Italian Rainbow Cookies

Vegan Italian Rainbow Cookies recipe

The end of October—and Vegan MoFo—is nigh. To be honest, I’m looking forward to making some simple, vegetable-forward food for a while after cooking so many decadent dinners and desserts for the past few weeks. And eating out and restaurants and events. But it’s still October, so bring on the dinners, desserts, and Halloween candy! To segue into Halloween and a weekend full of sweets and treats, I made vegan Italian Rainbow Cookies for today’s MoFo post!

Vegan Italian Rainbow Cookies recipe

A Showstopper Dessert

Today’s Vegan MoFo theme is “showstopper dessert”—the fanciest desserts of them all—hence the Italian Rainbow Cookies! Or maybe you know them from one of their many other names: Napoleon Cookies, Seven Layer Cookies, Seven Layer Cake, Tricolor Cookies, or Italian Flag Cookies (because they resemble the Italian flag once cut). These cookies are traditionally made with a whole lot of eggs, so vegan Italian Rainbow Cookies were a bit of a challenge at first.

Vegan MoFo 2017 on Seitan Beats Your Meat

Vegan Italian Rainbow Cookies

These cookies, or cake, rather, are made from layers of multicolored almond sponge cake with apricot jam between the layers, and a healthy coating of chocolate. Some recipes will even instruct you to coat the underside of the cake in chocolate (making 7 layers), while others leave the bottom bare, including mine. So I guess I cheated and made Six Layer Cookies.

Italian Rainbow Cookies have been on my “to-make” list for years! I even wanted to put them in The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, but for one reason or another, it never happened. The recipe requires some specific ingredients most people wouldn’t have hanging around the kitchen at all times: apricot jam, almond paste, and lots and lots of chocolate. It also needs to press for several hours to overnight. Don’t let that scare you off from the recipe—it’s not too complicated once you plan ahead!

Vegan Italian Rainbow Cookies recipe

While you can easily find almond paste in grocery stores, be aware that many brands contain egg. I opted to make my own vegan almond paste, and included the directions with the cookie recipe. The recipe below makes just enough for the cookies, so double or triple the almond paste recipe in case you’d like to have extra for another recipe.

Get the recipe:

Italian Rainbow Cookies
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
These vegan, egg-free Italian Rainbow Cookies or "seven layer bars" or "Napoleon cookies" are made of three layers of almond cake spread with apricot jam, and coated in chocolate. When cut, the Italian flag is revealed.
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Vegan, Vegetarian, Egg Free, Dairy Free, Italian
Serves: 16-18
Almond Paste:
  • 3/4 cup blanched almonds
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons aquafaba
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional, for extra flavor)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 7 ounces (2/3 cup) almond paste
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 cups non-dairy milk
  • 2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3-3/4 cup apricot jam
  • 1 1/2 cups bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1-2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
For the almond paste:
  1. Place the almonds in a food processor and process until they start to release their natural oils and become crumbly and "wet" looking, 4-5 minutes.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and process until the paste collects into a ball.
  3. Refrigerate until ready to use.
For the cookies:
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line three 8x8-inch baking pans with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the sugar, extracts, and almond paste in a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with a paddle attachment. Mix until smooth, then gradually mix in the canola oil.
  3. Pour the apple cider vinegar in the non-dairy milk and let sit until it curdles, 2-3 minutes. Soy milk will curdle the most, so don't worry if it doesn't visibly curdle if you're using a different milk.
  4. Gradually pour the milk mixture into the wet ingredients, stirring constantly.
  5. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  6. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the batter, stirring after each addition, until just combined. Do not overmix.
  7. Evenly divide the batter into 3 bowls. Dye one of the dough portions green, and another red. Leave the third plain.
  8. Transfer the doughs into the three prepared pans, and smooth the tops.
  9. Bake for 17-18 minutes, until springy. Remove from oven and let cool completely on wire racks.
  10. To assemble, spread a thin layer of apricot jam on top of the green layer while still in the pan, then remove the plain layer from its pan and place on top. Spread a layer of apricot jam atop the plain layer, and then top with the red layer.
  11. Line a cookie sheet or cutting board with parchment paper, then invert the pan of cakes atop the parchment to remove from pan (the bottom of the green layer should be on top).
  12. Cover the cake with plastic wrap, then top with a cookie sheet and evenly weigh down with heavy items in your fridge (cartons of milk and big leftover containers are good). Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  13. Remove the pan from the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. Slice the edges off so you have a perfect square.
  14. Place the cake on a wire rack, and place the parchment-lined cookie sheet underneath the rack.
  15. Melt the chocolate with the shortening in a double boiler or microwave, until smooth, then pour over the cake, smoothing the top and sides with a spatula. Let set at room temperature.
  16. Once the chocolate is set, cut the cake into rectangle cookies, an inch or so wide.
You can skip a step by using storebought almond paste, but be aware that some brands contain egg whites. If you have a food processor, the homemade almond paste comes together in just a few minutes.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Vegan Italian Rainbow Cookies recipe

Because the recipe “fails” are rarely discussed on food blogs, I wanted to share my first couple of attempts with these vegan Italian Rainbow Cookies. Since these cookies typically contain whipped egg white, I decided to whip aquafaba to stiff peaks and fold that into the dough. To avoid wasting too much almond paste if the cake went awry, I tested it with just one layer. Problem is, I completely forgot to add the flour! Whoops.

I tested the aquafaba-based recipe again, this time making all three layers (and I made sure to remember the flour). Instead of a fluffy sponge cake, I got a thin, sticky, and crunchy mess that turned to mush overnight (see the photo to the left).

After that, I decided to approach this recipe with an actual tried-and-true cake recipe, one I know would hold up during the “smushing” stage. This one doesn’t use whipped aquafaba, but you won’t have to worry about holding your breath and crossing your fingers while waiting for the cakes to finish baking.

Vegan Italian Rainbow Cookies recipe

Are there any “fancy” desserts you’d like to see veganized?

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Vegan Italian Rainbow Cookies recipe

Kelly Peloza is the blogger and photographer at Seitan Beats Your Meat, and the author of two vegan cookbooks: The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, and Cheers to Vegan Sweets.

She lives in Chicago and runs a photography business called Kelly Peloza Photo.

5 Replies to “Italian Rainbow Cookies”

  1. Fluffy cookies? I have to try these! Thank you for sharing!
    The one dessert I would love to have again is mille-feuille, thin sheets of flaky pastry with a costard and a thick icing… so decadent.

  2. These look so beautiful! Also thanks for the almond paste recipe, I was just commenting on another blog that I have never been able to find that here before.

  3. These cookies/cake look absolutely stunning. And vegan marzipan yum yum ! I don’t know if it’s fancy but I have been trying forever to make vegan Savoiardi. I’d like to see those delicate cookie/cakes veganized ..

  4. These are a truly show stopping dessert that’s for sure. I definitely want to try my hand at wowing the people in my life with these one day.

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