A Mother’s Cake is a Powerful Thing

tri cookies

Mama Said Knock You Out

Happy mothers day!

Wait, what? I’m early?! Whoa, that’s a first! But it’s for good reason.

A couple of months ago, Wilton asked if I had anything inspirational to share about my mom. Without even thinking about it, about a hundred different things popped in my head. So I thought I’d share a few with you today.

We all have memories of growing up and getting older. As the years pass they may start to fade or get fuzzy, but for the most part, one or two linger. If you’re lucky, those memories you hold on to are strong enough to endure time, allowing you enjoy them and cherish them, and maybe use them as inspiration to help create more.

My mom gave me a BUNCH of those memories. And coincidentally, a good chunk of them have to do with baking.

As a kid, i was into a lot of stuff. Heck, as an adult too. I guess i never grew up… Anyway, something I’ll always remember about my younger years were my birthday parties. My parents went all out. We always had games to play, music playing on the record player (Google it, kids), the entire apartment filled with people everywhere having a good time, the VCR sized camcorder (Google that one, too) sitting on a tripod in the corner recording eeeeeverything that was happening… It was some great times.

But something I’ll always remember most, were the cakes.

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(All 30+ year old pictures have been cropped to protect the innocent)

It wasn’t anything crazy like kids get nowadays. This is the late 80’s – early 90’s after all. But as a kid back then, they were freaking AWESOME.

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Darkwing Duck! Please… Don’t be jealous.

I remember the set ups pretty vividly. Everything flowed off the theme of the party. And I had some COOL themes. Yeah, the Ninja Turtle’s and Ghostbusters parties I’m sure you expected.

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But I bet you wouldn’t expect Dick Tracy! C’mon, how many kids get to say they had a Dick Tracy birthday party?! You know how much street internet cred I’ll get for that now??

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So on the tables we had various party things. My abuela, God rest her, used to make ceramic party favors at every single birthday. I don’t know where she got them, but for every party she would get a mold that went with the theme. She would pour the clay in the mold, let them set, clean them up, heat them in her oven, paint them all BY HAND with my mom, and spray them with a gloss.

Talented. Gifted. Artistic. Passionate. My abuela.

Geeze, a freak dust cloud just swooped in out of nowhere. All up in my eyes.

So the centerpiece of these tables was the cake. Coincidentally, my mom used Wilton pans a lot.

Look, i didn’t plan that. I know I’ve been tooting their horn a lot lately, but this time it’s not my fault! It just so mystically happened that she used wilton pans. Don’t blame me, blame them for being awesome.

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She said most if not all of the character pans were Wilton, as well as the square and round ones. That covers them all, right? Not only that, the star tip fill in method was used almost every year. Wilton runs deep in my fam.

But seriously, I’m mentioning the Wilton coincidence because I think it’s hilarious. If she used different pans or whatever else, I would still be talking about it and her. Every single birthday was made memorable. And I was brought up with the idea of the cake being the centerpiece of the celebration. She always, to this day, uses the same recipe for the cake and the buttercream. So if she makes a cake today and I take a bite, I swear I’m instantly transported back to those parties where I’m a kid going crazy with a proton pack or whatever I had.

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It’s those memories that I think made me consider going to culinary school. I SHOULD have gone a different route and focused more on baking, but that’s a tale for a different time. Point is, my mom and her baking and decorating skills ran so deep in my mind, that the memories stay with me even today. They inspired me to get my education where I did, and without that inspiration, I don’t think I’d be anywhere near the person I am today. Looking back and remembering those times she had the perfectly baked cake slip out of the pan, watching her pipe the frosting on and create these cakes that all my friends were jealous of. It’s something I don’t think I’ll ever forget. And I’m sure at the time she thought she was just making a birthday cake.

Ok, so you know how my mom inspired and impacted my life with her baking. Now where do these cookies fit in?

Well, growing up, we used to take trips to the city every so often. And every time we did, we’d stop on Mulberry St. – or, Little Italy for those less fortunate to never have been – and pick up some stuff. And of course, by some stuff, I mean pounds and pounds of cookies and pastries. So many different kinds, so many to know and love, I could spend a whole other blog post talking about them all. Our favorite place was La Bella Ferrara. A small bakery on your right just as you enter Little Italy from Canal Street. The second you walk in you’re hit with the smell of fresh pastries and cookies. It’s a place you never want to leave.

