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The Best Italian Ribbon Cookies Recipe

Updated on May 5, 2017
Margaret Schindel profile image

Margaret has a passion for cooking, baking and creating recipes to satisfy her cravings for delicious, indulgent and sometimes healthy food.

Italian ribbon cookies, rainbow cookies, Venetians, Neapolitan slices...whatever you call them, these delicious holiday treats are impressive and taste fabulous! Imagine three thin layers of moist, rich almond cake tinted the colors of the Italian flag, stacked with a jam filling and coated in semisweet chocolate. You've probably seen them in fancy bakeries, where they cost a pretty penny and fly off the shelves as soon as they're put out. They're especially popular around Christmas because of the festive colors. This recipe has been a traditional part of my family's Christmas cookie assortment for more than 40 years, along with My Grandmother's Amazing Rugelach Cookies.

This recipe originally came from Party Cookies Only, a little known but wonderful cookbook published in 1972 to benefit a nonprofit environmental group called GASP (Group Against Smog and Pollution), thanks to the sponsorship of the H. J. Heinz Company. It was written by GASP member Jeannette Widom, who was an Allegheny County Fair Champion in Baking for many years. I have made most of the cookie recipes and they're all superb, but the Neapolitan Slices recipe is my favorite. It's also the recipe most often requested by the recipients of my homemade assorted holiday cookies.

Sadly, the cookbook is long since out of print, and the recipe is too good to be lost to time. So I've decided to share it, using my own instructions that include my helpful tips based on years of personal experience baking this recipe.

These traditional Italian ribbon cookies are the perfect holiday cookie recipe.
These traditional Italian ribbon cookies are the perfect holiday cookie recipe. | Source

Use Gel or Paste Food Color for Best Results

I highly recommend using gel or paste food color to tint the batter for these cookies (and any other baking recipes). For many years, I used the same grocery store liquid food coloring my mother and grandmother had used. It wasn't until my sister, a talented home baker, told me about the advantages of the gel paste type that I finally tried it. What a difference!

The color of tinted batter or frosting is far superior to what liquid food coloring produces. You need only a tiny amount (I usually just dip the tip of a toothpick into the gel paste to pick up the right amount of color) compared to the amount of liquid food coloring needed to create the same shade. That means you can you get a very bright or dark shade without thinning out your batter or frosting, as would happen with with liquid coloring. It also means that even a small jar lasts for a very long time. I particularly like Ateco gel paste food color because, unlike some other brands, it doesn't affect the taste of the finished cookies, cakes, icing, etc.

Start Making These Cookies at Least Three Days Ahead

These delicious treats are not difficult to make, but you'll need to make them over two days because the stacked almond cake layers need to be refrigerated overnight before coating with melted chocolate. They also taste significantly better if you let them sit for at least a day at room temperature in an airtight container. So it's best to start making these three days before you plan to serve them.

Italian Ribbon Cookies Recipe

Serving Size

One serving = 1 cookie (although no one can stop at just one!)

Makes 8 dozen cookies

Source

Equipment Needed

  • Three half sheet (shallow 9" x 13") baking pans or rimmed baking sheets or three 9" x 12" jelly roll pans
  • Electric mixer with two large mixing bowls, or an electric mixer with one mixing bowl plus an electric hand mixer and a medium size mixing bowl
  • Four large wire cooling racks
  • Large cutting board, at least 10" x 14"
  • Plastic wrap
  • A second large, heavy cutting board, or a large flat baking pan and heavy books or cans of food to weight it down
  • Long, sharp knife
  • Wax paper
  • Offset spatula (used for icing cakes)

Ingredients

  • FOR THE CAKE LAYERS:
  • 8 oz. almond paste, (NOT marzipan)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs, yolks and whites separated, room temperature
  • 2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
  • Red food coloring, preferably gel or paste
  • Green food coloring, preferably gel or paste
  • FOR THE FILLING:
  • 1/2 c. to 3/4 c. seedless red raspberry jam, or warmed and strained apricot jam
  • FOR THE CHOCOLATE COATING:
  • 6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped, or semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable shortening

