seven-layer christmas cookies
Hey, look! It’s another unnecessarily-complicated cookie recipe! And it’s festive! And I can add it to my 20-cookie-long Christmas cookie list!
That’s about what went through my head when I first saw this recipe. That, plus the use of almond paste, basically had me right then and there when Chris sent me a Metafilter list of the best cookie recipes people had ever used. I read all the reviews on epicurious and Smitten Kitchen obsessively in the weeks leading up to Christmas, so when go-time rolled around the week before the holiday, I was ready.
The reviews were definitely right—it took a good 11 or 12 hours, start to finish, for these puppies to be cut up and ready to go. A lot of that time was chilling in the refrigerator, but some of it was spent painstakingly transferring the cookie layers around so they wouldn’t crack, or smooshing the jam through a strainer bit by bit, or spreading the melted chocolate quickly enough so that it didn’t solidify on the cold cookie layers.
But I daresay (do people even use that word anymore?) it was worth it. Some people on the epicurious reviews complained about the almond flavor being too strong (Uh, seriously, peeps? There’s a whole tube of almond paste in there…), which didn’t bother me at all—if anything, I thought the almond was a bit overpowered by the apricot flavor when I tested the trimmings. However, after a couple of days in the fridge, both flavors mellowed out nicely so that the result was just plain yummy. I’m not sure they’ll make it into my annual Christmas rotation (but let’s face it, I’m way too fickle to have any list set from year to year yet), but they were a fun change-up from drop cookies and a good use of a lazy, post-finals afternoon.
Seven-Layer Christmas Cookies
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 8-oz. can almond paste [I used one of the 7-oz. tubes, because the only cans I saw were of almond filling, which has all sorts of other mysterious stuff in it]
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
25 drops green food coloring
1 12-oz. jar apricot preserves, heated [in the microwave] and strained
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13-by-9-inch baking pan [I used a jelly roll pan, for easier spreadage access] and line bottom with waxed paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 ends, then butter paper.
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. Combine the almond paste and remaining 3/4 cup sugar in a food processor until well-blended and transfer to the mixing bowl. Add butter and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks and almond extract and beat until well-combined, 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 among 3 bowls. [I did this by weight using our handy kitchen scale.] Stir red food coloring into one and green food coloring into another, leaving the third batch plain. Set the white batter aside. Chill green batter, covered. Pour red batter into prepared pan and spread evenly with an offset spatula. [It will be a very, very thin layer. Trust me, it will all be okay in the end.]
6. Bake red layer 8 to 10 minutes, until just set, making sure to undercook. [There will be a few patches that are still shiny and might not look set, but if you poke them, they should actually be about done.]
7. Using paper overhang, transfer layer to a rack to cool, about 15 minutes. Clean pan [or just run it under cold water to cool it off], then line with waxed paper and butter paper in the same manner as above. Bake white layer in prepared pan until just set. As white layer bakes, bring green layer to room temperature. Transfer white layer to a rack. Prepare pan as above, then bake green layer in the same manner as before. Transfer to a rack to cool.
8. When all layers are cool, invert green onto a waxed-paper-lined large baking sheet. Discard paper from layer and spread with half of preserves. Invert white on top of green layer, discarding paper. Spread with remaining preserves. Invert red layer on top of white layer and discard waxed paper.
9. Cover with plastic wrap and weight with a large baking pan. Chill at least 8 hours.
10. Remove weight and plastic wrap. Bring layers to room temperature. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth […or do it in a microwave]. Remove from heat. Keep chocolate over water […or don’t].
11. Trim edges of assembled layers with a long serrated knife. [I left the trimming until after the chocolate had set, just so I could make sure that the whole surface was chocolate-d.] Quickly spread half of chocolate in a thin layer on top of cake. Chill, uncovered, until chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes. Cover with another sheet of waxed paper and place another baking sheet on top, then invert cake onto sheet and remove paper. Quickly spread with remaining chocolate. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes. [I followed Deb’s suggestion on Smitten Kitchen and froze the whole thing at this point for a few hours to make cutting easier.]
12. Cut lengthwise into 4 strips [using a long, serrated knife if you’ve frozen the sheet]. Cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide cookies.