Tri-color cookie (Easter) cake

Tri-color cookies, or Italian rainbow cookies, have to be one of our top five favorite sweets.  My family and I are seriously crazy about them!  No Christmas is complete without at least one, or more likely 2 or 3 batches of it.  We're talking three layers of almond sponge cake joined together by apricot preserve, encased in dark chocolate.  It's a heavenly combination.  We're such fans I've turned them into mini cupcake bites and now, we can have it in cake form, too!
Tri-color cookies, then cupcakes bites, and now cake too!
Given our love of those cookies, you can imagine my interest when I spied this recipe for "Italian Rainbow Cookie Cake" on Joanne's Eats Well With Others blog.  The post I happened to be looking at was for another lovely cake but it was the rainbow cookie cake that popped up at the end of the post, in the 'related recipes' section, that caught my eye.  I knew I had to make it!
I couldn't possibly wait until Christmastime to try it out.  I know I don't really need a reason to make any cake but thinking of the colors (I was actually aiming for pastel hues but the colors baked up deeper than I expected), I thought I'd pretend to be seasonal and call it an Easter cake.  I added some white chocolate shavings and nestled a few Cadbury mini eggs on top.  To me, once something has a few Cadbury mini eggs on it, it just screams: "Easter!"  They're the first thing I buy when Easter treats start appearing at the stores.  So I hope you'll play along and indulge me on this loose Easter theme.
I made this recently as a little surprise for my fellas (my husband and the little one).  I knew they'd love it and after tasting it, we were all thrilled.  It is literally tri-color/rainbow cookie in cake form!  As you'd expect, it's fluffier and thicker than the cookie (which is really not a cookie...but that's another discussion) and more importantly, the flavor is very much the same.  I've been partial to making smaller 6-inch cakes lately and this one is another example (though my family would've welcomed a 9-inch with this one).  This could very well be the first 3-layer cake I've ever made and, miraculously, I actually had three 6-inch round cake pans so I was able to bake the layers all at once!
Texture and flavor wise, this cake is as it should be - a moist sponge cake that has a lot of body and almond flavor thanks to almond paste.  I use apricot preserve (heated then strained so it's smooth), rather than a combination of apricot preserve and raspberry jam because my family and I are partial to it here. I tried to pack as much of the preserve in the cake as possible since we love the flavor it adds. That got me thinking about possibly baking the batter into two layers next time but splitting the 2 layers into 4 so that we'd have another layer of preserve!  I can call it a quad-layer rainbow cake, maybe?  That might be over-complicating things but I want to make it happen...
I like to use strained apricot preserves - and lots of it - between the layers of this almond cake
This cake is encased in one of my favorite things: chocolate ganache. But because of a higher chocolate to cream ratio, the chocolate ganache is somewhat firmer (so you get more of a shell) than typical ganache frosting you'd use for a cake.  That's just spot on here because it replicates that hard shell/snap I know and love from a good tri-color cookie.

You can probably tell I've discovered a new favorite cake!

What I learned (and other commentary)...

I noticed and learned a few things making this cake and thought I'd share them here (this is totally self-serving because, nowadays, if I don't write things down, I may very well not remember myself down the road):

- The colors of the cake batter will deepen after baking.  I know we'd all prefer to shy away from food coloring but with this cake, I just can't get away from it.  It's tri-color or rainbow cookies/cake, after all.  I do leave the yellow layer as is, no food coloring necessary.  For the other layers, I was aiming for soft pastel hues to go with my "Easter" theme but the cakes baked up a bit darker than I expected.  It's something to bear in mind depending on what you're going for.
Color of cake batters before baking
Instead of liquid food coloring like I typically use for the cookies, I used a few drops of gel paste coloring instead.  I used "deep pink rose" and "sky blue".  Notice the blue, mixed with the natural yellow of the base cake batter, turns the cake green.  I thought about going "crazy" and trying for lavender but, in the end, stuck with the known elements.  
The cakes after baking - the colors have deepened
- Grating the almond paste helps it disperse into the batter.  This was an unusual step in the recipe but I realized you need to grate the almond paste because it's added close to the end of the mixing and this way, it will distribute more evenly within the cake batter and reduce lumps.  I recommend grating it in the smallest opening of your box grater so you almost have almond paste flakes.  I also found the almond paste easier to grate when chilled.  Just let it sit a spell after grating to come back to room temp.

Should you want/need to skip this step, I recommend beating the almond paste in the stand mixer at the very beginning of this recipe, along with the butter and sugar, so that it has a chance to spread and mix into the batter.  This is how the recipe for the cookies starts and it works very well.

