Monday, August 13, 2012

Alfajores Blancos y Negros

I was on Nantucket a few weeks ago and after having disappointing meal after disappointing meal, I finally found a restaurant called Corazon del Mar that served a myriad of Latin dishes including (what we ordered) Argentinean steak with roasted yucca, a country-less pork with fried plantains and some sort of jalapeño sauce and churros con chocolate.
There was something so wonderfully exotic and tropical about this food and I started to research South American desserts when I returned home. I've been having baker's block lately, especially when I am asked to make something for a group of people.
When I'm at home, in the comfort of my kitchen, it's like rallying in tennis. No swing is too big and no miss is too embarrassing. But cooking for a crowd brings the timidity and rigidity that playing for points does. I tend to go with tried and true recipes that I know will work and will taste delicious, and rarely find the opportunity once I'm done with that on weekends to experiment the way I would like to.
But I was really tired of European and American desserts, so I found a recipe for a classic Latin American cookie called alfajor. They are similar to shortbread, albeit they have markedly less butter, except that you sandwich two cookies with dulce de leche in the middle and dip half the cookie in chocolate sauce. Yes. There is butter, caramel with spice and chocolate all on one vector.
Lots of elements could be improved, but I managed to create dulce de leche from 1 quart of whole milk, 1 1/2 cups of sugar and 1/2 tsp baking soda. I put all the elements in together and simmered the milk until the sugar had dissolved.
Then I left it on the lowest flame possible for a total of 3 hours with supplemented 30 second intervals in the microwave due to my impatience. This thickens quite a lot in the fridge when you're cooling it, but I still would try a different recipe because it was not thick as it should have been.
Nonetheless, before I removed it from the pot, I added 1/8 tsp cloves, 1/8 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp cardamom and stirred it all together. As for the cookies, they're a bit like shortcrust pastry but with less sugar and no eggs.
I combined 2 cups of flour with 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar and 1 cup of butter and kneaded it until it was incorporated in a big ball of dough. I refrigerated this for about 30 minutes because of the humidity and then rolled it out until it was the appropriate width for a cookie (1/8 inch). 
I used a glass with a 2 inch diameter to measure out the cookies and put on them a buttered tin in the oven at 350 F for 15 minutes (may need up to 20 depending on your oven). I let them cool (be careful they are very flaky when you pick them up and may crumble easily).
Alfajores can be dipped in chocolate too, so I melted 2 packets of unsweetened baker's chocolate and added a few tablespoons of confectioner's sugar and cream. However, I would instead, either use semi-sweet chocolate so you don't thicken it with sugar, or make a chocolate ganache (before it hardens).
Anyway, I dipped half the cookie in the chocolate spread and then put about 1/2 tsp of the dulce de leche onto one cookie and made a sandwich.
Keep them in the refrigerator, at least in the summer, since the dulce de leche oozes out of the sides if it's not thick enough. They are surprisingly delicious and have a unique texture, almost like a small tart. Good on a hot summer night with a tall glass of milk.

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