Italian rainbow cookies are a common East Coast treat and are made with colorful layers of almond cake, jam, and chocolate to represent the Italian flag. This particular version is made with different colors to celebrate Halloween, and uses extra Land O Lakes® Unsalted Butter from my sponsor to make the cake even more moist and flavorful—jump to the recipe! As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting the sponsors that keep Hummingbird High up and running!
Best Halloween Candy
I usually post a Halloween recipe well in advance of the day itself, but this year I’ve been a little busy. My new cookbook, Weeknight Baking, came out this past Tuesday! I can hardly believe it—I’ve been working on it since 2017! It’s been really awesome seeing folks bake recipes from the book and some of my favorite magazines and publications recommend the book, too.
Personally, I celebrated the book quietly and took out some of my closest friends—Carroll and Sze Wa, both of whom helped a LOT with the editing process for the book—to a burgers-and-beer dinner at a dive bar. It was the perfect opportunity to show off our Halloween costume, too. Being Asian ladies, we went as the three sisters from the book series/movie where that girl accidentally sends love letters to all her crushes:
While we were planning our Halloween costume, we got into a passionate discussion about which candy was THE BEST Halloween candy. This year, it’s Sze Wa’s first time handing out candy in her neighborhood, and she admitted to buying bags of candy corn for the occasion. I was aghast—candy corn was THE WORST kind of candy you could hand out! I heatedly argued that I wasn’t even sure WHAT the flavor of candy corn was (or what it was trying to be—certainly not corn, right?). Carroll came to Sze Wa’s defense, saying that she loved candy corn for the nostalgia factor. According to her, it wasn’t Halloween without seeing candy corn’s distinct yellow, orange, and white stripes.
Carroll’s comment got me thinking. She did have a point about candy corn being pretty cute. I was wondering if I could apply the things that she liked about candy corn—the nostalgia, the cute color scheme—to another dessert to make it Halloween-themed.
Italian Rainbow Cookies
Truth be told, I’d been wanting to make Italian rainbow cookies for some time now. When I lived on the East Coast, Italian rainbow cookies were seemingly available at every bodega and deli. But out in Portland, I never saw the cookies anywhere! It must be one of those East Coast versus West Coast things (like how you can’t really get good bagels out here either). I missed being able to go down to the corner store and easily pick up an Italian rainbow cookie.
If you’re unfamiliar with Italian rainbow cookies, you’re in for a treat. The cookies are made of three cake layers, each dyed a color of the Italian flag (red, white, and green). The layers are then held together with a thin layer of apricot jam and topped off with chocolate. The cookies are super moist and light, making them the perfect afternoon snack.
Candy Corn Cookies
Italian rainbow cookies seemed like the perfect recipe to make Halloween-themed; instead of dyeing the cakes the color of the Italian flag, I decided to dye them orange, white, and yellow as an homage to candy corn. Additionally, I flavored each color with a different extract, too—for my cookies, I used orange blossom water for the orange layer, almond extract for the white layer, and lemon extract for the yellow layer.
However, after researching Italian rainbow cookie recipes, I found that many of them were on the more complicated side of things. Many recipes instructed bakers to make a genoise-type sponge, requiring the baker to fold lots of ingredients into a delicate egg white mixture that easily deflated if overmixed. To avoid the drama, I decided to make the layers with a more traditional cake base. The cake base allowed me to use lots of Land O Lakes® Unsalted Butter, which really helped bring richness to the delicate almond, lemon, and orange blossom flavors of each layer. Be sure to read my tips below on how to make the best Italian rainbow candy corn cookies!
Best Italian Rainbow Cookie Recipe Tips
- Although this cookie recipe skips the folding method, it’s still a fairly time-consuming and equipment-heavy recipe (see my next note). You’ll need to bake the three different layers and wait for them to cool before assembling the cookies. After assembling the cookies, you’ll need to chill them in the fridge for an hour to get them to hold their layered shape. Plan accordingly!
- To make the very best cookies, it’s worth investing in some special equipment. You’ll need at least three 8-inch square cake pans and an oven that can fit all three pans at once, lol. If you don’t have enough pans, don’t worry about it—you can bake each layer one at a time, washing out the pan after every round. It just takes longer that way. For the cutest and most professional-looking cookies, it’s worth pulling out a food scale and measuring out the batter to divide it evenly among the pans. I’ve included instructions with exact weights on how to do so. It’ll seem like there’s not enough batter for each pan, but trust me, that’s normal—Italian rainbow cookie layers are traditionally very thin. Don’t panic – you got this!
Candy Corn Cookie Recipes
- 1 ½ sticks 6 ounces Land O Lakes® Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
- ¾ cup 5.25 ounces granulated sugar
- ½ cup 5 ounces crumbled almond paste
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 3 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 ½ cups 6.75 ounces all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon extract
- ¼ teaspoon yellow food coloring
- 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
- ¼ teaspoon orange food coloring
- ½ cup 6 ounces apricot jam, divided into two ¼ cup portions
- Position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 (F). Lightly coat three 8-inch square pans (see baker’s notes) with cooking spray and line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides of the pan. Spray the parchment paper, too.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine Land O Lakes® Unsalted Butter, sugar, almond paste, and vegetable oil. Beat on medium until combined and fluffy, 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, only adding the next egg when the first one is fully incorporated. Stop the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the bottom and side of the bowl. With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour and salt until just combined.
- Divide the batter evenly among three bowls, using a digital scale to weigh out around 9 ounces of batter per bowl. Use a rubber spatula to mix the almond extract into the first bowl of batter and pour into the prepared cake pan, using an offset spatula to spread the batter evenly across the pan and smooth the top. Mix the lemon extract and yellow food coloring into the second bowl of batter and pour into a second cake pan, using an offset spatula to spread the batter evenly across the pan and smooth the top. Mix the orange blossom water and orange food coloring into the last bowl of batter and pour into the final cake pan, using an offset spatula to spread the batter evenly across the pan and smooth the top.
- Place two cake pans on the upper third rack of the oven and the third cake pan on the lower third rack. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the pans on the upper third rack to the bottom third rack and vice versa, about halfway through the baking time. The cakes are done when a skewer inserted into the center of each comes out with few crumbs attached and the top of each cake springs back when gently pressed. Cool the cakes completely in their pans on a wire rack.
- Remove the white cake from its pan by turning it upside down onto a chopping board. Peel off and discard the parchment paper. Use an offset spatula to spread half of the jam evenly over the top. Remove the orange cake from its pan by turning it upside down onto a chopping board. Peel off and discard the parchment paper. Carefully layer the orange cake on top of the jam-covered white cake. Use an offset spatula to spread the remaining half of the jam evenly over the top. Remove the yellow cake from its pan by turning it upside down onto a chopping board. Peel off and discard the parchment paper. Carefully layer the yellow cake on top of the jam-covered orange cake. Press down on top of the yellow cake to adhere the layers and wrap tightly in plastic wrap; chill for at least 1 hour.
- To make the cookies, trim about ½ inch on each side of the square. Use a serrated knife to cut the cake crosswise into 1 ½-inch-wide strips. Cut the strips crosswise into ¾-inch-thick pieces.