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease three shallow 9" x 13" baker's half sheet pans, line them with parchment paper, and grease the parchment paper.
  2. Crumble the almond paste in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Add the butter, sugar and egg yolks and beat on medium sped until light, scraping the bowl once or twice as needed. Stir in the flour just until well combined (do not beat).
  3. In another mixing bowl, beat the egg whites to the soft peak stage, i.e., soft peaks form when the beaters are raised slowly. This can be done with the same electric mixer you used for the almond paste mixture if you have an extra mixing bowl for it (just wash and dry the beaters well), or you can use an electric hand mixer or whisk and a medium size mixing bowl. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter until thoroughly blended.
  4. Remove one-third of the batter (approximately 1 1/2 cups), put it in a medium bowl and blend in red food coloring a very small amount at a time to tint the batter a pretty shade of pink. (I prefer a fairly pale pink, but you can tint it whatever shade of pink you prefer.) Scrape the pink tinted batter into one of the prepared pans and spread it evenly all the way to the corners. Repeat with another third of the batter, tinting this portion an attractive green shade and spreading it evenly in another of the prepared pan. Leave the remaining third of the batter untinted and spread it evenly in the third pan.
  5. Bake the layers just until the edges are golden brown (approximately 10-12 minutes). Do not overbake - the cake layers will be dry! Invert the layers on large wire racks. Lift off each pan, carefully peel off the parchment, and turn the cake layer right side up to cool on another rack. (This is why you need four cooling racks for 3 cake layers.)
  6. When the cake layers have cooled completely, place the green cake layer on the cutting board and spread the top with half the seedless raspberry jam. (I like to warm the jam slightly in a small saucepan and stir it to thin it out a bit; I find that it makes spreading the jam easier.) Stack the untinted cake layer on top, spread it with the remaining jam and top the stack with the pink cake layer.
  7. Cover the cake layers with plastic wrap and weight them down with a large, heavy cutting board (I've also used a large, flat pan topped with some books or cans of food spread out evenly over the surface of the pan).Refrigerate the weighted, plastic wrapped cake overnight.
  8. The next day, prepare the chocolate coating by melting the chocolate bits and shortening in the top of a small double boiler (or in a bowl set on top of a saucepan half-filled with hot water; the water should NOT touch the bottom of the mixing bowl). Stir the coating until very smooth. I've also made the coating successfully by microwaving the chocolate bits and shortening in a microwave-safe bowl at 50% power for 90 seconds, stirring well, and then heating at 50% for another 30 seconds and stirring well again, and repeating as needed just until the chocolate is fully melted. Don't be tempted to rush the process or you risk scorching the chocolate and having to start from scratch with more chocolate and shortening.
  9. Place two cooling racks over sheets of wax paper. Use a long, thin, sharp knife to cut the cake into four equal strips (roughly 2 1/4" x 13" each). Place two cake strips on each cooling rack, spacing them well apart. Using a large offset spatula (the type used for frosting cakes), coat the top and sides of each strip with the chocolate coating. (If you prefer, you can coat just the tops of the cake strips; both are traditional.) Allow the chocolate coating to dry completely.
  10. Lift the layered cake strips onto the cutting board and cut each strip into 1/2" slices with a thin, sharp knife. Place the cookies in a plastic food storage container (I use a freezer storage container, which tends to be sturdier and more air-tight) in single layers, separated by cut-to-fit sheets of wax paper) and allow them to sit at room temperature for at least one day before serving. I like to freeze some so I have a delicious sweet treat to serve unexpected guests during the holidays. The cookies defrost quickly.

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These Cookies Freeze Beautifully

I usually make a big batch, save some to eat over the next few days, and freeze the rest. That way, if company drops in unexpectedly, especially over the holidays, I can serve them an elegant and delicious sweet treat with little or no notice.

Place the cookies into freezer containers, separating each layer with a sheet of freezer paper. It's better to put them in many smaller containers than in fewer, larger ones, so that when you remove only some of the cookies, there will be less air in the container when you put the rest back in the freezer.

When you're ready to serve them, take out as many of the frozen cookies as you want and place them, slightly separated, in a single layer on a serving plate. Cover them lightly with plastic wrap and let them defrost at room temperature for 1/2 hour.

© 2013 Margaret Schindel

Have You Ever Made or Tasted Italian Ribbon Cookies? If Not, Would You Like to Try?

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    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi, Miss Elf! So lovely to see you here. Thanks for your delightful comment about my Italian Ribbon Cookies recipe. These cookies are more time consuming than the usual kind that you drop from a spoon or cut into bars, but they are SO worth it! I usually bake the almond cake layers one day and then fill and ice them the next day. They seem to disappear the minute I finish cutting them. ;) I promise you that if you make a batch, your relatives and friends will insist that you keep making them every year at the holidays! :)

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 2 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Wow - these look fantastically delicious! I've never had Italian Ribbon Cookies, but sure would like to try them. Could I get on your holiday cookie list for your famous homemade assorted holiday cookies? Just kidding. May have to give this recipe a try and have my relatives & friends drooling over them come holiday time! :-)

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks, Chelsey! I'm confident that you'll love them.

