Baking & Dessert

By Lindsay Hunt | December 29, 2010

Photo: Lindsay Hunt

Though I’ve never visited Argentina, I feel like I have.  My high-school roommate, Montana, is half-Argentine and my best friend from college, Arielle, has an intense love for that South American country, and moved to Buenos Aires post-graduation. They tempt me with descriptions of a cosmopolitan city: the Paris of South America.  It has amazing food, grass-fed beef, and a fantastic night life.  I day dream about a trip there frequently.

 

In high-school, Montana introduced me to the ubiquitous Argentine treat: alfajores.  After winter break, she returned with two packages of the cookies, and I fell in love with the cookies, one alfajor at a time.  Two shortbread-like cookies sandwich layer of caramel filling.  Dipped in a thin layer of milk chocolate, the cookies transcended their mass-produced origins.

Then, in college, Arielle introduced me to the ingredient that filled the alfajores: dulce de leche.  Dulce de leche means milk caramel, and is made from sweetened condensed milk.  I made my own to fill the cookies, which wasn’t hard.  Reduce the milk in the top pot of a double boiler for 2 to 3 hours, or until thickened and light golden and caramel-colored.  Dulce de leche can also be found at many specialty food markets and grocery stores.

Alfajores originated in Spain, during the period of al-Andalus, when Spain was largely Arab.  Colonists brought the confection to countries in South and Latin America.  In Spain, the sweet is called alaja and comes in a cylinder form.  It contains honey, almonds, breadcrumbs and spices.

Due to an initial lack of resources in the time of colonization, the Argentinian version is primarily made of cornstarch, flour and butter, resulting in a melt-in-your-mouth confection.  This recipe is from Saveur Magazine‘s recent issue.  It does not call for a coating of melted chocolate, but I couldn’t resist.

Photo: Lindsay Hunt

Alfajores (Dulce de Leche Cookie Sandwiches) Recipe

Servings: 20 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 2/3 cups cornstarch
  • 11/4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 10 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbsp cognac or brandy
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 4 egg yolks
  • Canned or homemade dulce de leche, for filling cookies
  • 1 cup chopped milk or dark chocolate, for dipping cookies

Directions

1. Heat oven to 350°. In a bowl, sift together cornstarch, flour, and baking powder; set aside. In a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat together sugar and butter until fluffy.

2. Add cognac and zest; beat. Add yolks one at a time; beat. Add dry ingredients; mix.

3. Transfer dough to a floured surface, knead briefly; divide into 3 pieces. Working with 1 dough piece at a time, roll dough to 1/4" thickness. Using a 2 1/2" round cookie cutter, cut out cookies; transfer to parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spaced 1" apart. Reroll scraps and repeat.

4. Bake until golden, 12-15 minutes. Let cool.

5. Flip half the cookies over; top each with 1 heaping tsp. dulce de leche. Top with remaining cookies.

6. Fill the bottom pan of a double boiler or heavy bottomed saucepan with 2-inches water. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low. Put the chocolate in the top portion of the double boiler, or in a glass or stainless-steel bowl that fits inside the rim of a saucepan without touching the water. Using a spatula, stir the chocolate until uniformly melted and smooth.

7. Dip the cookies halfway in the chocolate one at a time, and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper to cool and harden. Keep dipping the cookies, making sure the water stays hot but not at a full boil.

Serve with coffee.

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