These gluten-free rainbow cookies are my take on a classic Italian-American treat. These bite-sized cakes are made up of thin layers of sponge cake topped with raspberry jam, apricot preserves, and melted chocolate.
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Rainbow cookies, also commonly known as tri-color cookies, first became a thing in Italian immigrants in New York. They were made to show patriotism and represent the Italian flag. Since then, they have become widely popular as Christmas cookies.
Believe it or not, these cookies are actually not cookies at all! They’re dense layers of almond sponge cake, jam, and chocolate cut into perfect tiny squares. The flavor combination is delicious, and the light texture of the cake just can’t be beaten.
Serving these for the holidays? Tri-color cookies make an excellent complement to our gluten-free cut-out sugar cookies on a Christmas cookie tray.
📖Why This Recipe Works
There are plenty of reasons this gluten-free rainbow cookie recipe just works!
- Made from tiny cakes. While these sweets are called cookies, they’re actually tiny pieces of cake! But since they’re bite-sized, they’re perfect for bringing to a holiday party.
- Thin layers. The ultra-thin layers of cake cook super quickly and compress so nicely to create the layered rainbow cake we’re looking for.
- Cornstarch when mixed with gluten-free flour makes the perfect cake flour.
- Whipped egg whites create the perfect light and spongy texture.
- Resting the batter. Once the batter is spread into the baking pans, you’ll let it rest for a quick 10 minutes before baking. This rehydrates the gluten-free flour which makes for the best texture.
Almond Paste - Almond paste is not the same as almond extract, Almond paste is made up of blanched almond flour, sugar and egg whites, and occasionally vanilla extract. Adding additional almond extract will cause the cake to taste fake.
Unsalted Butter - You can also use salted butter if that’s all you have, but you should avoid adding any extra salt.
Sugar - Give the cake just the right amount of sweetness.
Kosher Salt - Only add if you use unsalted butter. Otherwise cut the amount in
Eggs - You’ll need four large eggs, separated.
Flour - Use your favorite 1:1 gluten-free flour blend, just be sure it contains xanthan gum. If not, you will need to ¼ teaspoon.
Cornstarch - Cornstarch helps create a lighter texture in gluten-free cakes. If you don’t have any, you can swap it out for an equal amount of additional flour.
Food Coloring - You’ll need both red food coloring and green food coloring to color the cake. I recommend gel food coloring.
Jam - Classic rainbow cookies are layered with raspberry jam and apricot preserves. Be sure that whatever you choose is free of seeds or kernels.
Dark Semisweet Chocolate Chips - You can substitute ganache if you prefer but it is more work and not significantly different in taste in this recipe.
See the recipe card for exact quantities.
⏲️How to Make GF Rainbow Cookies
Start by preheating the oven to 350ºF. This recipe is not made on cookie sheets but in small jelly roll pans, also called quarter sheet pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a sheet of parchment paper and grease the bottom and sides of all three pans.
Next up: the cake! This recipe is so easy and makes a ton! Don’t forget to plan ahead and leave time for the cookies to chill after assembling.
Step 1- Make the Batter
In a large bowl, break the almond paste up with a fork or use your hands. Add in the butter, sugar, and egg yolks. Beat until the mixture becomes light and fluffy.
In a separate bowl, stir together the dry ingredients which are the flour, salt, and cornstarch. Slowly add the flour to the butter mixture.
In another clean bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold the whites into the dough, then mix until blended.
Step 2- Divide and Bake
Evenly divide the batter into three equal parts, then color one with red food coloring, one with green, and leave one as-is for your white layer. You can add more food coloring for a darker color if desired.
Spread each color into its own pan. Carefully spread out the batter, it might not reach all the edges of the pan. This is fine because you are going to trim the edges
Let the cake batter (i.e. cookie dough) rest for 10 minutes before placing it on the center rack of a preheated oven. Bake until the edges are light golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes, then turn over onto wire racks to cool completely.
Step 3- Assemble the Cookies
ay a piece of parchment paper onto a baking sheet. A larger half-sheet pan works best for the assembly.
First, lay down the green layer and spread that evenly with raspberry filling. Add on the white layer, then top that with apricot jam. Use a pastry brush to push the jams to all four corners of the cookie. Finish with the red layer.
Cover the cake with plastic wrap, then add a cutting board on top. Place something heavy on top of the cutting board, like a skillet or a few canned goods.
Chill the cookies in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours.
Step 4- Top and Cut
Remove the cookies from the fridge, the cake layers should have adhered together but still defined and visible.
Melt chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and stir every 30 seconds. Pour the melted chocolate over the chilled cookies.
