Monday, December 7, 2009

A Gluten Free Rainbow Cookie Coalition

little gluten free rainbow cookies 
Early last century our newly married parents left their home in Brooklyn, and laden with important supplies from various delis and bakeries, they arrived in that wilderness called Syracuse.  When the supplies ran low, they realized only one bakery had the goods  they longed for similar to the big city fare.  Snowflake Bakery in Syracuse was an institutional wonder in an oasis of wilderness. 
A couple of decades ago, after 400 years of baking, Snowflake closed their doors, and all those goodies became just a sweet memory.
That is, until the thing called The Internet.  B&W cookies, rainbow cookies and the rugelach are there for the googling.
Rainbows are actually very easy to make.  However, they require a good deal of time and tons of patience.   Once a year, I suck it up and make the effort.
This particular recipe is gluten free.  It is a combination of other rainbow cookie recipes and techniques, with the  addition of our own enhancements.    A big shout-out to Deb at Smitten Kitchen.  And to our daughter, the inspiration for these little rainbows.
Gluten Free Rainbow Cookies
Makes about 4 thousand.  Seriously, this recipe will make about  8 dozen generous 1.5 inch square cookies.  Feel free to divide the recipe in half.  Be sure to down-size the baking pans  (I'd use 13x9)!
  • 3 jelly roll pans and/or the patience to bake one at a time.  
  • Or buy three disposable 13x9 pans (for smaller batches).
  • lots of parchment paper
  • mixer
  • offset spatula or something to apply the jelly and chocolate
  • something to strain the jam or get seedless jam
  • a large pot of coffee (to get you through the day)
  • the usual baking suspects like measuring cups et al
the cast of characters for rainbow cookies
  • 2 to 2.5  packages of (fresh) almond paste (about 16 ounces)
  • 4.25 sticks of unsalted butter
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 tspns almond extract
  • splash of vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tspns xantham gum
  • 3 cups of gluten free flour (the finest ground stuff you can find)
  • 8 eggs
  • about 25 drops of red and green food coloring (each)
  • 1.5 - 2 jars of dark red jam (seedless or you will have to strain it)
  • pinch of your favorite liquor, Godiva, Cherry or whatever smells good
  • about 12-15 ounces of really good quality bittersweet chocolate
  • optional: 2 tbspns corn syrup
Preheat oven to 350.  Prepare pans by buttering them, lining them with parchment that overhangs the pans on the short sides and butter the parchment too.  (see photo).
fitting the parchment to the pan

buttered pan, buttered parchment
Chop the almond paste if necessary.  Mix it with the sugar in a food processor to make it almost as fine as the sugar.  (see photo).  If the almond paste is older and dried a bit, it will remain lumpy.  You can see that in these cookies.  It doesn't alter the goodness.  Tastes just as good.
cutting almond paste

almond paste and sugar, processed
In a stand mixer or large bowl with a hand held mixer, whiz the butter, almond/sugar, flavorings together until fully incorporated.  Add the eggs one at a time.  Really!  One at a time.
adding eggs - one at a time
Gently whisk the flour, xantham gum, and salt in a bowl.  Add that to the wet ingredients and mix just until incorporated.  Don't overmix!
Separate the batter into three bowls - evenly.  (see photo).
dividing the layers evenly
 Add the green food coloring to one bowl and mix carefully.  Add more drops of color until you like the color.  It will bake up slightly darker so keep that in mind.  Do the same with the red color in another bowl.  Leave one bowl without color.  Don't get the spatulas near one another!

mixing the colors

 Next, using an offset spatula, spread the batter in your prepared pan, evenly.  Give it a little slam on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles.
spread it evenly
If you have room in the oven for all three pans, bake them for about 12 minutes and rotate them at about 8 minutes in.  Otherwise, bake them in the center of the oven one at a time for about 12 minutes or until that toothpick comes out clean.  They will look underdone!  Don't overbake these things.  Browning the cakes will not look great.  And if gluten free is brown, it tastes like dust.  They will look under-done, but if that toothpick is clean take them out!  Let them cool completely on a rack.
cooling after passing the toothpick test

