Rainbow cookies get a colorful twist

Rainbow cookies get a colorful twist
Rainbow cookies get a colorful twist 03:13

Samantha Zola is obsessed. "It's baking. It's what I do, it's what I love," she said.

Three years ago, she started Zola Bakes, built on just one photogenic product: a stylish new take on an Italian-American green, white and red favorite.

"The rainbow cookie, traditionally, it looks like the Italian flag, right?" asked New Yorker contributor Kelefa Sanneh.

"Right, yes. But we decided to make a pink-orange-yellow cookie, a green-blue-purple cookie," said Zola. "Rainbow cookies should be colorful. They should incorporate every color of the rainbow."

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Zola Bakes' rainbow cookies. CBS News

Zola grew up in New York, the world capital of rainbow cookies. "It's a very dense cake, which makes it seem like a cookie," she said.

While rainbow cookies are in supermarkets and Italian bakeries across the country, she sells hers online.

"We knew that we had something big," Zola said. "And it's just grown tremendously."

"Mainly through social media?" asked Sanneh.

"Just through social media."

About a hundred years ago, rainbow cookies were popularized at bakeries like Café Ferrara in New York's Little Italy. Ernest Lepore's great-grandfather and great-uncle opened the bakery in 1892.

"There was really no women allowed until, like, the 1920s or '30s," said Lepore.

"No women allowed to work here, or to shop here?" asked Sanneh.

"In the store, not even my grandmother, the daughter!" he laughed.

His grandmother may have had the last laugh. Today, Ferrara's traditional, Italian-flag rainbow cookie, which the bakery ships nationwide, is based on her recipe. "Old-school Italian," Lepore said.

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Traditional rainbow cookies from Café Ferrara in New York's Little Italy.  CBS News

The cookie's intense almond flavor actually comes from apricot pits, ground up and cut with a bit of almond paste.  The recipe also includes food coloring, to make three thin cakes, which are compressed overnight. Add apricot marmalade and some chocolate, and you've got a seven-layer cookie. 

Samantha Zola's version, nearly twice the price of Ferrara's, has six precise layers. "I take a ruler and I make sure every cookie is exactly the same size," she said.

Sanneh asked, "Were you like this all your life? Was your homework very neat?"

"Yes!"

Each Zola cookie is seven-eighths of an inch wide.  She uses pure almond paste, food coloring to create bright colors, layers in apricot or raspberry jams or hazelnut spread, and tops it off with white or dark chocolate.

"I like to make an 'S,'" she said of the chocolate topping. "It gives it a good drip on this side."

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Samantha Zola topping off her rainbow cookies with chocolate. CBS News

The result? Gone in precisely two bites.

     
Recipes:

     
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Story produced by Mary Raffalli. Editor: Karen Brenner.