Rainbow Cookies: Not Italian, Not a Cookie, Not a Rainbow — What Gives?

The history behind the layered confection sheds some light on the matter.

The following article, written by Jerry Finzi, appears on GrandVoyageItaly.com.

We’ve all grown up with it, that red white and green, Italian flag colored delight sold as little cookie squares in just about every Italian (and non-Italian) bakery across the United States and Canada. Called a Rainbow Cookie, and often referred to as Tricolore — because of its resemblance to the Italian flag — and sometimes called Seven Layer Cookies (three cake, two chocolate and two jam).

Although some say they don’t exist in Italy, they do appear in Italian pasticcerie, usually around Christmastime, with their red and green colors accenting the holiday cheer. They are also referred to as Venetians, a nod toward the fact they are more pastry than cookie.

They look like a throwback to the psychedelic, tie-dyed days of the 1960s. Topped (and bottomed) with a layer of chocolate, each colored layer flavored with almond paste, with thin coats of apricot or raspberry jam in between. Who can resist buying a string-tied, neat little white box of these little dolci?

For a couple of decades now, even supermarkets, delis and big box stores, like BJ’s and Costco, are offering factory-baked versions of them.


Italian? Rainbow? Cookie?

First of all, it’s not really a cookie. It’s more of a triple-layer sponge cake, although some bakeries put so much almond paste into their sponge that they really aren’t “cake” anymore! They are baked in large sheet pans and meticulously cut into those little squares that we all love. I shouldn’t say “all” love them, because I have met people who just don’t go for almond/marzipan flavors, even if they are presented with a neon, edible rainbow.

That’s another thing: it’s not really a rainbow, which have seven colors. This delightful pastry creation has only three. And while a rainbow comes from white light being broken up by a prism into colors, this cookie has one white layer to start with.

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Finally, most claim this recipe is not Italian. They say that it is an Italian-American recipe, created to honor the Italian flag by Italian-American bakers. I doubted this, so I did some research. In fact, as I mentioned, you can find a version called Pasticcini arcobaleno (little rainbow pastries) in Italy during the Christmas season. Besides, nearly every “Italian-American” recipe owes its existence to a recipe from mainland Italy. Perhaps the recipe has changed a bit, its core is Italian. I really can’t imagine such a complex pastry preparation coming out of American bakeries alone without any historic link to the traditional recipes of the past.




Click here for a traditional recipe, which uses the technique of a heavy weight and chilling to duplicate an authentic result.

Buon appetito!

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