The Best Italian Ribbon Cookies Recipe
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. 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.
This recipe originally 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 because, unlike some other brands, it doesn't affect the taste of the finished cookies, cakes, icing, etc. Americolor gel paste food color
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
One serving = 1 cookie (although no one can stop at just one!)
Makes 8 dozen cookies
- Three half sheet (shallow 9" x 13") baking pans or rimmed baking sheets or three 9" x 12" 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
- Four large wire cooling racks
- Large cutting board, at least 10" x 14"
- Plastic wrap
- A second 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
- Offset spatula (used for icing cakes)
- 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 c. to 3/4 c. 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
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease three shallow 9" x 13" baker's half sheet pans, line them with parchment paper, and grease the parchment paper.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Bake the layers just until the edges are golden brown (approximately 10-12 minutes). Do not overbake - the cake layers will be 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 four cooling racks for 3 cake layers.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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" x 13" 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.
- 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.
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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.
© 2013 Margaret Schindel