Out of the lot of our regular haul, my mom’s favorite were the Sfogliatella and these tricolor rainbow cookies. So since I was reminiscing about the days of growing up in the Bronx and having the awesomest birthday parties ever, I figured why not make one of her favorite cookies we used to always get when we lived there. Notice how I didn’t even attempt the Sfogliatella. Believe it or not, I like my sanity.

These though, while time consuming, aren’t really that complicated. Let’s get into it and see!

Italian Tricolor Cookies

 

2 1/2 sticks – Butter, softened
8 ounces – Almond Paste
1 cup – Sugar
4 each – Eggs, large, separated
2 cups – Flour
1/2 teaspoon – Salt
2 tablespoons – Sugar

 

1 each – Apricot, or Raspberry Jam, 15 ounce jar
1 pound – Bittersweet Chocolate Chips

 

Yellow, Blue, Pink, Red, and Black colors from the Wilton Color Right Performance System

 

Notes:

  • The recipe calls for a 9×12 jelly roll pan…
  • Unfortunately, I was ready to use a 15×10 jelly roll pan, totally forgetting about adjusting the recipe. So, at the very last possible minute, I changed the pan I was going to use.
  • For this batch I wound up using a 9×9 square pan. They came out fine, but the layers are a tad thicker than what they should have been, making the cookie taller than how I remember them.
  • So if you have a 15×10 jelly roll pan, I’d say you’ll be safe doubling the recipe.
  • In my 9×9 pan, I was able to turn out 20ish cookies. The 15×10 jelly roll pan would easily get you 40+, which is why I recommend going with the bigger pan and doubling the recipe. You’ll get a lot more cookies for your time you’re putting into them.
  • Last thing about the dumb pans, promise.. If you have more than one pan, awesome, it’ll go quicker for you. If not, you’re like me, and will have to do each layer one at a time. My advice is don’t skip out on lining the pan with parchment. I did it the same way you would do brownies. Easy to pull the layers out and just insert more parchment for the next layer.
  • These are generally referred to as Italian Tricolor Cookies. But they may also be called Rainbow Cookies, Neapolitan Cookies, Italian Flag Cookies, or Seven Layer Cookies.
  • Why they’re a cookie and not a cake? Beats the jam outta me. If you know, school me in the comments!
  • Recipes I found called for apricot jam, but my mom vividly recalls seeing the seeds of a raspberry jam between the layers of the cookie. Either jam tastes excellent so it’s up to you.
  • I used the Wilton Color Right Performance System for the colors. You should look into it.

Alright, let’s get to it!

  • Get your oven to 350. Spray your pan just in case because you can never be too careful, and get your parchment lined in the pan. Be prepared!

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  • Get your almond paste and sugar in your mixer. I never played with almond paste before, but next time, I’ll let it soften somehow.

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  • Put it on medium for a few minutes until the mixture looks like crumbs. You want smaller crumbs because I noticed a few little balls of almond paste in the baked layers. It didn’t hurt or stand out, but they were there. Fine crumbs!

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  • Take your softened butter and cut it up so you could incorporate it a few pieces at a time.

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  • Once you have the butter incorporated, separate the eggs and keep the whites on the side for a sec. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time until it’s smooth.

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  • Get a nice piece of parchment and sift your 2 cups of flour onto it. On top of the sifted flour, throw in the salt, and then add it to the egg mixture until it’s just combined.

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  • Now, whisk up your egg whites until they’re nice and foamy. About halfway through add 2 tablespoons of sugar and continue to whisk until you get firm peaks.

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  • Take about a third of your whipped egg whites and fold them in to the batter. Once it’s incorporated, fold the rest of it in. You’re looking for a fluffy batter when you’re done.

Folding in egg whites sounds intimidating. But don’t look at it like a fancy technique and you’ll be fine. Sure, you have to go through a lot to make sure the egg whites are safe to whip up – the bowl and whisk have to be ultra clean and dry, they have to be clean as in no trace of yolk in them – it could be a pain. But it’s worth it as they’re beneficial to some baked goods. Egg whites are full of air. So whenever you incorporate them into a batter, you need to fold them in. To fold, get yourself a rubber spatula and plop the whipped whites onto the batter and slowly start… wait for it …FOLDING… the batter on top of the egg whites. Keep on doing this until the eggs whites are almost fully incorporated in the batter. You have to go slow and carefully because if you just whisk it around to incorporate them, the air in the egg whites will deflate and the whole point of folding in them will be lost.