    • Chelsey Wall profile image

      Chelsey 2 years ago from Ottawa, Ontario

      Looks awesome. I want to try this for the holidays!

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      @peachpurple, yes, rainbow cookies are very popular sweets in many parts of the world. Thank you for teaching me another name for them. :)

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      this rainbow cookies are similar to our local rainbow cakes too, kuih lapis

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @paulahite: Thanks so much for letting me know! I'm off to check it out now. :)

    • paulahite profile image

      Paula Hite 3 years ago from Virginia

      Love this! Its also featured on "Whats Cooking at Squidoo"'s Google+ page!

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @Bonfire Designs: I've never been called a rainbow cookie hero before... I love it! So glad you enjoyed the recipe. Just wait until you taste them!

    • Bonfire Designs profile image

      Bonfire Designs 3 years ago

      Rainbow Cookies!! A family favorite but I buy them and never even thought of baking them myself - you are my new rainbow cookie hero!

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @Jerzimom: Thanks, Cheryl! They're really amazing. :)

    • Jerzimom profile image

      Cheryl Fay Mikesell 3 years ago from Ladysmith, WI

      I've never had these but they sound delicious!

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @burntchestnut: Thanks! I hope you get a chance to try the recipe. These really are fantastic. :)

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @smine27: Thank you so much, Shinichi! I'm grateful for your wonderful compliment. Enjoy! :)

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      burntchestnut 3 years ago

      I'd like to try making these.

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Gosh I think this could be my favorite dessert recipe of the year!

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @CrazyHomemaker: My pleasure! I can't wait to hear how you and your family like them. Enjoy! :)

    • CrazyHomemaker profile image

      CrazyHomemaker 3 years ago

      Never had them or made them. I'm going to try this one! Thanks for sharing this recipe.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @mommyplus3kids: You're very welcome. I'm so glad you'll be making them. They're amazing! :)

    • mommyplus3kids profile image

      mommyplus3kids 3 years ago

      Never made them. Will absolutely try them. Thanks for sharing.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @tammywilliams09: Thank YOU, Tammy, for your lovely feedback! I'm so glad you enjoyed the recipe, my discovery of these wonderful Italian Ribbon Cookies at Ferrara Bakery in New York City's Little Italy, and the many names by which they are called. Happy holidays!

    • tammywilliams09 profile image

      tammywilliams09 3 years ago

      Those look delicious! Thanks for sharing your story about visiting the Ferrara Bakery. I did not know the cookies had so many names. The next time I see any of those names then I will understand what they mean.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @Max Globe: Max, I have a sweet tooth, too, and I promise that if you make these scrumptious cookies you will love them!

    • Max Globe profile image

      Max Globe 3 years ago

      The cookies remind me traffic lights, but having a sweet tooth, I would like to taste them!

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @SheGetsCreative: I hope you do get a chance to bake up a batch from this wonderful recipe. You'll be in rainbow cookie heaven! :)

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 3 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Haven't made them...yet!

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @PaigSr: Thanks for the laugh! :) I guess the only way out of your dilemma will be to bake a batch for yourself. When you do, I guarantee you'll be delighted with the results!

    • PaigSr profile image

      PaigSr 3 years ago from State of Confussion

      Just looking at the picture I will be hinting to the wife on this one. OK so I am the baker in the house and she is the cook. How do I hint to myself?

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @Zodiacimmortal: Hi, thanks for visiting! Your traffic light cookie idea sounds quite tasty, however it would be a completely different cookie than these traditional Italian Rainbow Cookies. The almond paste is a key ingredient in the cake layers and is essential to creating the dense, moist texture as well as the authentic almond flavor of the cake. The filling is jam, rather than almond paste. And the chocolate coating is an essential part of the overall taste. So although angel food cake layers flavored with some combination of red velvet, mint, pistachio, citrus and/or vanilla flavorings and sandwiched together with almond paste sounds yummy, despite the possible similarity in appearance, both the taste and texture would be completely different from these traditional Italian cookies. I hope you enjoy your own traffic light cookie idea, and maybe you will try these traditional Italian Rainbow Cookies some time to taste the difference for yourself. Happy baking! :)

    • Zodiacimmortal profile image

      Kim 3 years ago from Yonkers, NY

      I don't think I commented on your 'Traffic light' cookies yet .. (and if I did sorry for a possivle repeat) anyway I've always called them traffic light cookies & remember when I was little these usually had almond paste between them and they were so good. Now I forget what it is they use, they are still good but not as satisfying, to me anyway I hear they are very expensive to make and was thinking the other day to make things easier.. why not just use some angel food cake mix, food coloring & flavoring (maybe make each layer a different flavor, like one can be red velvet The green a mint or pastachio flavor & the yellow a citrus or vanilla flavor (with this idea I think it would be best to have chocolate between each layer but I want to make my own just so I can have the almond paste between!

