Yesterday I spent the day making magic in the kitchen with the infamous Linda—chef extraordinaire, queen of the kitchen, best home-cook ever! I grew up going to Linda’s house every week for Friday night dinner. She would prepare fresh baked challah bread (the smell just fills the house and tickles our noses, making us all salivate!), a homemade soup made with fresh veggies (always a different soup each time, always delicious), and then a big main course with sides galore. Oh, and I can’t forget dessert—fruit, little cookies/cakes, and tea!
I really cherish those days when our families came together and enjoyed a good meal, chatting about politics and gossiping about all of the shenanigans happening in the neighborhood. Now all of the kids are older and our dinners happen less often, but when they do happen, I experience a shiver of joy and a happy, nostalgic tingle.
So yesterday I arrived at Linda’s house with a big bag full of tart shells, sprinkles, almond extract, parchment paper, butter, aprons, and a few other miscellaneous essentials. She provided the rest.
We went to work, and our first project was to conquer one of my favorite childhood treats, RAINBOW CAKE, also known as seven layer bars. I just remember going to someone’s bar/bat mitzvah and our synagogue would host a luncheon that offered the most scrumptious rainbow cakes! But alas, one day, they stopped offering those cute and colorful treats, and I have been on a search for them ever since. I have found a few knock-off cakes that just tasted awful, so Linda and I decided to make our own, and boy are these guys good, even better than I remember!
Rainbow cake is really just almond cake with jam spread between each layer and a nice smooth layer of chocolate on top. The food coloring and sprinkles are just for aesthetics, but as Linda and I both agree, “you eat with your eyes.”
Eeeeee these are just so darling! I want to start a rainbow cake delivery service!!!!! I think that could be quite successful, don’t you? Everyone’s got a food truck these days, maybe I will start a rainbow cake truck and gallivant through different neighborhoods, putting smiles on faces both young and old! Ah, I can just see it now…
Ok, while I’m dreaming in LaLaLand, you should go ahead and start baking already! I’m telling you now, once you have your cake batter, you just divide into three, drop some food coloring, spread into pans and bake, cool, and assemble. The hardest part about this recipe is the assembly, but don’t let that scare you. Enjoy the process because the end product will have you kicking and screaming with childhood memories and all of those fruity, almondy, chocolately flavors will just make you plotz (Yiddish word for “burst” or “explode”)!
After Linda and I made the rainbow cakes of my childhood, we moved on and made an apple tart with apples from her tree, and we baked challah bread (topped with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and black cumin seeds!) and sticky buns. Our little friend Ezra enjoyed helping us sprinkle the seeds over the challahs!
This was the most fun that I have had in a while! Thanks Linda for always inspiring me to make magic!
(aka seven layer bars)
Recipe inspired by SmittenKitchen
makes about 5 dozen bars, or more (or you can just leave it as a cake)
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 (8-oz) can almond paste (I used a 7-oz package and it worked just fine)
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 and strained (I used raspberry preserves and did not strain them)
4-oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghirardelli)
Special equipment: a small offset spatula, a heavy-duty stand mixer if you have one; a hand-mixer should work as well
1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 13- by 9-inch baking pan (we decided that a cookie sheet may have been easier) and line bottom with wax paper, leaving a little 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, then beat together almond paste and remaining 3/4 cup sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add butter and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks and almond extract and beat until combined well, 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 (we found it a bit strange to be folding egg whites into a really thick batter, but it worked fine).
5. Divide batter among 3 bowls. Stir red food coloring into one and green food coloring into another, leaving the third batch plain. Pour green batter into prepared pan and spread evenly with offset spatula (layer will be about 1/4 inch thick). (If you own multiple pans, you can bake 2 layers at a time. We baked our green and white layers at the same time).
6. Bake your layers 8 to 10 minutes, until just set. (It is important to undercook. They’ll look like they’re not done, but a tester does come out clean).
7. Using paper overhang, transfer layer to a rack to cool, about 15 minutes. Bake the remaining layer (s) in same manner as above. Transfer to a rack to cool.
8. When all layers are cool, invert green onto a parchment or wax-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 wax or parchment paper.
9. Cover with plastic wrap and weight with a large baking pan. Chill at least 8 hours (We chilled for 2 hours and were just fine. The reason for chilling so long is so that the preserves can really get pressed down and incorporated into the cake layers).
10. Remove weight and plastic wrap. Bring layers to room temperature.
We decided to use one layer of chocolate on top instead of one on top and one on the bottom. Do as you please...***NOTE: If you want chocolate on both top and bottom, use 7-oz of chocolate and melt it 3.5-oz at a time.
Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Keep chocolate over water. (Alternately, you can melt the chocolate in the microwave, just stir it every 30 seconds).
11. Trim edges of assembled layers with a long serrated knife. Quickly spread chocolate in a thin layer on top of cake, and sprinkle with sprinkles! Chill, uncovered, until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. ***NOTE: If you are doing two layers of chocolate, spread your top with chocolate, refrigerate uncovered for about 15 minutes, invert, and spread your next layer with chocolate. Now you can add sprinkles. Chill.
12. Cut lengthwise into strips, Cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide cookies. Or, just leave the cake as a cake and cut slices as you please!
Do ahead: Cookies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment, in an airtight container at room temperature 2 weeks. They’ll keep even longer in the freezer.