See? Not too bad of a process. Just be gentle and you’ll be fine. If you’re curious, it’s noted to add a third of the whites in the batter before adding the rest because it helps in the incorporation. With the fluffed up batter, it’s easier for the rest of the egg whites to be absorbed and in turn fluff up the batter even more.         The more you know!

Ok, on to the cookie!

  • You should have a fluffy batter now. Get yourself 2 clean bowls and separate the batter evenly into the 3 bowls. Go ahead and leave the one third in the mixing bowl alone. We’ll only color the 2 separate thirds that are in the new bowls.

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This is insanely easy with Wilton’s new Color Right Performance System. Seriously, if you’re big on making different colored batters or icings, just stop what you’re doing and buy yourself a pack right now. They even sell them in separate bottles, but as you can see in this little color chart, there are an insane amount of possible colors you can create using it. So go gets!

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To get the green color I used 10 drops of Yellow and 2 drops of Blue.

For the red color, it was 12 Red, 6 Pink, and 1 Black.

  • So go ahead and pour those drops into each batter, mix it up, and you’ll get your green and your red.

colors

I always remembered the cookies having more of a pale red than a vivid red. So I was aiming for more of a salmon color than real red, which I easily could’ve obtained.

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Now it’s baking time! If you have one pan you’ll have to do it one at a time. If you have more than one pan, go ahead and get them all set up now. Again, I just sprayed my pan and then lined it with parchment. It was insanely easy to just pull out the baked cake and reline it and bake the next one.

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  • Make sure when putting batter in the pans that you get it to fill all edges and sides, and that the top is smooth.

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  • Bake each cake for about 10 minutes, if they start to brown at the edges they’re done. Let them cool before you continue on.

Now this part may be tricky if you used a bigger pan. Just be careful and mindful of what you’re doing. It was a cinch to handle in the 9×9 pan. Just sayin’.

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  • Take the green or red layer and spoon some jam on top of it. Smooth it out and get a nice layer on it, leaving a bit of space on the edges. You don’t want to put too much jam on there, just a nice thin layer should do the trick. You do not want it oozing out of the layers when it’s done. You want just enough to hold the different layers together.

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  • When you’re ready, slide the uncolored layer onto the jam spread. Then smooth some more jam on top the same way and place the next layer on top of that. In the end you should have a nice looking sandwich!

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Or a layered cake. Whatever.

  • Give it a little press down, but don’t worry about it too much because it’s going to be pressed down for a few hours. Get the whole thing wrapped up nice in some plastic wrap, and sandwich it between 2 pans, putting something heavy on top. I guess I did get to use the jelly roll pans after all! (I really was looking forward to using them)

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With the cake between the pans, you want to weigh it down with something heavy. Be sure to make it balanced though if you’re not using just one thing. Once it’s sandwiched nice, get it in the fridge for at least 5 hours, or just leave it there overnight like I did.

Now who’s ready for fun!?

  • Get your cake out and unwrapped. I’m calling it a cake because that’s what it is. I don’t care what we’re making, it’s a freaking cake, sue me.

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  • You’re going to have to trim it so everything could be clean and even. So just get it on your cutting board and trim all four sides enough so it’s a straight square when you’re done.
  • Spray a cooling wrack with non-stick spray and put a sheet of parchment underneath it. Place the cake on top and marvel at its glory for a sec.

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  • Next you need to melt the chocolate. So just toss the chips into a glass bowl and microwave it for about 40 second intervals on 50% power until they melt.

Give them a good stir between, and if you still see a few not melted in a pool of chocolate, just keep stirring till they melt. You don’t want to scorch your choc. And do make sure no stray liquid comes in contact with it while you’re melting. There’s no crying in baking, but there will be if that happens.

Now. Cake is on a cooling rack, parchment underneath, chocolate melted… there’s only one thing left to do.

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Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooh yeah. I’d play some bow chicca wowow music but my mom is reading.

  • Speaking of music.. funny story, and a pro tip: Don’t pour the chocolate on the cake and get all picture happy with it while listening to LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out. You’ll find yourself in quite the pickle.

I was doing just that. Kids went out with the wife for a few minutes. So I hit shuffle and it was like fate when I heard LL. Awwwwwwwww yeeeeeeeeah, I thought. So I started pouring the chocolate, taking pictures, thinking this is going to look sick! Was smoothing it out with a spatula, getting the chocolate everywhere, taking more pictures.. totally forgetting the cake just came out of the fridge. So while thinking, ok, this is the last set of pics, it happened. The chocolate set almost instantly and I was left with half a cake naked and chocolate all clumped up in spots and not smoothed out. Thanks a lot, LL.

