My mom knows the key to my heart and every time I come home to visit her in Boca it’s waiting there in the refrigerator; a plastic container of my favorite cookies of all time, rainbow cookies, purchased from Bagels With just down the street. They’re not really cookies, more like squares of almond-flavored sheet cake with multi-colored layers, slathered with jam, the whole thing covered in chocolate. I’ve blogged about rainbow cookies before (here and here) but weirdly, I’d never made them. Then, this past weekend, I was having some friends over for their birthdays (four friends, three birthdays) and figured it was a perfect opportunity to try my hand at rainbow confectionary. Only, instead of cakey cookies, I made a cakey cake.
When you’re a rainbow cookie fanatic, you meet other rainbow cookie fanatics. In my life, several have come out of the woodwork (on Instagram this weekend, my friend Jess revealed herself to be one); and it was long ago that my parents’ friends’ son Andrew confessed his love for rainbow cookies and told me about a rainbow cookie cake that he had at a birthday party. It must’ve been the memory of that conversation that gave me the idea.
Funny enough, I found a recipe just by Googling “Rainbow Cookie Cake.” It’s on a blog called Always Order Dessert and it seemed straightforward enough. You butter the pans, layer them with parchment, butter them again and coat with flour (this is a process I’ve gotten very good at, because there’s nothing worse than making a beautiful cake only to have it get stuck in the pan).
I tweaked one of her steps: she has you grate almond paste on a cheese grater. Instead, I used the technique from my favorite cake recipe of all time, The Almond Cake That Will Save Your Soul*, where you cream the butter and sugar and throw pieces of almond paste in and let it whip together for 5 minutes or so until the almond paste gets fully incorporated. (* It occurs to me now that both my favorite cookies and my favorite cake have strong almond flavors; maybe I just love almond-flavored things? I also love the toasted almond Good Humor pop and toasted almond gelato!)
Once you have your cake batter, you separate it into three bowls and that’s when the real fun begins.
Making rainbow cookie cake is similar to making red velvet cake in that to make it, you have to be very comfortable using (and eating) food coloring. I’m OK with it.
If you buy a food coloring set of four little bottles, you’ll discover that each little bottle contains the precise amount you need to color that portion of the cake (1 1/2 teaspoons). So, dump all of the green into one of the bowls:
Stir it all around and voila: you have your green layer.
Continue with the other colors and the other bowls (you won’t be using your blue bottle so save that for your Marge Simpsons hairdo on Halloween). And there you have it, three bowls, three colors.
My friend Jeffery Self cracked me up because I posted that picture on Instagram and said, “You’ll never guess what I’m making” and he wrote back, “The food from Hook?” (Which, if you’ve ever seen Hook, is totally on-point.)
Into the cake pans the batter goes:
Then it bakes for 20 to 25 minutes at 350 and you’re ready to rock n’ roll.
Then, when the cakes are cool, take out the red layer, pull off the parchment, and place it on a cake stand. Slather it with seedless raspberry jam.
Then top with the yellow layer and slather that with apricot jam:
Finally, the green layer:
Now, I did make a mistake making this cake and it’s time to tell you about it. The final step is to pour chocolate ganache all over the cake (see lead photo) and then to spread it around with an offset spatula. When doing something like this, it is wise to tuck pieces of parchment paper underneath the cake so that chocolate doesn’t get all over the stand; instead, it falls on the parchment, then you yank it away and everything looks pretty.
That didn’t happen for me. I made the ganache by heating cream and pouring it over chocolate chips, then whisking:
When it was room temperature, I poured it on to the cake and that’s when things got messy. I did the best job I could wiping chocolate off the cake stand with a wet paper towel, but then it got all over my sink and my dishwasher… again, these are the kinds of things more polished food bloggers don’t tell you about. But I’m telling you, so you can learn from my mistake.
The truth is, none of that mattered…because what I’d created was a beautiful, giant structure covered with chocolate hiding a multi-colored surprise within. So while the birthday crew enjoyed their baked ziti (that’s Sebastian on the left, Tom (whose birthday it was not), Craig, Price, and our beloved neighbor Kyle):
They all went nuts for the shiny chocolate cake that came out with three candles in it afterwards:
And you should’ve seen their delight when I cut into it and revealed the colorful layers. I mean, for serious, who wouldn’t want a slice of this?
OK, a prettier picture to end the post:
It’s an absolute fact that rainbow cookies and rainbow cookie cake are the desserts of the gods. You can keep your red velvet; if I’m going to poison myself and my dinner guests with food coloring, I want to taste the rainbow. Anything else just isn’t worth it.
Recipe: Rainbow Cookie Cake
Summary: Adapted from Alejandra Ramos of Always Order Dessert
3 sticks butter softened, plus more for buttering the pans
1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
12 ounces almond paste (that’s almost two tubes; make sure it’s soft at the store… give it a squeeze)
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure almond extract
1 cup milk
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons red food coloring
1 1/2 teaspoons green food coloring
1 1/2 teaspoons yellow food coloring
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
1/4 cup apricot preserves
1 cup heavy cream
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
Start by buttering three 9-inch cake pans with softened butter. Cut parchment circles out to line the bottoms (there’s a trick to that), butter those, then spoon in flour into one pan. Hit it all around and knock it into the next pan, continuing on to the third pan until all three pans are buttered, floured, and ready for battle.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In the base of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Tear open the almond paste tube and start throwing in little pieces as the mixer whirs. Keep going until you’ve used all 12 ounces of almond paste and allow that to work into the butter and sugar for another 5 minutes. When the mixture looks smooth and you don’t see any lumps, start adding the eggs, one at a time. Also add the almond extract, then the milk. (Note: at this point, the mixture might look broken. Don’t worry about it.)
Add your dry ingredients–the flour, baking powder, and salt–and mix just until incorporated. Separate the mixture into three bowls and color each bowl with food coloring, red, yellow, and green. (Use a rubber spatula to incorporate.) Pour the three mixtures into your three prepped cake pans and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.
Allow the cakes to cool completely. Then take the red out first, peel off the parchment, and put it onto a cake stand that’s also lined with parchment pieces (see essay above for why). Slather on the seedless raspberry jam so it goes right to the edges; top with the yellow layer and slather that with the apricot jam. Top with the green layer.
Heat the cream in a pot until bubbles form around the edges and pour over the chocolate chips. Let sit for 15 seconds then whisk vigorously until you have a smooth mixture. Allow to come to room temperature, then pour all over the cake. Spread around with an offset spatula and if big globs of chocolate fall on the cake stand, don’t worry about it—you’ve lined it with parchment. When you’re done, yank the parchment away and behold your beautiful cake.
Allow the chocolate to set for an hour or two, then it’s ready to serve. (I like it even better the next day, if you refrigerate it, the chocolate gets really nice and thick.) Happy rainbow cookie cake eating.