Friday, December 24, 2010

Italian Seven-Layer Cookies

Merry Christmas Eve! I hope I have time to share one last recipe with you before Christmas. These are really worth the wait, and definitely some of the most festive ones that have exited my kitchen.

These seven-layer cookies are the last ones I’m making this season, but they were the first on my ‘must make’ list. They seem like such a nice change of pace from a traditional cookie, they have gotten rave reviews on the website where I acquired the recipe, and they’re just plain pretty to look at! I like having one ‘showpiece’ on the cookie plate because, let’s face it, even if the fruitcake is good, it still is a little bit like the ugly duckling on the table.

Aside from the almond paste and apricot preserves, I had everything I needed in my pantry to make these already. The almond paste shouldn’t be difficult to find, either, it was in the baking aisle of our local grocery store, right under the jars of mincemeat filling and canisters of marshmallow fluff.

With three layers of almond cake sandwiching apricot preserves, book-ended with a chocolate coating, these bars are more layer-cake or petit-four than cookie. They simple and straight forward to make, but the projected time required to make these beauties, 11 hours, can be a little intimidating. Most of the 11 hours is inactive time, so if you can find some patience, you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic, show-stopper of a treat. I actually find something strangely satisfying about spending a long time in the kitchen preparing only one thing. I can focus fully on one recipe, instead of multitasking between three of four, which I’ve done before, and requires a lot of effort to keep things situated.

I find myself constantly reaching in the container of these and pulling one out to munch on. They're bite sized, so they don't feel like a complete over-indulgence, but they are a step above most of the other treats I've made in terms of visual appeal and complexity of flavors.

I'm pretty sure I am going to need to make these every year now. And maybe just change the colors of the layers to make it more appropriate for other holidays throughout the year, because I'm not sure I can handle waiting eleven more months to have another one of these once this batch is gone!

Curious about what I’ve made already? Check out:
White Trash
Quick Mix Spritz Cookies
Peppermint Icicle Candy
Peppermint Icicle Candy
Peppermint Icicle Candy
Spiced Pecans and Pralines
Fresh orange Spritz Cookies
Ginger Molasses Cookies
Paper-Thin Sugar Cookies
Peppermint-Chocolate Fudge

Seven Layer Cookies
Gourmet 2005 and seen on Smitten Kitchen
yield: Makes about 5 dozen cookies
active time: 1 1/2 hr
total time: 11 hr

4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 (8-oz) can almond paste
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
25 drops red food coloring
25 drops green food coloring
1 (12-oz) jar apricot preserves, heated and strained
7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped

Special equipment: a heavy-duty stand mixer; a small offset spatula

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 1/4 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 3/4 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. Stir red food coloring into one and green food coloring into another, leaving the third batch plain. Set white batter aside. Chill green batter, covered. Pour red batter into prepared pan and spread evenly with offset spatula (layer will be about 1/4 inch thick).

Bake red layer 8 to 10 minutes, until just set. (It is important to undercook.)

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. Chill at least 8 hours.

Remove weight and plastic wrap. Bring layers to room temperature. 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.

Cut lengthwise into 4 strips. Cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide cookies.

Cooks' note: Cookies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment, in an airtight container at room temperature 2 weeks.

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