The cookies need to be refrigerated a second time for at least 30 minutes to set the chocolate topping. Use an offset spatula to spread out the chocolate creating a swirled pattern across the top.
Use a sharp knife to trim the edges and cut the cookie into ½ to 1-inch strips. Cut each strip into 4-5 pieces, then enjoy or store.
This recipe yields approximately two dozen cookies, but you can get up to three dozen if cut smaller.
👩🏻🍳 Expert Tips
- You can use three pans or just one if that’s what you have. It may just take a little bit longer since you can only bake one layer at a time.
- Eggs separate easiest when cold but whip up faster at room temperature. Separate the eggs first and let them warm up while prepping your baking pans.
- Use a clean bowl and whisk to whip the eggs. You don’t want anything comprising the texture.
- Let the layers cool completely before assembling. If you try to assemble them while they’re still warm the cookies will break apart.
- Let the layers compress for at least 4 hours. Ideally, let it compress overnight. It needs plenty of time for the layers to really come together, so plan ahead.
- Warm the jam. I like to microwave the jam for 20 minutes or so to make spreading easier.
- To get clean slices, warm a sharp knife under warm water, dry it completely, then slice. Repeat between slices for the best results.
You can store these cookies in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
I recommend storing them with sheets of wax paper or parchment paper between layers to prevent sticking.
More Gluten-Free Christmas Cookies
💬Frequently Asked Questions
Italian rainbow cookies are sometimes referred to as Italian flag cookies, Napoleon cookies, Neapolitans, seven-layer cookies, seven-layer cake, tri-color cookies, or Venetian cookies.
Rainbow cookies may be named because of their colorful layers. But the colors of the layers have less to do with a rainbow and more to do with their origin!
These cookies were first made in Italian immigrant communities to show patriotism to Italy. They’re designed to resemble the colors of the Italian flag.
Rainbow cookies are made up of three layers of sponge cake filled with apricot and raspberry jam and topped with a layer of chocolate.
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Gluten-Free Rainbow Cookies
- Sheet pan quarter size
- 8 ounces almond paste
- 1 cup unsalted butter softened plus more for greasing the pans
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 large eggs separated, room temperature
- 1 ¾ cups gluten free flour blend
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt omit if using salted butter
- ¼ cup cornstarch or use ¼ cup extra GF flour
- 8 drops red food coloring
- 8 drops green food coloring
- ¼ cup seedless red raspberry jam
- ¼ cup apricot preserves
- 1 ½ cups Semi-sweet chocolate chips
- Preheat your oven to 350 F degrees. Grease the bottoms of 3 matching 13x9-in. baking pans (also called jelly roll pans) (or reuse 1 pan). Line the pans with parchment paper; grease the paper.
- In a large mixing bowl, break up the almond paste with a fork. Add the butter, sugar, and egg yolks. Beat on medium until light and fluffy, 5-7 minutes. Use the paddle attachment if using a stand mixer.8 ounces almond paste, 1 cup unsalted butter, 1 cup sugar, 4 large eggs
- Stir in flour, salt, and cornstarch together. Slowly add to the almond paste mixture1 ¾ cups gluten free flour blend, ¼ cup cornstarch, ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- In a clean bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Use clean beaters or whisk attachment. Gently fold into dough, mixing until thoroughly blended.
- Divide batter into 3 equal portions. Color 1 portion with red food coloring, 1 with green and leave the remaining portion to stay white. Spread each portion into the prepared pans, one for each color. Let the batter rest for 10 minutes.8 drops red food coloring, 8 drops green food coloring
- Bake until the edges are light golden brown, approximately 10 minutes. Cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then invert onto wire racks; remove the paper. Cool completely.
- Place a piece of parchment paper on a large baking sheet. Place the green layer on the paper. Spread evenly with raspberry jam. Top with white layer and spread with apricot jam. Top with the red layer.¼ cup seedless red raspberry jam, ¼ cup apricot preserves
- Cover the top with plastic wrap. Place a cutting board or another sheet pan on top. Top with something heavy like a skillet or a few cans to compress layers. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Once the cake is chilled, melt chocolate and cream in a microwave safe bowl or a small sauce pan. Stir frequently.1 ½ cups Semi-sweet chocolate chips
- Pour the chocolate ganache over the chilled cookies and spread out. Don't worry if it drips off the sides. Refrigerate for 30 minutes until the chocolate is set.
- With a sharp knife, trim edges. Cut into ½-in. strips across the width; then cut each strip into 4-5 pieces. Store in airtight containers.
- This recipe can be made in 3 separate pans, or you can reuse the same pan 3 times.
- Heat the jam in a microwave-safe bowl for 20 seconds to make spreading easier.
- You can use chocolate ganache instead of semi-sweet chips if a smoother look is desired.
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