Heat the jam until it is liquidy.  Add the liquors until it tastes and smells great.  Strain it if necessary and then cool to room temperature (but still spreadable).

heating the jam, adding the liquors

strain it really well
Using a butter knife, loosen the edge of the green cake.  Lift the parchment slightly so that it is free, but keep it in the pan.
Spread a very thin layer of jam on top (see photo).  Be careful not to make it too thick or it will ooze like crazy when you layer the cakes.  You will be trimming the edge so if it escapes down the side, no worries.
jam spread
This next step takes the patience of a saint.   Using the butter knife, loosen the edges of the layer that is not colored.  Very, very carefully pick up and line up the pan with the one that has the jam on it.  And in one movement flip the layer onto the one with the jelly - using the parchment to help you.  It may not line up correctly, so gently push it into place.
If you are using jelly roll pans this is really not easy.  If you are using the smaller 13x9 pans, you can use your hands under the parchment to help place it on the layer, or a large spatula.  It should be a bit easier to place.
Take care not to crack the layer if you can.
Once that layer is in place, use the exact same amount of jam and spread it around.  Place the last layer on top as evenly as possible (see photo).
last layer added

 The hard work is almost done!
Cover the layer with clean parchment (don't re-use any of the parchment you used for baking - see note #9).  Then wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap.   Place a large cutting board or two on top to weight it down.  Add some books to make it a serious weight.  Set aside for at least a couple of hours or more.  Overnight is even better.  No hurry.  Give it at minium two hours.  Some people refrigerate it, but not necessary.
The Final Finish
When you are ready for the final chocolate layer, take the weights off and unwrap the cake.
Break up the chocolate and melt it in a double boiler over barely warm heat, stirring it up once in a while.  When it is almost all melted turn off the heat and let it finish melting. Stir in the corn syrup.   Remove the bowl or the top of the double boiler, carefully to avoid getting any of the steam near the chocolate which can make it seize.   Let the chocolate cool off until it is like a cool thick syrup.
Meantime - trim the edges of the cake with a serrated knife - about a quarter inch on the edges until it has an even clean edge.
Drizzle half the chocolate over the top and spread with an offset spatula.  Try not to drizzle it off the sides, but if you do, don't worry.  Trim the edges and eat those pieces yourself!

looking amazingly neat before slicing

Place it in the refrigerator for a few minutes to set the chocoalte - about 15 minutes should do it.  You are going to flip it to coat the other side, so you want the chocolate to be totally set.
Place a piece of clean parchment on a large baking sheet.  Place that on top of the chocolate coated side and in one movement, grab the whole thing and flip it over.  Now you should have the uncoated side with the original parchment attached to it on the top side.
Peel off that parchment.  Drizzle the remaining chocolate on that side (reheated gently if it got too hard) and using the offset spatula, spread to the edges.   Refrigerate until hard, or leave it out to set as well.  It just takes longer, but it will set.  (see note #9 again)
a little drippy jam

Cutting the cookies is another exercise in patience.  The hard chocolate will crack if you use a regular knife.  You have to use a serrated knife or a very small, very sharp knife.
To get around this frustration - a couple of things.  You could cut it before the chocolate is totally hard - wait for it to set, but not harden.
Or, you could freeze it and cut it while frozen which some say works better.
You could also cut it into long strips after the weights come off and set them on a rack and top with chocolate that way.  Then you need only cut them into squares by cutting the long strip rather than the whole thing.
You could also try a long skinny knife, dipped in hot water before each cut.
Someone else mentioned cutting it with a tiny sharp knife to avoid cracking the chocolate.
In the end, it doesn't matter - as long as you like how they look.  They will taste so good no one will mind a little crack here and there.
 The cookies taste better the longer they sit around.  Think about making them ahead of when you will need them by at least a couple of days.  They freeze well, too.  They cookies will last about a week in a tin.