- Level the tops of the cake layers for more than one reason.  My cakes had a bit of a dome and I leveled them off by slicing them with a serrated knife.  Not only did doing this make for a better-looking, more even, cake, I noticed that it also opened the cake up for the apricot preserve to soak in better!  I started trimming the cakes a bit more when I noticed this.
Trim the cakes to even out the layers and allow the preserve to soak in better
Speaking of the apricot preserve, I first heat it so that it's easier to strain out the lumps. My family and I also like a lot of preserves so I try to pack in as much as I can.  The cake layers tend to absorb it pretty well.
We prefer using just apricot preserves but you can alternate with seedless raspberry jam
And to tell you the truth, I even snuck a thin layer of preserve on the top, third, cake layer before applying the ganache over it!  

The original recipe actually calls for a layer each of raspberry jam and apricot preserve, and I have had tri-color cookies with raspberry jam and a combo of both.  My family and I prefer the apricot so I stuck with just the apricot.
The chocolate coating is a bit firm yet soft enough to slice
- I really like the chocolate coating.  Okay, I know this is not news.  I love chocolate and chocolate ganache is my frosting of choice so it's no surprise I enjoy it here on this cake.  What I really appreciate is the higher chocolate to heavy cream ratio that makes for a firmer chocolate "shell" on the cake, replicating the cookies, while still being soft enough to cut through easily.  I scaled down the amount of ganache for this recipe since I find I always have too much but you can certainly make and use more if you want a thicker chocolate coating.  
I store the cake in the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature before serving.  The great thing is you don't need to refrigerate the cake layers overnight (just a couple of hours to let it set) like you do with the cookies.  And that got me thinking about whether you really need to wait so long with the cookies...but I'll go off and ponder that on my own since I've been wordy enough for today...  

Thanks for stopping by - have a great Easter holiday!
If you'd like to check out the classic cookies or my mini cupcake bites, here are the links again:


Recipe:

Italian Tri-color (Rainbow) Cookie Cake
Adapted from Always Order Dessert via Eats Well With Others (see notes)

- Makes one three-layer, 6-inch round cake - 

For cake layers:
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
6 ounces almond paste (I prefer the canned variety, particularly the Love 'n Bake brand), grated with a box grater
1/2 tablespoon pure almond extract
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Food coloring (red and green or any other colors you prefer)
1/3 cup apricot preserve, heated then strained 

For chocolate ganache coating:
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
2.5 ounces heavy cream

Make cake layers:
Grease (or use baking spray) three 6-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with a round of parchment paper, lightly greasing the paper.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with an oven rack in the center of the oven.

In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 4-5 minutes.  Add eggs and continue to beat for another 3 minutes, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.  Add the grated almond paste, almond extract, and milk. Beat until incorporated.  The mixture might look curdled at this point but will smooth out once dry ingredients are mixed in.

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.  Then, slowly add it into the almond paste batter and mix until combined.  

Divide the cake batter into 3 bowls.  Use food coloring and dye one bowl red, one bowl green (or alternatively, any other colors you want and to the shade you desire), and leave the remaining yellow.

Scrape each of the batters into the cake pans, smoothing out the top of each.  Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, approximately 20-22 minutes.  Remove cakes from the oven and let cool in the pans, on a cooling rack, for 5 minutes.  Then, turn the cakes out and remove the parchment paper.  Let cool completely on cooling rack.  

Make ganache coating:To prepare the ganache, place chocolate and espresso powder (if using) in a heatproof bowl.  Warm heavy cream until it just starts to bubble along the edges.  Pour cream over the chocolate and let sit for 1 minute before stirring together until smooth.  (If the chocolate is not completely melted, pop it in the microwave and heat for 5 seconds at half-power, stirring well after.)  Let cool to room temperature. 

Assemble cake:
Use a serrated knife to trim off the domes on the cake layers (this will even out the layers as well as allow the preserve to better seep into the cake).  

Line the bottom of a serving plate or cake stand with pieces of parchment or wax paper for easy clean up.  Set the red layer in the middle of the plate, flat side down (trim side up).  Slather on a layer of apricot preserve reaching nearly to the edge of the cake.  Top with the yellow layer (trim side up) and spread with more apricot preserve.  Top with the final green layer, again trim side up.  If you have leftover apricot preserve, you can even spread a very thin layer over the final green layer.

To frost, spoon the ganache over the cake and spread gently using an offset spatula.  Start at the top and spread it around the sides of the cake until completely covered.  Let cake sit at room temperature, in a cool spot, or in the refrigerator, for 1-2 hours to set.  I store the cake in the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature before serving.

You can decorate the top of the cake with chocolate shavings, sprinkles, candies, piped ganache, or anything you like.  I used white chocolate shavings and Cadbury mini eggs for an Easter theme.

