IMBB 10 – Cookies

by Jeanne

Alfajores_2 For many of us cookies are as much an everyday treat as they are a special occasion tradition.  Holiday cookies are no exception.  Around the world there are cookies that mark the Christmas holiday ranging in flavors from Switzerland’s brunsli, Germany’s lebkuchen, Danish aebleskiver, Italian pizzelles, Czech kolacky, shortbread from Scotland. Mexico’s bicochos and Russian Snowballs and of course the ubiquitous, German in origination but somehow a taste strongly associated with the holiday gingerbread cookies.

For this edition of IMBB #10 Cookies hosted by Domestic Goddess we’re all about cookie swapping–holiday style.

I ended up in South America for this effort, specifically in Uruguay where there is a decidedly Italian influence on  cooking and food preparation. Uruguayans love crusty bread, pasta and pizza. Uruguayans also drink strong espresso coffee from very small cups at coffee bars and enjoy an assortment of pastries and sweets. 

It should come as no surprise to me that I first discovered alfajores in my neighborhood Italian coffee shop. But I was pleasantly enchanted by the delicate balance of shortbread tenderness and sexy sweetness of the filling–dulce de leche. This cookie treat is one of the most common cookies found throughout much of South America. People from Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Peru all claim them as their own.

The recipe calls for a surprising amount of cornstarch. This ingredient lowers the flour’s protein content, so the dough will have a weaker gluten formation, and as a result the cookies will be more tender.

I ran out of dulce de leche and had cookies left over so I created simple variations including filling the middle with Nutella (outstanding), peanut butter, and rose petal jam.

Alfajores de Dulce de Leche
(Caramel Sandwich Cookies)

Based on a recipe from Sunset Magazine, December 2001

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 1 1/2 hours, plus at least 30 minutes to chill

MAKES: 18 to 25 sandwiches

About 1 cup (1/2 lb.) butter or margarine, at room temperature

2/3 cup sugar

2 large egg yolks

1 large egg

3 tablespoons dark rum

1 teaspoon vanilla

About 2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking powder

Lemon zest

About 1 3/4 cups dulce de leche or caramel sauce (see note below)

In a large bowl, with a mixer on medium speed, beat 1 cup butter and sugar until smooth. Add egg yolks, whole egg, rum, and vanilla and beat until well blended.

In a medium bowl, mix 2 cups flour, cornstarch, and baking powder. Stir into butter mixture, then beat until well blended. Divide dough in half, press each half into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and place in fridge until firm. The cookies can be prepared the day before up until this point.

Unwrap dough. On a lightly floured surface, with a floured rolling pin, roll one disk at a time to about 1/8 inch thick. With a floured, 2- to 3-inch round cutter, cut out cookies. Place about 1 inch apart on buttered 12- by 15-inch baking sheets. Gather excess dough into a ball, reroll, and cut out remaining cookies.

Bake at 350° until edges just begin to brown, about 10-13 minutes. If baking two sheets at once in one oven, switch their positions halfway through baking. Let the cookies cool on sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to racks to cool completely.

Flip half the cookies bottom side up and spread each with about 1 tablespoon dulce de leche. Top with remaining cookies, bottom side down. TIP:  Don’t press down on cookie top but with light pressure twist back and forth.

Easy Dulce de Leche

If you live in a city that has Mexican markets you will have a wide range of ready to go dulce de leche.  If you are not inclined to prepare your own and simply prefer to order online it’ll make the preparation smoother. La Salamandra, a dairy farm located near Buenos Aires makes a very rich whole milk version.  The farm is on it’s way to organic certification.

Pour 1 can sweetened condensed milk into 9-inch pie plate.

Cover with aluminum foil. Place the pie plate in a in larger shallow pan filled with hot water.

Do not allow the water to cover the smaller pan.

Bake at 425 degrees for 1 hour or until thick and caramel-colored.

Beat until smooth.