When my friend Jeanne posted a photo to her Facebook page of these cookies, I knew I had to make them. She mentioned that they contain almond paste. Lord knows I’m a sucker for almond paste.
It was just before Christmas, and in her family, these are what they look forward to making every year. The cookies are a favorite of Jeanne’s dad, so her mom made them every year without fail. It’s a true family tradition: her mom learned to make them from her mother, Jeanne’s Grandma Bessie. Jeanne told me how she remembers “crowding around the kitchen counter with my sister while our mom made them. We circled like vultures for scraps and licks of beaters and spoons and bowls when she was done. And of course the scrap bowl!!”
Other family tradition recipes I’ve posted so far are so unique that I can’t find anything else about them on the Internet. This one is not particularly uncommon; in fact before I made the recipe, I read several very similar recipes and ended up straying a little from Jeanne’s mom’s instructions and instead using some techniques that made me a little more comfortable. (Sacrilege, I know.)
One thing that makes this family recipe a little different from most Neapolitan Cookie recipes is the use of Solo Almond Pie and Pastry filling. I had never heard of it before, and it can be a tricky ingredient to find. Based on the other recipes I encountered, other types of filling can be substituted, such as apricot preserves.
The first step was prepping the pans. Jeanne’s mom and other people I found on the ‘net use wax paper. I get kinda wigged out by putting wax paper in the oven. In the interest of science I did one layer using wax paper, but the rest of them I sprung for parchment. I still maintain that parchment is superior.
My three 9×13 pans (two glass, one metal; it’s just what I had), were prepped by greasing the bottom to help the paper stick, then putting the wax paper/parchment on, then greasing the paper again. The paper comes up the sides to help with removal later.
The next thing I did was separate the eggs. Gosh this part stresses me out. Thankfully, I had four successes. Whew.
Jeanne’s mom’s recipe calls for doing the almond paste mixture first and then using a separate bowl to whip the egg whites. Another recipe I found whipped the egg whites first and then used the same mixer bowl for the almond paste. Since I only have one mixer bowl and didn’t want to deal with washing in between (i.e. I’m lazy), this is one area where I strayed from Jeanne’s mom’s recipe.
The whites whipped up beautifully to form peaks. One of the recipes I found called for adding 1/4 of the sugar at this stage, and I thought that would help the whites keep their structure as they waited, so I did that. The original recipe only calls for plain whites.
With the egg whites completed and transferred to another bowl, I went straight to crumbling the delicious almond paste. I then added the remaining sugar and let the mixer turn it into almost a sand-like consistency. In the original recipe, the almond paste is mixed with the butter, yolks, sugar and extract right away, but I wanted to be sure that the paste had a fine texture.
Then, in went the softened butter. All three sticks.
Now it’s time for the yolks and extract to have their turn.
Well, I did it as gently as I could, and it worked. The dough was still stiff, but definitely workable. The next step was dividing the dough into thirds. I suck at this, so I enlisted help via the kitchen scale. I zeroed the scale with a bowl on it, then added the dough.
1186 grams. So, I needed to remove enough dough to get to 790 grams, then enough to get to 395 grams. (Why can’t we use the metric system all the time?)
Into one bowl went 10-15 drops of red food coloring, and into another bowl went 10-15 drops of green food coloring.
Then I carefully spread the batter into the pan. This was probably the most challenging step. It’s hard to get a stiff batter to spread evenly, and the end result was quite thin.
But, they baked up beautifully. I let them cool in the pans for a bit, then lifted them out to cool on a rack.
Once they were cool, it was time to spread on the almond pie filling.
It’s nice just being able to spread something directly from a can. Pretty soon the layers were done. I covered them with plastic wrap, added a 9×13 pan and a 15 pound weight, and stuck them in the fridge.
At this point, all the recipes I read said to leave it like this for 8 hours or overnight. I only had a couple hours before I was supposed to take them to a party. Whoops. Spoiler alert: they were still delicious and seemed to hold together just fine.
After a brief weighted stint in the fridge, I trimmed up the layers using a sharp bread knife. I could relate to what Jeanne had said about she and her sister acting like vultures to get to the scraps, because my family was doing the same thing! Some of the edges cracked a little; maybe that would have held together better if I had waited the proper compression time. Oh well, that’s nothing that can’t be fixed with chocolate.
Come to think of it, what can’t be fixed with chocolate?
Ahhhh, melted chocolate. Everything went in the fridge for about 15 minutes to harden up. Then I cut the bars.
- 1½ cups softened butter
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 4 large eggs, separated
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 8 ounces almond paste
- 1 cups all-purpose flour
- pinch salt
- 10-15 drops green food coloring
- 10-15 drops red food coloring
- 12 ounce can of Solo almond pie and pastry filling
- 6 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Grease bottoms of three 9x13 pans. Line with parchment paper so that the paper hangs over the edges. Grease the top of the paper.
- In a stand mixer, whip egg whites until the whites come to soft peaks. Add ¼ cup of the sugar and beat until glossy, about 1 minute more. Transfer egg whites to a separate bowl and set aside.
- Switch to flat beater attachment. Crumble almond paste into bowl and add remaining sugar. Beat until mixture resembles coarse sand. Add softened butter and beat until incorporated. Add egg yolks and almond extract; beat until smooth. Add in flour and salt; beat until just barely incorporated. The batter will be thick.
- Remove the bowl from the stand mixer. With a spatula, gently fold in the egg whites, being careful to deflate as little as possible.
- Divide the dough into three equal portions. Color one portion red and one portion green. Spread each portion evenly into the prepared pans. Bake 15 minutes. Cool completely.
- Place red layer on back of baking sheet lined with foil. Spread the cake with half the can of almond filling. Add the plain cake layer and spread the remaining filling. Add the green layer on top. Cover the cake with plastic wrap, place a baking sheet or pan on top of the cake and weigh it down with something heavy. Refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.
- Using a sharp serrated knife such as a bread knife, cut edges of cake to make them even, setting aside scraps for snacking. Melt chocolate in microwave or double boiler until smooth. Spread the chocolate on top evenly; refrigerate until set. Cut into small rectangles.