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @chezchazz: Hi Chazz - yes, these cookies have been around practically forever, and as I mentioned there are lots of recipes for them, all with only slight differences. I've been baking this recipe for more than 40 years and it just wouldn't be Christmas without them! :)

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @esmonaco: My pleasure! As I said, I've been baking these for more than 40 years and they're part of the holidays for me. Enjoy the recipe! :)

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @Phoebs78: Thanks, Phoebs! They're even prettier (and certainly more luscious) in person, and very festive for the holidays, indeed. :)

    • chezchazz profile image

      Chazz 3 years ago from New York

      Yup. I posted my recipe for these on 10/16/2010. www.squidoo.com/italian-bakery-tri-color-venetian-neopolitan-cookies-recipe.

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 3 years ago from Lakewood New York

      Hey Thanks for the recipe, I haven't had these for years, I do remember them as my grandmother would make them around the Holidays.

    • profile image

      Phoebs78 3 years ago

      These look so pretty :) Perfect for the holidays.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @LiteraryMind: Thanks! Now you can bake them yourself, too. :D

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 3 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      I love these. They are one of the first cookies I grab out of an Italian cookie assortment plate.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @sousababy: Thanks, Rose! These actually aren't difficult to make, just a bit time-consuming. Fortunately you can make them in stages. Then again, better yet to have your ma-servant bring them to you, preferably with a nice, tall glass of cold milk (or a cup of hot tea, coffee or cocoa, whatever your pleasure). I've never had maple cream cookies before - they sound yummy! :)

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 3 years ago

      I'm not talented enough to attempt these (but my man-servant probably is). They look incredible and delicious. My favorite holiday cookie is probably maple cream.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @Susan Zutautas: Thanks so much, Susan! As I said, I've been making these for more than 40 years and I can't imagine a more scrumptious cookie...although My Grandmother's Amazing Rugelach Recipe are awesome, too - just totally different...which is why I have to make both for the holidays! :D

    • Susan Zutautas profile image

      Susan Zutautas 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Adding your recipe for Italian Ribbon Cookies to my must make for Christmas list. They looks delicious!

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @marsha32: Thanks so much, Marsha! These scrumptious and unusual cookies really are a special treat. Why not try baking a batch this holiday? :)

    • profile image

      marsha32 3 years ago

      I'm with Graceonline. Anyone who gets to eat these sure is lucky! That picture is so big and really makes me hungry.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @ecogranny: Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Kathryn! When I bake these around the holidays I always try to freeze a bunch of them so I can stretch out the enjoyment, but even so (and despite the fact that the recipe makes 8 dozen cookies), they never seem to last long enough. We're always sad when we finally treat ourselves to the last of the batch. Actually, they're a bit time consuming to make, but there's nothing difficult about the recipe. And you can make it in stages at your own pace. You can even bake the cakes well in advance, stack them with jam, wrap them in plastic, weight them down in the fridge overnight and then freeze them until you're ready to coat them in chocolate and slice them. Holiday baking can be really hectic, so I often do just that. Enjoy!

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @Diana Wenzel: I'd be up for a holiday cookie swap with a few other lensmaster friends if we could only find a mutually convenient spot to meet. In the interim, I fear you'll have to settle for baking a batch of them yourself with this awesome recipe. Enjoy!

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      Can you just email me a plate of those please? Seriously, I admire anyone who will make such a delicate and complicated pastry. They look absolutely fabulous. Wonderful story and recipe!

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 3 years ago from Colorado

      When are you inviting us all over for high tea featuring these ribbon cookies? Such a feast for the eyes. I'm thinking, though, that I'd like to take that feast one step farther.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @Ruthi: Thanks so much for the lovely compliment, Ruthi! They really are amazing cookies and, while time consuming, totally worth the effort for the scrumptious results. :)

    • profile image

      Ruthi 3 years ago

      Your photo has me wanting to reach out and grab one of these delicious cookies. (I did grab but the computer screen got in my way!) These Italian Rainbow Cookies, by any name, should be on the fine dining dessert cart.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image
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      Margaret Schindel 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      @Brite-Ideas: Thanks so much for your lovely comment! I promise you these are well worth the effort. Enjoy!

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      They sound like an amazing recipe - If I feel like tackling this, I may add it to my Christmas baking this year - It's a very pretty looking dish too :)

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