I can't help myself. I will jump at any opportunity to bake festive treats, even despite my ambivalence toward the holiday. This year for Valentines Day, I made pink and white striped Napoleon cookies (also called 7 layer cookies). These are made with two sheets of almond paste sponge cake, joined with a thin layer of apricot syrup, and encased in a rich dark chocolate shell. They are skull-melting delicious! Especially if you have a soft spot for marzipan like I do. As a long standing Italian tradition, the layers of these cookies are usually divided into thirds and dyed green, white, and red to represent the colors in the Italian flag. I improvised for Valentines Day, and divided the batter into only two layers of white and pink. I think they turned out so girlish and lovely. The recipe is an over-nighter (and laborious to boot), but so worth it if you can muster the patience.
Adapted from the December 2005 issue Gourmet Magazine, available on Epicurious.
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 8 oz can almond paste
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp almond extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
15-20 drops red food coloring
1 12 oz jar of apricot preserves, heated and strained
7 oz fine-quality dark (semi-sweet or bittersweet) chocolate
Equipment: stand mixer (or a hand mixer will work) and small, off-set spatula.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and adjust rack in center position. Line a 13 x 9" baking pan with foil and leave a 2" overhang on two opposite ends. Grease the foil with butter.
Beat the egg whites in the mixer with whisk attachment at medium-high until they hold stiff peaks. Gradually add 1/4 cup sugar, beating at high speed until the peaks become stiff and glossy. Transfer to another bowl and set aside.
Switch to the paddle attachment and beat together almond paste and remaining sugar until well combined, 3 minutes. Add butter and beat until fluffy and pale yellow, about 2 more minutes. Add yolks and almond extract and mix well, for an additional 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add flour and salt until just combined.
Gently fold half of the egg whites into the batter. Add the rest of the whites and fold together thoroughly.
Divide batter evenly between two bowls. Slowly add drops of food coloring to one bowl, mixing until you've reached your desired shade of pink. (The color will darken slightly after baking.)
Pour white batter into prepared pan and spread evenly with a spatula. The batter will be sticky and a little tricky to spread, but do your best to stretch it evenly so it covers the pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until set. It should be slightly undercooked. Using the foil overhang, lift the white layer and place on a cooling rack. Allow to cool without removing the foil. Repeat these steps with the red batter.
When the layers are cool, flip white layer, foil side up, on a wax paper lined baking tray and peel off foil. Spread on a thin layer of apricot syrup, then carefully place the pink layer on top (invert so foil side is up, then remove foil). Cover with plastic wrap and place a large baking dish on top to weigh down the layers. Refrigerate overnight.
Remove weight and plastic wrap. Use a sharp knife to trim uneven edges (snacks!). Melt chocolate in a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Quickly spread a thin layer of chocolate on top of the cake. Chill uncovered in the freezer for about 15 minutes until the chocolate is firm. Cover with a sheet of wax paper and place a baking sheet on top, then carefully flip cake onto sheet and remove wax paper. Spread that layer with remaining chocolate, and chill again until firm.
Cut into rectangles with a sharp knife. Store layered between sheets of parchment in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes about 5 dozen.