Recipe from Simply Sensational Cookies by Nancy Baggett (Wiley, 2012)The people of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Peru are all fond of alfajores—simple shortbread sandwiches with a gooey milk caramel fi lling tucked inside. This particular version is unusual in that it calls for dark brown sugar and a bit of cornmeal. It imparts a mild, sweet corn taste and adds a slight crunchiness that contrasts nicely with the creamy filling. Although these sandwich cookies can be paired with a traditional caramel-flavored filling, they are particularly nice with the chocolate version, pictured. The resulting sandwiches are less sweet, and the filling provides more noticeable visual contrast to the shortbread. The classic homemade dulce de leche recipe is below; store-bought will also do fine.
- 1 cup (2 sticks) cool and firm
- unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- 2⁄3 cup (packed) light or dark brown sugar
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon whole or low-fat milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Generous 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose white flour, plus more if needed
- 2⁄3 cup finely ground white or yellow cornmeal
- 1 batch Chocolate Dulce de Leche (see below)
Preliminaries: Set out six large sheets of baking parchment or wax paper and a baking sheet.Combine the butter, brown sugar, egg, milk, vanilla, and salt in a food processor. Process in on/off pulses until the mixture is evenly blended; stop and scrape down the sides as needed. Add the flour. Process in pulses just until the mixture comes together into a dough. (Alternatively, soften the butter slightly. Combine it with the brown sugar, egg, milk,vanilla, and salt in a large bowl. Beat with a heavy-duty mixer on medium speed, until well blended and smooth. Add the flour; beat on low speed until evenly incorporated, scraping down the sides as needed.)
Turn out the dough onto a sheet of wax paper. Sprinkle over the cornmeal. Knead it in with the hands until the dough is well blended. If it is dry and crumbly, work in a little water until it holds together; if it is very soft, work in a tablespoon or two more flour.
Divide the dough into thirds. Place each portion between large sheets of baking parchment. Roll out the portions a scant 1⁄4 inch thick; check the underside of the dough and smooth out any wrinkles that form. Stack the rolled portions (sheet still attached) on a baking sheet. Refrigerate for 20 to 25 minutes, until cold and fi rm. (Or freeze for about 15 minutes.)
Baking Preliminaries: Position a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 350°F. Grease several large baking sheets or coat with nonstick spray.
Working with one portion at a time, gently peel away one sheet of paper, then pat it back into place. (This will make it easier to lift the cookies from the sheet later.) Peel off and discard the second layer. Using a 2- to 21⁄4-inch plain round cutter, cut out the cookies. (If at any point the dough softens too much to handle easily, transfer the paper and cookies to a baking sheet and refrigerate until firm again.)
Using a spatula, carefully transfer the cookies from the paper, spacing about 11⁄4 inches apart on the baking sheets. Re-roll any dough scraps. Continue cutting out the cookies until all dough is used; refrigerate as necessary if it becomes too soft to handle.
Bake (middle rack) one sheet at a time for 11 to 15 minutes or until the cookies are tinged with brown at the edges and just barely firm when pressed in the center top. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack. Let the cookies stand to firm up for 5 minutes; they are too tender to handle when still very warm. Transfer to wire racks using a wide-bladed spatula. Let stand until thoroughly cooled.
For the sandwiches: Ready the chocolate dulce de leche as directed. Spread enough on the underside of a cookie to yield a 1⁄4- to 1⁄3 -inch-thick layer of filling for a finished sandwich. Cover the filling with another similar-size cookie, underside down. Gently press down until the filling squeezes out just to the edges.
Repeat until all the sandwiches are assembled. They may be served immediately or made several days ahead.
Yield: Makes twenty to twenty-fi ve 21⁄4- to 21⁄2-inch cookie sandwiches
Storage: Store these, airtight and refrigerated, for up to 1 week. They can be frozen, airtight, for up to 3 weeks. Serve the cookies at room temperature.
Chocolate Dulce De Leche
In this variation on the usual dulce de leche theme, dark chocolate helps balance the characteristic sweetness of the caramel, and the caramel flavor mellows the bittersweetness of the chocolate. The recipe is designed to go with the Brown Sugar Alfajores, although it can also be paired with most any sugar or shortbread wafers for equally easy and succulent sandwich cookies.
While you can make your own dulce de leche, here it’s perfectly fine to start with a tin or jar purchased in a Latin American market or supermarket.
Be sure to look for a brand made with cow’s milk; goat’s milk has a stronger taste that competes with the chocolate.
- 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- 4 1⁄2 ounces extra-bittersweet (70 to 85 percent cacao) chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 1 1⁄3 cups commercial or homemade dulce de leche
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons light or dark corn
Put the butter and chocolate in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave the mixture on high power for 30 seconds; stir well. As necessary, microwave the mixture on 50 percent power, stopping and stirring at 20-second intervals, until mostly melted. Let the residual heat finish the melting, stirring occasionally.
If the dulce de leche is stiff or looks separated, stir well. Add the dulce de leche and vanilla to the chocolate mixture, but don’t stir them into it. Microwave the bowl, covered, on 50 percent power for 30 seconds. Add the corn syrup, then vigorously stir the mixture until very well blended and smooth. If it looks separated and oily, vigorously stir in up to 1 1⁄2 tablespoons hot water until the filling smoothes out and becomes readily spreadable.
To prepare sandwich cookies: Immediately spread enough warm dulce de leche on the underside of half the cookies to yield a 1⁄4-inch-thick layer. Top the filling layer with a similar-size cookie, underside against the filling. Press the two together until the filling squeezes to the edges. Let cool to room temperature before serving the sandwiches.
Alternatively, cool and cover the chocolate dulce de leche, then refrigerate it. Rewarm on medium power in a microwave oven, stirring every 30 seconds, until spreadable again before using.
Yield: Makes enough to fill about 25 small cookie sandwiches
Storage: Store this, airtight in the refrigerator, for up to 1 week. It can be frozen, airtight, for up to 1 month. Thaw in the refrigerator; rewarm slightly using a microwave oven, then stir well.