Notes:

- I made a few tweaks to the original recipe.  Mine is half the original, making a 6-inch, instead of 9-inch, cake.  I use all apricot preserve, which I heat to strain out the lumps.  You can substitute (or alternate) with seedless raspberry jam instead if you prefer.  I also added salt to the cake batter and scaled down the amount of ganache (to avoid waste, mainly).

- I recommend grating the almond paste on the smallest opening of a box grater.  I found it easier to grate when chilled; just let it sit at room temperature a bit afterwards.  Grating the almond paste is important so that it breaks up the paste and allows it to incorporate more evenly in the batter without big lumps.  If you want to avoid this step, I suggest beating the almond paste with the butter and sugar at the very beginning of this recipe so that the almond paste has a chance to break down.  

- Trimming the cake layers make for a more even cake and also opens up the cake to allow the preserve to soak in.  If you like plenty of preserve (like we do), you could use up to 1/2 cup (before heating and straining) and even spread a thin layer over the final green cake layer.  Just don't add too much so that the chocolate ganache can be spread over it easily.

- I used gel paste food coloring here.  The amount will depend on the type of food coloring you use and the color/intensity you want.  I used 4 drops of "deep pink rose" and 2 drops of "sky blue" in this case.  The color deepens slightly after baking.  And using the small amount of blue makes for green since the base cake batter is yellow.



48 comments:

  1. Monica, this is perfection! So, so cute for Easter - love it!!

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    1. It is cute, isn't it? Anything with mini eggs on top usually is. : ) Have a great one, Marie!

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  2. wow This looks so beautiful and perfect for the Easter!

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  3. Oh my goodness, what a cheerful cake! It sounds delicious too!

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    1. I don't use food coloring that much but honestly, I'm a sucker for the colors, too. : ) Beyond the colors, it's really, really tasty and that's what keeps me making these renditions. Thank you, Amanda!

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  4. Wow Monica! What a fabulous cake, absolutely stunning! You'll be hooked on making Multi layer cakes now!! I love the almond and apricot flavour combination and the hard chocolate 'shell'. Perfectly pretty for a Happy Easter :-)

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    1. I know you like mini eggs, too, Jo! : ) The combination of these flavors are so out of this world. Every time I eat it, I silently thank the Italians. : ) Have a great Easter!

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  5. Thanks for writing it all out, Monica. I want to try it one day. Love the little nest on top! Beautiful shots...:) ela@GrayApron

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    1. It was a wordy one, Ela...but it will come in handy for me when I make it again and I will definitely make it again!

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  6. Wow Monica,
    Love the cake! I love the ganache topping on this. Decadent!!!

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    1. Thank so much, Asmita. I love ganache any way, any time but this is really nice because it's firmer and works with this cake.

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  7. Beautiful cake, Monica! Your fellas are lucky guys. :) I am not an authority on the subject, but I think if you serve a cake for Easter, its an Easter Cake regardless of the colors and especially if topped with Cadbury eggs! :) This is a celebration cake, for sure. :) I have noticed that food coloring gel produces more intense color than liquid food coloring. I prefer using gel so that I can use less to get the deep colors I want without the bitter taste that can happen when too much food coloring is added. Americolor is my favorite. Have a lovely Easter!

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    1. You always make me smile, Wendy. You are definitely an authority on many subjects and I totally agree with you on the Easter cake "qualifications". : ) I agree on the gel paste as well though I've "religiously" used liquid for the tricolor cookies, afraid to mess them up in any way because they are so perfect. I've been buying Americolor brand recently but I have this set from Martha Stewart from ages ago and decided to break them out here for this project. Have a great Easter with your family!

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  8. Wow! This is an amazing cake, seriously amazing! Anyone who gets to eat this is VERY lucky... I just love those colours and the almond sponge sounds super delicious. Have a wonderful Easter Monica! x

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    1. The almond cake itself is so incredible thanks to the almond paste, Aimee. It's really great...the colors are kind of a bonus. You have a wonderful Easter, too!

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  9. This cake is gorgeous!! I love the Easter theme of it and the bright colours Monica.

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  10. What a gorgeous cake Monica, your fellas sure are lucky, also love the little nest on top.

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    1. haha - thank you, Cheri! Doesn't get any easier than a little white chocolate shaving...that's the extent of my cake decorating skills.

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  11. Oh my gosh - this is the most beautiful, bright and colorful cake! I absolutely love it! I can totally imagine this gorgeous creation being on my Easter table! Well done! :-) I am so digging it!

