Friday, April 30, 2010

Italian Seven Layer Almond Cookies

Italian Seven Layer Almond Cookies

I usually order my almond paste online when I will be making a large quanity of marzipan. This year I ordered 2 pounds of natural almond paste for my  Easter Hat cookies and marzipan carrots. Well imagine my surprise when I opened the container and the almond paste was brown instead of the creamy almond color. My first thought was the almond paste had spoiled and I checked the expiration date, which was still many months in the future. Upon closer inspection I could see the bits of the skins in it which turned it the brown color. I guess natural means the almond were not blanched to remove the skin prior to processing. The taste was the same, but the color was too dark to make the marzipan because it was going to be covered with a pastel fondant, and I didn't want the brown to show through.
Since I had all that almond paste it was the perfect time to try something new. After some recipe browsing, my first choice was these Seven Layer Italian cookies. Traditionally the layers are colored red, white and green, but since I had natural almond paste, I didn't want to add unnatural color. These are easy cookies to make, but they do require 8 hour of chilling before finishing.

These bar cookies are the perfect balance of almond, apricot, and chocolate. The cake is soft and creamy but the chocolate layer gives it just the right amount of crunch. The food coloring is a fun touch that can be adapted to any occassion, or completely left out. You could also use several different preserves such as raspberry or strawberry to change the flavor combinations. I know these were a hit here because they disappeared so quickly, and now I have the perfect recipe to use up any leftover almond paste.

Seven Layer Almond cookies
via Epicurious

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  (I omitted 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

1. 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. I had more than one 9x13 so I did this for three pans because you have to make the three layers of the cake separately before you put them all together. It can still be done with one or two pans, there is just some waiting time in between.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Fold half of egg white mixture into almond mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.
5. Divide batter between the 3 pans, spread evenly.
         If using food color: Divide batter among 3 bowls. Stir red food coloring into one and green
          food coloring into another, leaving the third batch plain.  Bake in prepared pans.  If you only
          have one baking pan refirgerate that batter until ready to bake.

6. Bake layers 8 to 10 minutes, until just set. (It is important not to overcook. They’ll look like they’re not done, but a tester does come out clean.)

When all layers are cool, invert one layer (green) onto a parchment or wax-paper-lined large baking sheet. Discard paper from layer and spread with half of preserves. Invert a second layer (white) on top of the first layer, discarding paper. Spread with remaining preserves. Invert the thrid (red) layer on top of 2nd layer and discard wax or parchment 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 1/2 of 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 the 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. Melt remaining chocolate as above and spread chocolate over the top of the cake. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Cut lengthwise into 4 strips about 1 1/2 inches wide.  Cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide cookies.

printable recipe

These will be my entry for Foodie Friday