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Alfajores

July 15, 2011

AUGUST 2010 — I got together with Melissa and Kim again, and I definitely wanted to fulfill the promise I made to myself about traveling and souvenir gifts for others. If I didn’t buy souvenirs from Argentina and Uruguay, I would make them! If you take a look at this previous post, alfajores are cookie sandwiches. Two light, buttery cookies (like shortbread, but less dense) surrounding a layer of rich dulce de leche paste. The sides are often rolled in shredded coconut.

So what did you do?
The first step, which takes a long time, is making dulce de leche. I don’t think it’s commonly sold in the United States. I had to look up a recipe. (I think Alton Brown had a good one.) It involves sugar, milk, and vanilla, stewing in a pot for about an hour. Another recipe I found though, (from Alex Guarnaschelli,) said the entire process “takes 25-35 minutes.” And since I’m an incredibly slow cook, she had me sold. The longer you let the dulce de leche simmer, the darker the color gets, and the more concentrated flavor you get too.
At the same time, we made sugar cookies. Kim had a recipe she uses each time, and since she’s a prolific baker, I let her do it, though I suggested to add less sugar and butter because of the overpower flavor of the dulce de leche. That way, our cookies could be less dense, and more like a pillow to absorb the caramel paste. As you can see, the cookies were not on the flatter side, which is good. Also, if you look closely, we decided not to roll the final product in coconut, but instead just sprinkled coconut onto the cookie batter before baking.
We spread some our dulce de leche in between, and drizzled the extra on top of some of the cookies.

Lessons learned?
Never, ever, let your dulce de leche just sit idly on the stove.
After like 40 minutes of cooking, we were so ecstatic about successfully making dulce de leche that we took a 10-minute break and enjoyed the other things we made.
Then we went back to the stove to find that the dulce de leche had hardened rock-solid in the pot. It was stuck.
Kim, prolific baker, eventually had an innovative solution. Just in the way that you melt chocolate, we placed the entire little pot of dulce de leche in a bigger pot of boiling water, so that the side of the pot would heat up. Then I hacked at the hard candy with various utensils, and when I felt like it was softening a bit, and I had made enough “caramel chips,” I poured in some more milk and the whole thing dissolved. I was so relieved, especially because Kim wouldn’t have to explain to her mom later why one of their pots could no longer be used. I think this extra process is why our dulce de leche turned out darker–extra stewing.

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