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    1. Thanks, Kristi! We are huge fans of these Italian tricolor/rainbow cookies and it is really cool to now be able to have it in cake form. : )

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  12. Wow, this cake is stunning Monica! I love the beautiful and bright colors! Such a fun and festive cake and the flavors sound out of this world! I am such a sucker for almond cakes and can just imagine how good the apricot glaze goes with this along with the chocolate ganache coating - oh man I'm totally drooling and wish this were in front of me - yum! Hope you and your family have a wonderful Easter :)

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    1. Thank you, Kelly! We just love those rainbow cookies and I'm so glad this cake is spot on! You have a great Easter weekend! Hope the sun is shining!

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  13. What a gorgeous cake and I think you did a great job making it look Eastery! I love almond flavored cakes so this one is right up my ally. Have a Happy Easter :)

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    1. Thanks, Christin! I tried...maybe not very, very hard but still. ; ) Almond flavored cakes are so divine! You have a great Easter!

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  14. Oh my gosh this cake makes me so happy!! And is bringing back so many memories of the Italian rainbow cookies! My grandma always had them around during the holiday season (or when she got us a special treat from the bakery). Now I kinda sorta want it to be Christmas already so I can make this and surprise everyone!

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    1. This must be the same awesome grandma who bought you or likes classic Italian butter cookies! You were one lucky kiddo. We loved this cake...will definitely be making it every so often. Have a great Easter weekend, Ashley.

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  15. I remember seeing this on Joanne's blog too. Yours turned out so lovely. I want a slice (or two) for Easter!

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    1. I am so happy and lucky I caught it at the end of another post! Loved it!

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  16. So if I send you my address can you send one of these cakes to me? Tricolor cookies are one of my favorites too-I can't believe to made a whole cake like that! Wow! Great job!

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    1. haha! I'm not very good at mailing cakes, Dawn...but you can totally whip this cake up one day. : ) Glad you like it. Those cookies are insane, aren't they!

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  17. I got so excited when I saw this! I love those Italian rainbow cookies! This is an awesome cake. Happy Easter!

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    1. Let's all head to the Italian bakery and pick a few of those cookies up soon! : ) Happy Easter to you, Ashley!

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  18. Beautiful!! I'm so glad you didn't wait for Christmas to make this. It's too good to wait!

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    1. THANK YOU, Joanne! What a great find this was on your blog. xo

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  19. Wow Monica - this cake is perfect! So pretty and I bet it is tasty. Happy Easter to you and your family!

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    1. I know lots of colorful things are not very appetizing but seriously, these tricolor cookies/cupcakes/cakes, whatnot are insanely good to eat. : ) Have a wonderful Easter with yours as well...thank you, Tricia.

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  20. Monica, this is fabulous!! I LOVE the white chocolate shavings and eggs on top - what a perfect spin for Easter! Definitely a good call by not waiting until Christmas. And I LOL'ed at your thoughts on making a quad-layer cake. This cake (/cookies) pack in so many delicious elements, it's hard to not want more. :) Happy Easter to you and your family!

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    1. haha - thank you, Alyssa! I know you love these cookies and I flipped out seeing your Easter egg cookie version on your blog. Just beautiful and I know, so tasty! : ) It's been busy but the sun is shining and I can only complain that we are out of cake. ; )

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  21. aaaaghhhh that's the PRETTIEST CAKE! and i know those tri-layer cookies are traditionally a winter holiday thing, but i'd never be able to wait to try out this cake either, had i thought of it. I love the flavors in this (and obviously in the cookies), and it's one of the things that i've never tried to make on my own. I'd like to. someday it'll happen. just beautiful, monica.

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    1. These cookies/cakes/muffins always make me smile. I love the way they look and the way they taste, even more! Totally can have it any time of year. : ) Thank you, Shannon!

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  22. Wow! Blown away yet again by one of your beautiful tri-color confections, this time in cake form! How perfect for Easter. I keep telling myself I've got to try this out sometime, but somehow I never have...This will have to change soon (: Have a great day, Monica!

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    1. Thank you for the tri-color love, Monica. They have a special place in my heart. : ) I hope you make it one day. It's so delicious! Have a great rest of the week!

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  23. Monica, I already know you are a fantastic talented baker, and I shouldn't be surprised at this cake at all but I'm once again truly impressed by the beauty of this cake! I don't know if there is any day when I can make a "layered" cake.... I think my family and friends will be shocked if I can pull it off. :D I love this cake and wish that I can taste this!!!

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    1. Awww...you are too kind, Nami! I know you've seen far prettier cakes but thank you for the sweet words. This cake looks adorable with the colors and honestly, it tastes a lot better than it looks. : )

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  24. I have your same adoration for rainbow cookies, so I will definitely be marking this recipe down!!! It may just end up as my bday cake this year...although I suppose I'll have to bake it for myself :)

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    1. I have a feeling this could easily take on birthday cake status in our house, too. Knowing your history and love of tricolor cookies, I know you will love this!

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