looking like little rainbows

  1. Some recipes call for separating the eggs, whipping the whites and incorporating them into the batter.  That does lighten the batter a bit.  However, when stirring in the coloring, it really does defeat all that egg-white-whipping and folding.  Having had them using both techniques, it really doesn't seem to matter.  But feel free if you wish.  Fold the whites in after you mix in the flour.  
  2. People wonder about the pan size.  The only rule to remember is that you want them to finish in even size heights.  You are stacking three cakes together to make a rather petite cookie, so keep that in mind.  Think of it as a jelly roll kind of cake.  Very thin - so that is why you have to use the toothpick test and almost underbake them.  They will be done, but will still be moist.  Just make the layers as evenly as possible.  The green layer in these is a little higher than the others (see photos).
  3. Some recipes call for apricot jam.  Having grown up with the raspberry or red jam version, we would never use apricot.  But it is a personal choice.  Use what makes you happy.  Just make sure there are no lumps or seeds in the jam.  And be sure to add the liqours.  It deepens the flavor.  Fruit spread is fine too, just make sure to heat it enough to get it to thicken a bit.  Some recipes also use a slightly thinner jam coating on the final layer right under the chocolate.  If you do that, be sure to let it soak all the way in to the cake before applying the chocolate, or the topping might fall off.
  4. The chocolate is going to work perfectly or it will be a pain in the rear.  Always buy extra just in case you ruin a batch.  Melt it gently over the water bath and don't allow any steam to escape or it will seize.   The second problem is heating it too much - it will turn grainy and sludgy.  And adding the corn syrup helps give it shine, and a pliability that you will want for spreading and cutting.  Add the corn syrup at the end only.  If you only use melted chocolate, you are actually tempering it while you melt it.  The result will be a snappy shiny chocolate coating that is guaranteed to crack wherever you cut.  
  5. If for some reason you end up with that snappy chocolate (like these in the photos) try a variety of knives to cut it.  The serrated should have worked best, but it cracked the chocolate.  The long thin knife dipped in hot water should have done the trick, but it just made it worse.  What worked was a little tiny very sharp paring knife and you can still see where it cracked in the photos.  
  6. Use the best chocolate you can afford.  Bittersweet is a nice flavor against the uber sweetness of the marzipan.   But most recipes call for semisweet and that works just as well.  Your choice.  But remember to have some extra on hand in case you need more, or wrecked the first batch. Been there, several times.
  7. And - many recipes call for chocolate coating on only one side.  Feel free to do that.  It saves you money, time and grief.  You don't have to melt as much.  You don't have to flip the whole thing.  And less opportunity for the chocolate to crack.  
  8. To make the recipe not gluten free, skip the xantham gum, use the equvilant amount of all purpose flour, and skip an egg.
  9. The reason not to re-use the parchment?  You buttered it.   The greased parchment side acts as a seal and the chocolate can (and probably will) just lay there, not sticking to the cake layer.  So, even though the parchment you are peeling off the layers as you stack them seems re-usable, don't do it!  You'll regret it.  I know I did!  Yes, I did that and the chocolate on one side doesn't stick to the cake.  This is the bottom side of the original layer that I left in the pan - you can skip coating this side and save yourself  some grief.  But always use clean parchment without any grease for covering that final layer before you stack the boards and books on it!  Clean parchment!
Bon Appetit!  And by the time you finish, it will be time for a glass of wine rather than a pot of coffee.  Go for it.  You deserve it after all that work!

cookies with a glass of wine?


  1. They look delicious! This is one of my favorite cookies! I like to use apricot jam in between the layers :)

  2. I have a question - hope you can answer. If I am using Jules' Gluten Free Flour mix which has xantham gum in it, do I omit the xantham, use less, or use the same??
    Thanks for sharing your beautiful recipe and the wine is chilling as we speak!! lol

  3. Hi Lilli -

    use a little bit more. they probably only put in a tiny amount in the entire batch and since you need about 1/2 tspn per cup or so, I'd add a tiny bit more. Enjoy!