Are rainbow cookies A NY Thing?

What are rainbow cookies?

Rainbow cookies are a classic New York City treat consisting of layers of colorful almond-flavored meringue cookies sandwiched together with buttercream frosting in between each layer. The cookies are assembled in a rainbow pattern, with each layer typically colored red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. This gives the cookies their signature rainbow swirled look when sliced. The meringue layers are light, airy, and slightly crunchy, providing a delicious contrast to the sweet, rich buttercream filling. Rainbow cookies are sometimes also called Neapolitan cookies, tricolor cookies, or Venetian cookies.

Where did rainbow cookies originate?

Rainbow cookies originated right here in New York City. The exact origins are disputed, but rainbow cookies first started appearing in bakeries in Manhattan and Brooklyn in the early 20th century.

Some say that rainbow cookies were invented by the Italian-American chef Agostino Pagani in the 1910s. Pagani owned a bakery in Little Italy and reportedly developed the first rainbow cookies based off the colors of the Italian flag. Others claim that Jewish bakeries in Brooklyn were the true originators of the rainbow cookie.

Regardless of who exactly invented them, rainbow cookies quickly became popular throughout New York City and were soon a beloved specialty sold in Italian, Jewish, and other ethnic bakeries all over Manhattan and Brooklyn. Over the decades, rainbow cookies grew to become an iconic New York City treat that can now be found in bakeries citywide.

Why are rainbow cookies associated with New York?

There are several key reasons why rainbow cookies became so strongly linked to New York City:

  • Rainbow cookies originated in New York and were popularized here first.
  • New York City has a rich food culture and history of ethnic immigrant communities like Italians and Jews who helped create rainbow cookies.
  • The bright colors and over-the-top nature of rainbow cookies reflects the energy and character of New York City.
  • They have been a staple at old school New York bake shops for generations.
  • Rainbow cookies are sold year round but are especially ubiquitous around the holidays in NYC.
  • New Yorkers have a deep nostalgia and pride associated with these cookies.

For many New Yorkers, rainbow cookies represent a taste of childhood and are a beloved food tradition closely tied to family, holidays, and celebrations throughout the generations. They hold a special place in New York food culture.

Where can you find rainbow cookies in NYC?

While rainbow cookies have gone mainstream over the years, the best places in New York City to find authentic, old-school versions are at classic Italian, Jewish, and specialty bakeries. Here are some of the top places to get rainbow cookies in New York:

  • Carlo’s Bakery – This famous bakery featured on Cake Boss is a NYC institution known for its handmade rainbow cookies using original recipes. They ship nationwide.
  • Veniero’s Pastry – An heritage Italian bakery in Manhattan established in 1894, Veniero’s is renowned for its rainbow cookies and other Italian desserts.
  • Zabar’s – This gourmet Upper West Side market has a huge bakery section with rainbow cookies and all kinds of delightful treats.
  • Margie’s Cakes – A small Brooklyn bakery making rainbow cookies from scratch in small batches with high quality ingredients.
  • Emily’s Rainbow Cookies – Located in the West Village, this bakery specializes in gourmet rainbow cookies in fun flavors like red velvet.
  • Termini Brothers – This 100 year old Italian bakery in Harlem hand makes rainbow cookies alongside cannolis, sfogliatelle, and more.

The next time you’re craving rainbow cookies in New York City, visit one of these classic bakeries to experience the most authentic versions.

What makes NYC rainbow cookies special?

There are several factors that give New York style rainbow cookies their distinctive taste and texture:

  • The use of almond flavored meringue creates a light, crunchy cookie.
  • The layers are colorful and visually appealing.
  • The buttercream has a rich, creamy mouthfeel.
  • They tend to be larger and taller than other rainbow cookie versions.
  • The focus is on quality ingredients and scratch baking.
  • The balance between the cookie and filling is perfected.
  • There is a huge range of rainbow colors represented.
  • There is attention to detail in the decoration and piping.

Beyond flavors and visuals, New York City rainbow cookies also represent generations of baking tradition. Many bakeries still use the original recipes perfected decades or even a century ago. The nostalgia and emotions rainbow cookies evoke are just as important to the experience of eating them.

How do you eat rainbow cookies?

Rainbow cookies are meant for sharing and enjoying in slices. Here are some tips for eating rainbow cookies:

  • Use a serrated knife to carefully slice the rainbow cookie horizontally into thin half inch segments.
  • Try to slice cleanly through each layer so every slice has some of each color visible.
  • Eat the rainbow cookie segments by hand and nibble off little bites so all the colors and flavors come through in each piece.
  • Don’t eat rainbow cookies straight from the fridge – let them come closer to room temperature to allow the textures and flavors shine.
  • Feel free to dunk your rainbow cookie in milk, coffee, or tea for added enjoyment!
  • Rainbow cookies also work great as an ice cream sandwich when pressed between scoops of ice cream.

