Today India celebrates her 63rd Independence Day. While I'm not old enough to have memories of the freedom struggle and the partition that followed, I know something about it from books, movies and stories told by those who lived through it all.
When we were children, most of these stories about the struggle for freedom were just that to us; some stories and lessons in our school books. Independence Day meant watching the hoisting of the National flag, singing the National Anthem, eating the sweets that were invariably distributed after the function, and a day off from school work.
But now I am older, I most certainly appreciate that it means I live in a country where freedom is something most of us enjoy and take for granted. We still have a long way to go to achieve many things but this is a country where a woman has been Prime Minister, a woman is our President today and women are at the forefront in almost everything that matters. This is a country where we are free to voice our concerns, likes and dislikes and people of varied religions, languages, diverse customs and traditions all live together as Indians.
In keeping the spirit of our Independence Day celebrations, I wanted to post something that would reflect the colours of our national flag – saffron, white and green and most definitely sweet!
I remembered seeing some tri-colour Italian cookies some time back and went searching for a recipe. The first thing that struck me was these "cookies" looked more like cake than cookies and they are made using layers of sponge-like cake made with almond paste.
My search tells me these tri-colour cookies also quite popular by various other names including Napoleon (or Neapolitan) cookies, Venetian cookies, Rainbow cookies (New York is apparently famous for these), and Seven-layer cookies.
The red, green and white coloured layers of these cookie bars are supposed to represent the colours of the Italian flag.
To make these cookies, the three different coloured almond sponge layers are sandwiched together with apricot jam/ preserves (and raspberry jam/ preserves in some recipes) and then covered, both on the top and bottom with a layer of chocolate to make a total of seven layers.
I shall refer to these "cookies" as bars, as they are definitely more cake-like than cookie-like in texture.
I changed the colours of the layers to reflect the colours of the Indian flag. Otherwise I followed this recipe for Seven-Layer cookies from Epicurious. If you plan to make these bars/ cookies I would advice that you please refer to the original recipe first.
Please see my notes that follow this recipe. The recipe given below is my halved and slightly adapted version of the original recipe.
2 large egg whites
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup almond paste* (see Notes below)
125 gm unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 to 10 drops orange food coloring (enough to give a saffron colour)
8 to 10 drops green food coloring
1/4 cup apricot jam + 1/8 cup water heated to a smooth thick spreadable jam
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
Butter a 6" by 6" baking pan and line bottom with wax paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 ends, then butter paper.
In a bowl, beat whites using an electric mixer at medium-high speed until they just hold stiff peaks. Add 1/8 cup of the sugar a little at a time, beating at high speed until whites hold stiff, slightly glossy peaks. Keep aside.
In another bowl, beat together almond paste and remaining sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add butter and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolk 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.
Fold half of egg white mixture into almond mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.
Divide batter among 3 bowls. Stir orange food coloring into one and green food coloring into another, leaving the third batch plain. Set white batter aside. Chill green batter, covered. Pour red batter into prepared pan and spread evenly with offset spatula (layer will be about 1/4 inch thick).
Bake the orange layer for 8 minutes, until just set. (It is important to undercook.)
Using paper overhang, transfer layer to a rack to cool, about 15 minutes. Clean the pan, then line it with wax paper and butter paper in same manner as above. Bake white layer in prepared pan until just set. As white layer bakes, bring green batter to room temperature. Transfer white layer to a rack. Prepare pan as above, then bake green layer in same manner as before. Transfer to a rack to cool.
When all layers are cool, invert green onto a 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 orange layer on top of white layer and discard wax paper.
Cover with plastic wrap and weight with a large baking pan. Chill at least 8 hours.
Remove weight and plastic wrap. Bring layers to room temperature. 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.
Trim edges of assembled layers with a long serrated knife. Quickly spread half of chocolate in a thin layer on top of cake. Chill, uncovered, until chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes. Cover with another sheet of wax paper and place another baking sheet on top, then invert cake onto sheet and remove paper. Quickly spread with remaining chocolate. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
Cut lengthwise into 4 strips. Cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide cookies.
~ I halved the original recipe because it said the full recipe made 5 1/2 dozen cookies! I also used one yolk less.
~ * I don't get almond paste here, so I made my own using this recipe. I didn't blanch my almonds (too lazy to) and scaled that recipe to a quarter. My "paste" was more crumbly than paste, so I added 2 tbsp milk to the so called almond paste and ground it to paste and then used it.
~ I don't get parchment paper here and waxed paper isn't always available. So I used aluminum foil and it works most of the time.
~ I wasn't sure just how thick the finished cake would be. I used my jelly roll pan (a small one) and realized (after pouring the batter in) that it was too big. So my cake layers are a bit thin. I should have used my 6" square cake tin and my bars would have had thicker and prettier layers.
~ If you have problems peeling the paper off the cake (I did), then as soon as it has cooled a bit, put it in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Then take it out and peel off the paper. It peels off easily. I have to thank Mark of No Special Effects for this tip.
~ Just before I had to melt the chocolate I discovered that I had run out of bittersweet chocolate! Do not use any other kind because the cake is sweet and needs the bittersweet chocolate to balance this. So I added 3 tbsp of dark unsweetened cocoa powder to the chocolate while melting it. Given all the chemistry involved in melting chocolate, I was surprised to get a dark and not so sweet chocolate that behaved beautifully!
~ If you have to keep the cake in the fridge like I did, then it would be advisable to work quickly while spreading and smoothening the melted chocolate on top of the cake. The cold cake tends to make the chocolate set rather quickly, as you can see from the untidy look of my chocolate layer.
~ I had slight problems cutting the seven layered cake into bars. I have to keep the cake refrigerated as the warm weather here would ensure that the chocolate layers never set. On the other hand this made cutting the cake difficult. Even a serrated knife didn't help, as you can see from my "not so perfect" squares.
So I had to keep the cake at room temperature to soften the chocolate. Cutting this cake wasn't a fun experience for me, but I managed to get a few which feature in the above pictures. Perhaps a thick ganache might work better instead of just melted chocolate.
A lovely chocolate covered moist almond layered cake/ bar/ cookie (call it what you will) which melts in the mouth. The cake was a bit on the sweeter side, so if you like your cakes/ desserts a little less sweet make adjustments in the amount of sugar you use to make the cake layers.
These bars take a bit of time between making and eating and require planning ahead, but a lot of the time is taken up by the cake spending time in the fridge.
If you are looking for something special to serve for an occasion, this is a great bar/ cookie as it can be made ahead and actually tastes better the next day.
A happy Independence Day to all who are celebrating today. Hope you have a great day!