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There is a video of this happening. Like, a legit video with sound and the chocolate setting instantly. But I will not show it because.. well, I wasn’t exactly censoring myself. Lesson learned: Don’t you neva eva, set my chocolate. Cause I exploooooooooooooooooode.

So I had to melt more chocolate, pour it on top of the bare spots and hope the heat melts the cooled chocolate some. It came out alright, but it should have been A LOT smoother, and not as much chocolate.

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  • Ok, carrying on. SMOOTH OUT the chocolate AS IT’S melted. Make sure you get all the edges and sides, leaving no cake visible. Get a nice and smooth layer of chocolate on there QUICKLY. And don’t listen to LL Cool J when doing it.

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  • When it’s still fairly melted but almost set, get yourself a fork drag it across the top. You’re free to do whatever you like here as it’s for presentation. You could do swirls, circles, straight lines, wavy lines, whatever. Just do it before the chocolate sets or you’ll just have a smooth chocolate surface.

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  • It shouldn’t take too long for the chocolate to harden. So after a few minutes, go ahead and plop your cake on the cutting board again. This may be harder with the full sized jelly roll pan, but at this point you could cut the cake in half and transport it to the cutting board like that. You shouldn’t have a flimsy cake, it should be sturdy enough to move by holding it on the bottom. But still, you don’t want to crack the chocolate.

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  • Now, we cut strips of cake. I used my serrated knife I’ve had since culinary school that has definitely seen better days. But I think that’s you’re best bet with this. At least for me since I had a bark of chocolate to cut through. You’ll probably be ok with a knife and warm water to heat it up. Just get it hot with the water and wipe off the water to make it dry.

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  • I cut the edges off like I did before, but they’re still great cookies. These are traditionally narrow and long so that’s what I went for. Best way is to cut long strips of the cake..

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  • Then cut those strips to size. I found laying them down is easier on the chocolate. Just be sure to hold the top in case it tries to come off. It helps to keep the knife hot with the water between cuts.

After that, you’re basically done! Store them somewhere airtight for a few days. But in all honesty, they won’t last that long.

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I know they’re not my mom’s birthday cake, but I’m insanely excited for how great they turned out. I sent my mom half the batch and she was shocked to see them, and I think even more shocked that they tasted just like the Italian bakery we used to frequent. That’s when she mentioned it was raspberry jam instead of apricot, but the flavors were still really similar.

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I’m happy Wilton gave me the idea and the push to do this. I don’t think I would’ve made the cookie despite my wanting to get it on the blog for some time now. I wouldn’t have sent a batch to my mom, and I sure as heck wouldn’t have taken such a long walk through memory lane. It reminded me of a lot of great times, and it also made me realize something… The way my mom always used to make me a cake for my birthday. The way it was themed to what I was into at the time and what I was enjoying the most…..

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….I do the same exact thing for Seb now. I just never connected it. Ever since he was able to really show interest in something, I’ve been making him a cake for it on his birthday. And usually, we have a small get together so we go out and buy a sheet cake from Publix because all we need is an excuse to. But even with that cake, I feel this.. need.. to make him a special cake. Something that would make him feel special, and excited, and happy. I never connected that I was doing the same thing my mother did for me, but subconsciously, that’s exactly what I was doing.

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It’s great how your mind and memories work sometimes, huh? Things I haven’t actively thought of in years inspiring me to do the same thing for my boy. A mother’s cake is a powerful thing.

Happy mother’s day, ma. Love you.

 

11 Comments

  1. Fanny

    The cookies were amazingly delicious! You brought me back to those winter days shopping around Canal St and Chinatown and finishing the day in little Italy. Yes, I think something just got in my eyes too…I’ll be waiting for the Sfogliatella! Love you!

  2. Ares_0926

    So cool that you have all those old pics. My dad, (who I dan’t have as many kind words about) took a lot of them with him. But I have the memories and I have my mom so what more could i really want.
    The tri-color cookies will always be known as Aunt Loretta cookies in my house. She always had them and I always loved them. And bless her soul at 78 yrs old when i go visit, she makes them appear (although store bought now).
    BTW, i will never make them, that’s a lot of damn work. Do invite me over for your next batch though.

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