December 23rd, 2011
Come Christmas time, I become a cookie fanatic. Every year I bake at least 10 different varieties. There are a few that I make every year, but mostly it's, "what is new?! what haven't I tried?! what sounds super delicious?!" Last year I stumbled on alfajores and this year they were the first cookie on my list.
Alfajores: the most delicious cookie you've never heard of. I'm afraid I don't know very much about the origins of these cookies. I believe alfajores (I took German, not Spanish, so I can't tell you how to pronounce it) are a South American treat. Wherever they are from, thank you, because they are the best thing that happen to my cookie loving self.
There are a lot of different recipes out there for alfajores. The cookie part changes: sometimes it's a crispy spice cookie or more of a shortbread like cookie. But the cookie I make is a barely sweeten pie crust sprinkled with a bit of crunchy sugar on top. Between the two little cookies is a big dollop of dulce de leche--a gorgeous confection, addicting in its own right.
Together the flakiness of the cookie and the creaminess of the dulce de leche make a cookie that is homey and sophisticated at the same time, rich but not cloying, sweet with a hint of savory. And, omg, unbelievably good. Now that you are drooling, let's get to the recipe shall we...
(adapted from Martha Stewart)
for the dulce de leche:
- two (14 oz) cans sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
- pinch of coarse salt
- Pour condensed milk into a pie plate or shallow baking dish
- Mix in salt
- Place baking dish into a larger pan. Pour water into the larger pan until it reaches half way up the sides of the baking dish.
- Cover the dish tightly with foil.
- Bake at 400 degrees for 1-2 hours. Checking now and again to stir the milk and making sure there is always water in the larger pan.
- It will be a beautiful brown and carmelly color when it's done. There may be lumps, but you can whisk it a bit (or not). When it cool it should be the consistency of creamy peanut butter.
Dulce de leche makes a fine Christmas gift on its own. When it's hot out of the oven pour into small jars. It keeps for about a month in the fridge.
for the cookies:
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
- 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1/2 cup water
- Sanding sugar or powdered sugar, for sprinkling
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar briefly. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
3. With machine running, pour in the water in a slow stream, and process 20 seconds. The dough will probably not come together, but that's okay. Roll out a length of plastic wrap and put half of the crumbly dough onto it. Wrap it up tightly in the plastic wrap, then with the heel of your hand press the dough 5-10 times until it comes together. Repeat with the other half of cookie dough. Refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight.
4. Flour your surface and roll out one disk of dough to between 1/4 in and 1/2 in thick. The cookies should be thick, but too thick and you won't be able to fit the finished cookie in your mouth!
5. Cut out rounds (roundish cutters are best, those stars up there? they fell apart right away) from the dough and transfer to a parchment lined cookie sheet. Continue with the rest of the dough. Gather up your scraps and re-roll, but only re-roll once (they will be tough otherwise).
6. Sprinkle half the rounds with sanding sugar or if you don't have sanding sugar, sift powdered sugar on half the baked cookies (when cool).
7.Bake until golden brown and a little puffed up, about 15 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
8. Spread a heaping teaspoon of dulce de leche on half the cookies. Top with the sugar coated cookie and serve. These cookies are lovely right away, but I like them best the next day when their flavors have melded a bit.