WRITTEN ON December 14th, 2009 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Baking, Chocolate, Holiday, Italian

I grew up in an area of Baltimore that was about as far from The Wire as a body could possibly get (though not in distance). I went to an all girls private school, wore a blue and white uniform every day for eighteen years, and in the summers took tennis lessons and went to sleep away camp and spent time at the beach. Let’s just say I was (and still am) extremely lucky.

My friends had last names like Bennett, Robinson, Hamilton and Murray. I went to exactly two Bat Mitzvah’s in my entire life and both of them were for girls who were only half Jewish. I had zero friends who had any Italian heritage whatsoever, and Mexico was a place the college kids went on spring break. And while we always ate well, “ethnic” cuisine meant margarita night (for my parents, that is) or an occasional trip to The Panda for fried rice and egg rolls.

I guess there was a part of me that always felt like something, culturally, was missing. Sure, there are tons of people who will tell you that WASP’s do in fact have a culture of their very own, but I guess it’s one I’ve never been hugely impressed with (gin and tonics and tennis whites notwithstanding). I always wondered what people ate in that great wide world beyond the ten mile radius that was North Baltimore. To put it simply, I always felt, I mean I guess I just, well, I really was, um, ah…oh Christ I’ll just say it: I always felt so incredibly white.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. If I had to eat a Christmas dinner that was comprised of anything other than rib roast and yorkshire pudding I’d have a complete meltdown. I actually really love tennis. And those girls I went to school with are some of my best friends to this day. But when I moved to New York (after getting over the shell shock) I couldn’t believe what I’d been missing.

All this culture! By that I don’t mean The Met. I mean, there’s better Italian food on every corner here than I’d ever eaten in my life. Chinatown is a mere subway ride away, noodle shops abound in the East Village, Katz’s Deli has to be the best pastrami on Earth. The Tenement Museum is my favorite museum in the whole city.

Today’s recipe has become a staple in my Christmas cookie repertoire. I “inherited” it from my friend Ellie’s mother-in-law, a real live Italian from Long Island (I’ve made a few adaptations here and there). You can find them in delis and bakeries all over the metro area, but I highly recommend trying them at home. My own grandmother always made the most unrivaled Christmas sugar cookies (hey, whaddya know, white!). I’ll attempt those later in the week, but for my first taste of the holidays, I wanted to go for something with a little more color.

It’s Create-Your-Own-Heritage week here at WFLD. As a hats off to the holidays, over the next week I’ll be paying homage to all those non-English holiday traditions I always dreamed about. What are your favorite holiday ethnic foods? Drop me a note and I just might try them.

A little color

A little color

Italian Rainbow Cookies (makes about 9 dozen cookies)
7 oz. tube of almond paste
3/4 cup sugar
3 sticks butter, at room temp
4 eggs, at room temp
2 tsp almond extract
2 cups all purpose flour
Green and red food coloring
1 jar seedless raspberry jelly
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325. Break up almond paste and pulse in food processor with sugar until it’s evenly brokendown, the texture of sand. With a mixer, cream together butter and sugar/almond mixture. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated. Add almond extract, combine. Add flour, beat until just combined, about 20-30 seconds. Divide batter evenly into three parts (you’ll need small separate bowls for the green and the red). Add about 4-5 drops green food coloring into one bowl, red into another, and mix both until thoroughly combined. You’ll now have a green batter, a red batter and a white batter. Cover three 9×13 inch baking dishes (I actually like to use jelly roll pans) with a sheet of wax paper that extends by about two inches on either side of pan. Grease lightly with Canola oil or butter. Evenly spread the batters individually into their own dish (an offset spatula works best for this, the layers will be thin). Bake for about 15 minutes. Cool. On a large cutting board, turn out green layer. Spread about 3 tbsp of the jelly over the green layer. Top with white layer. Repeat with jelly. Top white layer with red layer. Wrap whole thing, cutting board included, in plastic wrap. Place a cookie sheet on top, weight with something heavy, like the Joy of Cooking. Chill about 4 hours. Unwrap. Melt chocolate chips. Spread chocolate evenly over top. Allow to cool about 45 minutes, cut into 1 inch squares, about 12 rows across and 9 lengthwise.

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