“Really soon” means a month, right?
Anyway, as you may or may not know, back in April I hopped on a plane down to Argentina to spend time with one of my best friends and her husband, who have been traveling around South America since last summer. (Read his hilarious travel notes here.) Increasingly adventurous Okie BFF Margo rounded out the group.
We rented an adorable apartment in an adorable neighborhood of Buenos Aires and had an amazing time exploring different neighborhoods on foot; eating as many empanadas as humanly possible (mostly at La Cholita); guzzling liters of Malbec and cheap Quilmes beer; people-watching all of the beautiful porteños; soaking up the sun (well, my pastey, vitamin D deprived self did, anyway); reconnecting with old friends; singing along to Band of Horses at a music festival; browsing street markets; eating the best steaks of our lives; side-tripping to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay; fully embracing the siesta culture with daily two-hour naps; staring awestruck at the incredible architecture; watching pirated 30 Rock DVDs; and snacking on alfajores.
Alfajores are traditional Argentine sandwich cookies with a layer of dulce de leche in the middle and coconut around the perimeter. Let me tell you, they taste as good as they sound.
Laura Belle and I decided to make homemade alfajores over the weekend—a somewhat time-intensive undertaking, but one with serious (and delicious) reward. I recommend you do the same. The cookie part of an alfajore is a sugar cookie/shortbread hybrid, made perfectly crumbly with the addition of cornstarch, and the dulce de leche…well, let’s just say that we briefly considered doing away with the whole cookie side of things in favor of eating it with a spoon straight from the jar.
For the dulce de leche:
1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
For the cookies:
2 sticks butter, softened and at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 cup cornstarch
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup grated sweetened coconut
Preheat the oven to 425˚. Pour the can of sweetened condensed milk into a glass pie pan or shallow glass baking dish. Stir in a few flakes of sea salt. Cover the dish snugly with tinfoil and place in a larger pan, like a roasting pan, baking pan, or a cookie sheet that has high edges. Add hot water to the larger pan until it comes about halfway up the pie pan. Place in the oven and bake for an hour or up to an hour and a half until it’s nicely browned and caramelized, checking it every now and then and adding more water if necessary. (Ours took an hour and a half.)
When it’s done, let it cool and then whisk until smooth. Pour the dulce de leche into a jar with a lid.
Now for the cookie part. Cream the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the egg, yolk, and vanilla and beat to incorporate. In a separate, medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, and baking powder. With the mixer running, add the dry mixture to the large mixing bowl and beat until the dough forms. Divide the dough into two balls, wrap each one in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour.
After an hour or so, take the dough out of the fridge and roll it out on a floured surface until it’s about 1/4-inch thick. Using a biscuit cutter, round cookie cutter, or a glass, cut the dough into circles and transfer them to a cookie sheet. (We lined it with parchment paper, but that was more out of laziness than anything.) Make sure you make an even number of cookies so each one has a little buddy. We also used two different sizes of glass so we’d have larger (3-inch diameter) and smaller (1-inch or so) cookies.
Bake cookies at 350˚ for 15 minutes or so until they’re slightly browned around the edges. They really keep their shape and won’t puff up or expand while baking. Let them cool and set up a little area for assembly: your jar of dulce de leche, plate of cookies, wax paper with coconut, and another piece of wax paper for the assembled alfajores.
Put a dollop of dulce de leche on one of the cookies and press another cookie on top; be careful not to add too much dulce de leche, or it’ll ooze out of the cookie and make a big mess. You do want a little bit to ooze out, though, to give the coconut something to stick to. Roll the cookie like a wheel through the pile of coconut, set it aside, and repeat with the rest of the cookies.
Now brew some coffee and enjoy your hard work.
I’ve finally uploaded my photos from the trip, so check them out here if you’d like!