Torta arcobaleno | First birthday cake

Butter, softened, 3 sticks
White sugar, 1 1/2 cups
Eggs, 6 large
Almond paste, grated with a box grater, 12 oz
Pure almond extract, 1 tbsp
Milk, 1 cup
Cake flour, 3 3/8 cups
Baking powder, 3 tsp
Gel food coloring (3 different colors)

Homemade jam (strawberry, raspberry or apricot), 1/4-1/2 cup or 1/8-1/4 cup of two different kinds of jam
Double or heavy cream, 1 cup
Milk chocolate, 6 oz
Dark chocolate, 6 oz

1. Butter and flour three nine-inch round pans with parchment paper on the bottom.
2. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy, using an electric mixer.
3. Beat in the eggs. 
4. Add the grated almond paste, almond extract, and milk. Beat until well combined.
5. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Slowly add to the almond paste batter and mix until combined (this is where that plastic spill-catching rim on the KitchenAid mixers is VERY helpful).
6. Divide the batter evenly between three bowls. Color each bowl with a different shade of gel food coloring (I chose green, blue and yellow for my son's first birthday; red, yellow and green are more traditional). Be careful - gel food coloring really really stains. My fingers were blue for days.
7. Pour batter into pans (one color per pan). SMOOTH OUT THE TOP!! DO NOT FORGET! Bake at 350˚F for approximately 25 minutes. 
8. Remove from the oven and let cool. 
9. While the cake is cooling, make the ganache: Heat heavy cream in a small saucepan until bubbles begin forming around the edge. 
10. Turn off the heat and pour over the chocolate. Stir continuously until melted completely. Cool to room temperature.
11. Spread jam on the bottom layer of the cake. Top with the next layer. Spread with another thin layer of jam. Put the top layer in place.
12. Pour the ganache over the cake, coating the sides thoroughly with a spatula. 
13. Let sit at room temperature in a cool spot for 2 hours or longer until completely set.

The story:
When I was growing up, my mother always made (still does, in fact) soft tricolor almond cookies - tiny cakes, really - with chocolate ganache topping at Christmas. She called them petit fours. Many years later, I bit into the tiny treat that most American bakeries label "petit four" - which enchanted me with its resemblance to the "Eat Me" cakes in Alice in Wonderland - and was disappointed to discover it was fairly ordinary white cake coating in hard icing. Several more years passed, and I moved to Philadelphia, where I learned that many Italian bakeries sold "Italian rainbow cookies" that greatly resembled my mom's petit fours. I investigated further (i.e. Googled) and learned that these were quite well-known in New York City, but whatever their origins, they apparently never spread to the upstate Italian community where I was raised. My mom says she found the recipe on the back of a jar of almond paste, long ago, and made it her own.

A few years later, I was seven months pregnant and it was Christmastime again. I was eating a petit four and suddenly thought, This would make a fantastic cake. Remembering their better-known name, I typed "Italian rainbow cookie cake" into Google, which spit out this fabulous recipe from Alejandra Ramos at Always Order Dessert. I decided then and there that this would be my son's first birthday cake - the snowflakes with which she decorated her cake seemed especially fitting for a midwinter baby. I even reposted a photo of the cake to my nursery photo album on Picasa. And fourteen months later, at about 9 o'clock on a Saturday night, my son finally asleep in his own bed, I set to work making it. Spoiler...it is harder than expected to get the layers flat and to avoid "gaps" on the sides, which makes spreading the ganache around the sides also quite difficult. My mom always weighted the petit fours with something heavy to press them flat, which makes dense, delicious cookies, but I wanted the cake to be lighter and fluffier. Regardless, it was still AMAZING. The birthday boy liked it too. 

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