Neapolitan Cookies are so pretty to look at, but the combination of strawberries, chocolate, and perfect sugar-cookie vanilla is, more importantly, irresistibly delicious. Whether you bite each flavor individually or just chomp the whole thing with abandon, these cookies are sure to become a favorite.
These beautiful cookies- Neapolitan Cookies, are the sole reason I had to add Sarah Kieffer’s book 100 Cookies to my already too-large cookbook library. I’ve made these cookies so many times in the last month, adjusting the recipe with some added lemon zest, espresso powder, and increasing the amount of freeze-dried strawberries until my taste-testers said “these are the best cookies I’ve ever had”. I also played with the assembly for aesthetics until my Good Dinner Mom critics said “this batch looks the best”.
The prep for Neapolitan cookies seems like it’s very involved, but with the help of a stand mixer (or hand mixer), and kitchen scale (or good estimation on your part), these are ready to bake in about 15 minutes- max. These cookies are not only colored for pretty presentation, the colors happen with the addition of natural flavors only. This keeps the flavors bright and fresh-tasting, and is sure to please everyone’s palette. Here’s a few notes about what I did to ensure these are the best Neapolitan’s ever:
Using freeze-dried strawberries adds the perfect real berry flavor and just right, pink color. I’ve seen other recipes add Nesquik or artificial strawberry flavoring and red food coloring- these cookies don’t need any of that.
Cocoa Powder and Instant Espresso Powder-
You can make the Neapolitan cookies with whatever type of cocoa powder you have, but I like to use Dutch-processed cocoa powder and even black cocoa powder when I have it. This increases the dark color of the chocolate part of the cookies for increased contrast. I also add 1/4 teaspoon of instant espresso powder. The addition of espresso powder amps up the chocolate flavor-richness of these cookies without adding any “coffee” taste. The times I forgot to add the espresso powder, we definitely noticed the chocolate was a little flat tasting.
I add just enough lemon zest to both the vanilla dough of the Neapolitan Cookies and the strawberry “pink” dough. This addition enhances the flavor of the strawberries and brightens the vanilla dough just enough to take it to the next level.
When making the dough for the Neapolitan cookies, you’ll first make the base dough (no lemon zest is added at this point because you don’t want lemon zest in the chocolate dough). Then it’s easy to split the dough into thirds, either by weighing with a kitchen scale, or just eyeballing the dough. In the same bowl that the base dough was made, each flavor is created as instructed in the printable recipe below.
How to assemble Neapolitan Cookies-
You can assemble the Neapolitan cookies a few different ways:
- I prefer to take one piece of each dough, lightly squish them side by side together and then insert into the cookie scooper (I use a large 2-tablespoon scooper). Press them in firmly but not super tight, then remove with the click of the scooper. Repeat until you’ve combined them all. This is my favorite way because most people like to be able to bite each flavor individually and this is the prettiest method, and it goes quicker than you might think, especially if you can get some additional helping hands.
- If you like to combine the colors so they look a bit more marbled, don’t worry about lining them side-by-side and instead kind of combine haphazardly. Again place into the cookie scooper.
- Some bakers make the balls and then randomly place them into a loaf pan, pressing together slightly. Then scoop each cookie out of the loaf pan, not worrying about getting an even amount of each color. This method is super easy if you don’t care if the flavors remain distinctly separate. But you should know, almost all my taste testers LOVED biting off individual flavors for much of the time.
- You can also just roll the balls into one bigger ball with your hands if you like.
Once the cookies are assembled, slightly resembling a delicious scoop of Neapolitan ice cream, they get baked using two baking pans. The batch makes about 26 good-sized cookies, once cooled and ready to eat, they’ll be gone in a flash. And because they’re pretty irresistible, you might want to freeze some of the cookies before baking (after assembled) so you can have them on hand when friends drop by, or when you want to bake a few at a time. They bake from frozen easily, just increase the baking time a bit and remove when they’re puffy and before the edges start to color too much.
Neapolitan Cookies are my family’s favorite cookie right now and the base dough is perfect for experimenting with other flavors. For a fun green color and mild nutty flavor, you can use culinary grade matcha. If you used the matcha, it pairs well with the chocolate dough.
- 2 ½ cups all purpose flour
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt
- ⅔ cup freeze-dried strawberries (this measurement is before pulverizing in the food processor)
- 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature (2 sticks)
- 1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg at room temperature
- 1 large egg yolk at room temperature
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp lemon zest divided
- 2 ½ tbsp Dutch-process cocoa powder
- ¼ tsp instant espresso optional
- White, pink, and brown sprinkles or jimmies optional
- Adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line two baking sheet pans with parchment paper. (You only bake them one pan at a time but it's nice to have a cooled pan ready to go right when the first batch comes out).
