting to reach out and grab one of these delicious cookies. (I did grab but the computer screen got in my way!) These Italian Rainbow Cookies, by any name, should be on the fine dining dessert cart.

Margaret Schindel (author) from Massachusetts on December 06, 2013:

@Brite-Ideas: Thanks so much for your lovely comment! I promise you these are well worth the effort. Enjoy!

Barbara Tremblay Cipak from Toronto, Canada on December 06, 2013:

They sound like an amazing recipe - If I feel like tackling this, I may add it to my Christmas baking this year - It's a very pretty looking dish too :)