The main goal is to end up with bites that contain a taste of every swirled rainbow layer in one. That’s the perfect rainbow cookie experience!

Are rainbow cookies popular elsewhere or just a NY thing?

While rainbow cookies originated in New York and remain iconically associated with the city, they have also gained popularity in other parts of the U.S. over time. However, the rainbow cookies found outside New York are not always authentic versions.

Rainbow cookies can now be found nationwide at mass-produced grocery store bakeries. However, these commercial rainbow cookies tend to be different than classic New York rainbow cookies – they might use shortening instead of butter in the filling, artificial colors and flavors, or are missing the signature almond meringue cookie base.

Some artisanal bakeries in other cities have started making high quality rainbow cookies inspired by the New York tradition. Cities like Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia may offer locally-made rainbow cookies that come close to New York styles. But even these rarely perfectly replicate the generations of time-honored recipes and baking perfection found at old school NYC bakeries.

So while you can find versions of rainbow cookies across America, to get the real authentic experience – from ingredients to textures to nostalgia – you have to visit New York City. The rainbow cookie remains a distinctly New York treat at heart.

Are rainbow cookies popular year-round or just during the holidays?

Rainbow cookies have become a staple treat enjoyed by New Yorkers year-round, but they tend to have a special significance around the holidays.

While rainbow cookies are available in bakeries anytime, they are especially ubiquitous around holiday celebrations like:

  • Christmas – Rainbow cookies are a popular Christmas cookie to give as gifts or leave out for Santa alongside milk.
  • Hanukkah – In Jewish communities, rainbow cookies are a traditional Hanukkah food, along with jelly donuts.
  • Easter – The colorful look suits Easter and rainbow cookies are a classic Easter bake sale treat.
  • Mother’s Day – Rainbow cookies are often given to moms on Mother’s Day for breakfast-in-bed or holiday meals.
  • Birthdays – The fun colors and whimsical nature make rainbow cookies a perfect birthday dessert.

Bakeries often sell extra rainbow cookies around these holidays to meet higher demand. The festive rainbow colors and nostalgic associations make rainbow cookies a natural fit for celebrating. While New Yorkers enjoy them all year, they hold a special cookie-table place during the winter holiday season.

Do New Yorkers have strong opinions about rainbow cookies?

As with many iconic regional foods, New Yorkers definitely have strong opinions about rainbow cookies! Some key rainbow cookie debates include:

  • Which bakery makes the best rainbow cookies in NYC?
  • What is the ideal number of cookie layers – 3, 6, or even 12?
  • Should they include coconut flavor or just pure almond extract?
  • Is it better to eat them chilled or at room temp?
  • Are thicker “half moon” style rainbow cookies superior to slimmer versions?
  • Does neon food coloring make them too artificial looking?

There are even arguments over what to properly call them – rainbow cookies versus Neapolitan cookies or tricolor cookies. New Yorkers pride themselves on knowing where to find the city’s best old-school rainbow cookies just like their grandma used to make.

While everyone might have preferences, when it comes to these beautiful, whimsical cookies, there’s no wrong way to enjoy a rainbow cookie! As long as they have the classic, colorful look with contrasting textures, they bring back nostalgia of celebrating in New York.

Where are the most Instagrammable rainbow cookies in NYC?

The colorful, dream-like quality of rainbow cookies make them very Instagrammable treats. Here are some places to get the most visually stunning, social media-worthy rainbow cookies in New York City:

  • Emily’s Rainbow Cookies – This West Village shop makes rainbow cakes and cookies decorated with flowers, disco balls, and more!
  • Tempting Bites Bakery – Specializes in rainbow pastries like rainbow cheesecakes and edible cookie dough cones.
  • Sugar Sweet Sunshine – Their famous Funfetti cake is swirled with sprinkles like a giant rainbow cookie.
  • The Good Batch – Makes thick half-moon rainbow cookies with beautifully crisp edges.
  • Ovenly – Offers photogenic rainbow cookies in mini sizes, cake truffles, and whoopie pies.

These bakeries excel at decorating rainbow cookies and pastries with an extra colorful, playful twist. Their treats are as delightful to look at as they are to eat!

What are some variations on traditional rainbow cookies?