- In a medium bowl, combine 2 ½ cups flour, 1 Tablespoon cornstarch, ½ teaspoon baking soda, and ¼ teaspoon salt.
- In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade, pulverize ⅔ cups freeze-dried strawberries into a powder.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat 1 cup (or two sticks) butter on medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Add 1 ¼ cups sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add 1 egg, the yolk, and 2 teaspoons vanilla, and beat on medium speed until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined.
- Dump the dough out onto counter or work surface and divide it into three equal portions. Put one-third of the dough into the mixer and add ½ teaspoon lemon zest. Mix on low speed until the zest it fully incorporated, only 5 to 8 seconds. This will be your vanilla portion. Remove the dough and set aside.
- Add another third of the dough to the mixer and add the powdered strawberries and remaining ½ teaspoon of lemon zest. Mix on low speed until totally combined, about 10 to 15 seconds, then remove the dough. This will be your strawberry portion. Quickly wipe out the bowl of the mixer.
- Add the last third of the dough to the mixer. Add 2 ½ Tablespoons cocoa powder, plus ¼ tsp espresso powder, and mix on low speed until totally combined, again about 10 to 15 seconds.
- Pinch small portions (about ½ oz. or ½ Tablespoon size) of the vanilla dough until all the dough has been portioned. Repeat with the strawberry and then the chocolate dough. You will now have several small balls of all the dough ready to be combined.
- You can create your Neapolitan cookies a few different ways. I prefer to take one piece of each dough, lightly squish them side by side together and then insert into the cookie scooper. Press them in firmly but not super tight, then remove with the click of the scooper. Repeat until you've combined them all. This is my favorite way because most people like to be able to bite each flavor individually and this is the prettiest method. 2. If you like to combine the colors to mix and marble a little more, don't worry about lining them side-by-side and instead kind of combine haphazardly. Again place into the cookie scooper. 3. Some bakers make the balls and then randomly place them into a loaf pan, pressing together slightly. Then scoop each cookie out of the combined dough. This method is super easy if you don't care if the flavors remain distinctly separate. 4. You can also just roll the balls into one bigger ball with your hands if you like. Top with a generous amount of sprinkles, if using. I would do this pretty quickly. As the dough sits, it dries out just enough that the sprinkles have a harder time adhering to the cookies. If this happens, kind of press the sprinkles onto the cookie. Place 6 or 7 cookies on the baking sheet, about 2 ½-inches apart. Bake for 11 to 12 minutes, until the sides are set and the cookies are puffed. Do not let the edges start to change color, they're better just barely golden on the bottom (in my opinion and my taste-testers').
- Remove the baking sheet to sit on top of your stove and let the cookies cool for 10 minutes.
- Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let them cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.
- The lemon zest is optional but adds a nice brightness to the cookie that combines well with the strawberry and chocolate flavors.
- I highly recommend weighing the flour as your way of measuring if you have a kitchen scale and are able to do so.
- I use black cocoa or Dutch-processed cocoa powder for a rich chocolate color. For the strawberry portion, if you want you can add 1 or 2 drops of red food coloring but you really don't need to. The cookies I've shown you do not have any food coloring in them.
- Also, I have read other recipes where bakers added 2 tablespoons of Strawberry Nesquik or strawberry extract to increase the strawberry flavor. Also absolutely not necessary. I find the freeze-dried strawberries provide plenty of fresh, natural strawberry flavor (I easily find them at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods). The 2/3 cup measurement for the strawberries is before they've been processed in the food processor.
- The 1/4 tsp of espresso powder can be left out if you desire or don't have any but the espresso deepens the flavor of the chocolate. This amount won't add any coffee flavor to the cookies.
- I've made these cookies several times using salted butter. If that's all you have, just decrease the added salt by half.
- Also something of note, the original recipe in 100 Cookies cookbook suggests rolling the cookies in sugar before baking. My tasters did not like this method for taste, appearance, and also texture. The cookies really don't need it and in fact, sprinkles are pretty but most preferred the flavor without the sprinkles.
- You can freeze the cookies before baking for up to 2 months. First combine the colors into the final cookie, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze solid. Then place the cookies into a freezer-safe plastic bag until ready to bake. You can bake from frozen, but add a few more minutes.
Adapted from 100 Cookies cookbook. (My changes- added lemon zest, espresso powder, increase the strawberries, changed method a bit)