I’d like to make a confession. I did not buy a Christmas tree this year. There. I said it.
Since I moved to Boston nearly a decade ago, I’ve only missed this one other time. And it was because I was in a deep, dark drift in a year-long residency on my way to becoming a registered dietitian. At the time, I was pretty much living in a hospital basement. Never seeing daylight. And spending time alongside instant read thermometers, a temperamental chef, and very large kitchen kettles.
Don’t be fooled. This was not romantic.
This year, I just feel tired. Like an it feels hard to hold my bones up kind of tired. So I decided to take a one-year evergreen hiatus. It feels good to type this.
This is not to say I’ve gone Grinchy on you. I was still able to enjoy the annual Christmas cookie conclave (years one and two here). The event is my gustatory equivalent of caroling, except that it involves breaking champagne flutes, eating raw cookie dough, and Harry Connick Jr.
My friend, Justin, went so far as to claim this year “the year of the nut.” And there were four of them. Baking a clatter of non-traditional, very un-heteronormative Christmas cookies. Nary a gingerbread man in sight.
We baked molasses cookies. Dark chocolate bark with pistachios, rose petals, and a smidge too much sea salt. Chocolate shortbreads studded with (more) pistachios.
Peanut butter kisses made with bourbon—instead of milk—because my friend Theresa didn’t have milk. (Now bourbon, bourbon she had in spades.) Chai almond wedding cookies.
Plus those Italian rainbow cookies made with almond paste, but colored pink and blue (which turned a grayish purple in the oven). Because I am clinging to Christmas postmodernism in light of my tree laziness this year.
Let’s talk about these rainbow numbers (which I am rebranding as “striped” here and now). They are the kind of cookie that’s—quite frankly—a huge pain in the ass to make. They require three square baking pans (or “pans” fashioned out of foil, if you don’t fully read through the recipe instructions). And the washing of ample bowls.
But they get better and better the longer they sit. Which, in my book, is a huge win. They also come in thick, rich, and gloriously chewy. And they’re slicked with the slightly bitter, gutsy chocolate from local hero, Taza.
The recipe is from one of my most favorite restaurants, Torrisi Italian Specialties. These boys do know their way around an Italian specialty or two.
The cookies are also easily tinted to your whims. Yes, Christmas is Wednesday. But color the stripes whatever shade you damn well please.
Striped Italian Cookies
bon appétit via Torrisi Italian Specialties
2 cups unsalted butter, softened and cubed (plus more for buttering the pan)
6 eggs, separated
1-1/3 cups sugar, divided
12 ounces almond paste, very roughly chopped
½ tsp kosher salt
2¾ cups plus 1 tbsp flour, sifted
2 colors of food coloring
¾ cups marmalade
4 to 5 ounces dark chocolate (preferably Taza chocolate Mexican disks, if available)
Set the oven to 350 degrees. Butter generously and line three 13 x 9 x 2 baking pans with foil, leaving overhang. (Don’t have three same-sized pans? The batter is pretty thick and you can fashion “baking pans” out of foil.)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the egg whites and whisk until soft peaks form. Slowly add 1/3 cup of sugar and whisk until stiff peaks form; transfer to a medium bowl, cover, and chill until needed.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the almond paste and remaining 1 cup sugar on medium low until well incorporated (this will take a few minutes); increase the speed slightly and gradually add the 2 cups butter; beat until fluffy. On medium low, beat in egg yolks, salt, and then the flour a third at a time. Fold in the egg whites in two additions.
Divide the batter into equal quantities among three bowls. Color two of the mixtures using food coloring (one color per bowl; you’ll need to use at least a tsp of coloring for each). Leave the third bowl plain. Spread each batter into its own prepared pan; smooth the tops and bake, rotating the pans half way through, until just set (about 10 to 15 minutes). Let cool in pans.
When ready to assemble, warm the marmalade so that it easily spreads. (If there’s a lot of thick orange peel chunks, you’ll want to strain them, but I did not need to do this with the brand I used.) On the cake layer that you will eventually want on top, spread half of the marmalade with a pastry brush. Grabbing the sides of the foil, lift the layer that you want in the middle of the cookie, invert it, and place it on top of the layer brushed with marmalade (making sure to line up the sides as best as you can.) Gently peel off the foil and then cover the middle layer with the remaining marmalade. Grabbing the sides of the foil of the third layer, gently lift it out of the pan, invert it, and place over the middle layer.
Cover the top completely with foil, top with a baking pan of similar size, and place a few canned goods in the pan to compress the layers. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours (or up to 1 day).
When ready to finish, remove the cans and pan and foil, and invert the cake onto a piece of parchment paper. Gently warm the chocolate. Spread half of the just melted chocolate on the top layer of the cake. Place in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Cover the chocolate layer with parchment paper and flip the cake; uncover and glaze with remaining chocolate (rewarm it slightly if the chocolate has started to thicken). Freeze for 10 more minutes. Then trim the edges so they are even and cut into 1½ inch squares. Store in an airtight container.
Makes roughly 50 cookies
-I provided a range for the chocolate because we needed just a little bit more to fully cover the cake. I wasn’t exact with the pan sizing though.
-I didn’t use a double boiler for the chocolate. I just warmed it in a saucepan on low and then let the remaining bits of chocolate melt off the heat. Feel free to make your life a little easier with this one.
-The plate shown features many of the aforementioned cookies. I couldn’t be trusted with them at home any longer, as my note indicates.