While the classic rainbow cookie has stood the test of time, some modern NYC bakeries have started putting new fun twists on tradition. Some rainbow cookie variations include:

  • Half-moon/Almond Crescent Style – Thicker, crescent moon shaped cookies made with more almond extract.
  • Confetti Funfetti Style – Fun rainbow sprinkles added into the dough or filling.
  • Neon Bright Colors – Vibrant, almost unnatural rainbow colors.
  • Striped Layers – Thin stripes of color rather than whole sheets.
  • Flavored Fillings – Filling flavors like mocha, red velvet, or orange.
  • Decorations – Toppings like shimmery edible glitter, crushed candy, or swirled frosting.
  • Non-Dairy – Versions with vegan cream fillings and dairy-free cookies.

These imaginative takes add extra color, taste, and creativity while still evoking nostalgia for the classic rainbow cookie. New Yorkers love trying the latest rainbow cookie trends!

Should you order rainbow cookies or try baking them yourself at home?

Rainbow cookies may look impressive, but they are very challenging to make at home:

  • Each component – meringue cookies, buttercream, food coloring – requires precision.
  • It is labor intensive to bake six cookie sheets separately.
  • Layering buttercream neatly between cookies takes skill.
  • Home ovens often bake unevenly, leading to cracked cookies.
  • Meringues can be finicky and sensitive to humidity.
  • Proper assembly to get clean slices requires practice.

Unless you are an expert baker, it can be very difficult to produce bakery-quality rainbow cookies at home. The time, effort, and finesse required is immense.

That’s why for the best rainbow cookie experience, it’s recommended to order them from a high quality NYC bakery. There are too many technical challenges to rainbow cookie baking to DIY it. And when you can get authentic rainbow cookies shipped nationwide, why bother struggling to bake subpar ones yourself?

Leave it to the New York City baking pros to handle making perfect, timeless rainbow cookies instead. It’s worth it to pay extra for edible nostalgia done right!

How can you ship rainbow cookies as gifts?

The good news is many famous New York City rainbow cookie bakeries now offer shipping options, making it easy to send rainbow cookies as gifts across the country. Here are some top places to ship rainbow cookies:

  • Carlo’s Bakery – Ships nationwide and offers rainbow cookie variety gift packs for holidays.
  • Veniero’s Pastry – Ships frozen packs of 12-24 rainbow cookies overnight.
  • Zabar’s – Ships Zabar’s rainbow cookies in packs of 6 or 12.
  • Emily’s Rainbow Cookies – Ships nationwide and can even customize packaging.
  • Dylan’s Candy Bar – Ships rainbow cookie gift boxes along with candy care packages.

The cookies are carefully packaged to prevent breakage and maintain freshness. Shipping rainbow cookies overnight with ice packs helps them arrive intact no matter where you live. Spread the rainbow cookie love!

Are rainbow cookies really better in NYC?

While rainbow cookies have spread across the country over the decades, tasting them in New York City still provides the ultimate, authentic experience. There are several reasons NYC rainbow cookies reign supreme:

  • Access to original recipes perfected by immigrant bakers over generations.
  • High quality ingredients like fresh buttercream made in-house.
  • Mastery of technical skills for achieving perfect cookie textures.
  • Cultural tradition and nostalgia around rainbow cookies in NYC.
  • The huge range of bakeries to sample different takes.
  • The thrill of tasting them in their original hometown.

Much like getting an authentic cheesesteak in Philly or deep dish pizza in Chicago, biting into a rainbow cookie from an old school NYC bakery offers a one-of-a-kind experience. The sights, smells, tastes, and memories come together to create a complete sensory experience that can’t quite be replicated outside the Big Apple.

So for the true rainbow cookie aficionado, making a pilgrimage to New York City itself may be the only way to get the full rainbow cookie experience in all its nostalgic glory!


Rainbow cookies remain an iconic baked good synonymous with New York City to this day. While their origins may be debated, rainbow cookies have undoubtedly become a quintessential part of the city’s food culture. Their whimsical colors and flavors represent the diversity and vibrancy of NYC.

New Yorkers have a nostalgia and pride associated with rainbow cookies spanning generations. Visiting historic NYC bakeries offers a chance to taste the living history of immigrant bakers who perfected these cookies. For rainbow cookie lovers, biting into an authentic New York rainbow cookie evokes memories of celebrations and eating them is a treat for the eyes, heart, and tastebuds.

So are rainbow cookies really a New York thing? While you can now find versions everywhere, there’s still no place like New York for experiencing the full wonder of the rainbow cookie.

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