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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Alfajores - a holiday baking idea from The Foodie Handbook


Here's another recipe from my new book I'd like to share, and this is just the perfect time for it.  Aren't we all thinking about holiday baking these days?  Ok, if you're in Northern California you must be thinking freezing weather too - you've heard all the complaints on twitter I'm sure - so, what better than baking for an excuse to turn on your oven and warm up the house?

It will also be fun to do something slightly different than the usual sugar or gingerbread cookies, don't you agree?  I highly recommend these Alfajores, two buttery, crumbly cookies hugging the sweet dulce de leche (a sort of caramelized milk jam), your friends and relative will appreciate the novelty.  You may have to teach them how to say the name, al-fa-ho-res, but once they bite into these addictively delicious cookies, they won't mind one bit.

Don't let the fact that these cookies are so deliciously delicate - they seem to crumble under too intense a gaze - deter you.  While being made, the dough is so easy to work with it feels like Play-doh.

Alfajores cookies

250g cornstarch (2 cups – see method below*)
200g all purpose flour (1 1/2 cup)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
200g, 7oz (14tbsp) butter at room temperature
75g sugar (1/3 cup )
3 egg yolks
1tbsp cognac
1 cup Dulce de Leche (see below**)

*If you don't have a kitchen scale, this recipe should convince you to go get one.  Cornstarch is quite difficult to measure in volume, so the measurement here is by weight instead.  If you don't have a kitchen scale and don't want to buy one (whatever!) you can sift the cornstarch directly onto your measuring cup.  Line a pasty board or your countertop with a large piece of parchment paper, place a one cup dry-measure in the middle of it.  Pour cornstarch into a sifter or a large strainer and sift it directly over the measuring cup.  Continue sifting until you fill the cup with sifted cornstarch.  You can tap the cup gently just to let the cornstarch settle into the cup, but do it very gently as you don't want to pack cornstarch tightly into it.  Level the top with the back of a knife.  Pour the measured cornstarch into another bowl, pour the excess cornstarch on the paper back into the box, then repeat the process to measure the second cup.  Measuring this way you should get about 250g from two cups, precisely what you need in this recipe.

Preheat the oven to 350F (175C).

Sift flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder and baking soda together.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and yolks on high speed until they are well incorporated, add cognac and beat until combined.  Reduce the speed to low, add the dry ingredients a bit at a time until well incorporated.  Empty the bowl onto a dry board and knead the mixture just until it comes together into dough.  Divide the dough into two balls.  At this point you can wrap each with plastic and store in the fridge for up to a day until you're ready to use them. 

If the dough has been refrigerated, let it sit out at room temperature for a short time to warm up a bit.  Then, on a lightly-floured board, roll each ball of dough until it is 1/4 inch or 5mm thick.  Use a 3inch or 6-7cm fluted cookie cutter to cut 20-25 cookies from each half of the dough.  You can gather the excess dough together and roll it again.  (This dough is very forgiving.)  Place the cut cookies onto two large cookie sheets, leaving just half an inch or 1cm between them - they only expand a tiny bit while baking. 

Bake the cookies for 15-20 minutes, switching the baking sheets about halfway through.  The cookies should change the color only slightly.  Remove from the oven immediately, let stand on the cookie sheet for about two minutes.  Then, handling them gently, transfer them onto a rack to cool. 


To finish the cookies, fill a pastry bag with the dulce de leche and pipe about 1 tbsp on top of half the cookies.  If you don't have a pastry bag, just spread the dulce de leche onto the cookies with a butter knife.  Be careful, these cookies are very delicate.  Top the filled cookies with the other half, making little cookie sandwiches, pressing down a little so the filling is spread evenly.  Sift a bit of powdered sugar on top just before serving.  You can also roll the side of the cookies over coconut flakes to make them even more delicious (and authentic.) 

**Dulce de Leche
1 14oz or 400g can of sweetened condensed milk
1 vanilla pod (if you want to splurge, or just a teaspoon of vanilla extract (added at the end)

Preheat the oven to 425F

Open the can of condensed milk and pour it into a medium-sized baking pan.  (I use a glass pyrex pie plate for this.)  Cut the vanilla pod in half lengthwise (if using) and scrape out the seeds.  Add them to the condensed milk and mix well.  You can even throw in the pod as well, just remove them after the cooking.  Cover the baking pan with aluminum foil.

Place the baking pan on top of a larger pan with high sides.  Add water to the larger pan until it comes halfway up to the side of the small pan.  Place it in the oven and bake for about one hour.  Check it every so often to make sure there's still water in the pan, fill it if necessary. 

Remove the pan from the oven, take out the vanilla pod (or add vanilla extract if using) whisk until the texture is smooth.  Let it cool to room temperature before using.


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