Sunday, 9 June 2013

Wicked Alfajores From Latin America

Today I had a triumph in the kitchen, baking these gorgeous little crumbly Alfajores, filled with Dulce de leche and covered with coconut shreds. Absolutely divine! These little cookies came to Israel with the wave of immigrants from Argentina in the 1980's after the economic depression. They took Israel by storm and flooded the market. Every coffee shop around every corner had them on offer, and what a treat it was! 

Traditionally the cookies are filled with Dulce de leche and rolled in coconut but you can change the filling to what ever you like, Nutella, Caramel or even sweetened cream cheese. You can also loose the coconut if you don't like it, but from my experience the traditional cookies are the best.

Dulche de leche can be expensive and not easy to come by at some places, so the best solution is to make it yourself. It's easy to make homemade Dulce de leche, however time consuming. If you don't mind the wait, I found a very easy recipe, that doesn't include you, standing next to it stirring for 3 hours, at Dulce De Leche.
My little triumph in the kitchen was the best result I could ask, for the journey after the best Alfajores. At the beginning of the week I found a recipe in a highly recommended foodie blog. It looked great and was raved by other readers, so I thought I'll give it a go. After a lot of preparing, mixing, rolling, cutting and baking, the result was a disaster! The cookies I got didn't look even close to the real Alfajores nor did it taste like it.

Oh, the disappointment! I couldn't believe it, How could this happen?! So I wrote to the blogger asking for advice hoping she could guess what went wrong, but no joy. I didn't get any reply, not even an 'I don't know what happened', which was also disappointing.

So I decided to go on with my journey for the perfect Alfajores and just try a different recipe. And so I did! And what a joy! The most crumbly, sweet, perfect Alfajores I ever tasted! This is the recipe I brought to you today from Mako, published by Densher, after recuperating from one bad recipe and one bad cold.

Let's get baking!
We don't need much to create the magic.

Place in a large bowl with high rime, butter and icing sugar and mix until creamy.

Add eggs one at a time and mix well after each egg.

Sift cornflour into a separate bowl to get rid of the lumps. Add cornflour bit by bit and mix well every time until incorporated before you add some more.

Sift flour over the bowl with the mixture and mix well until a sticky dough is formed.

Empty the bowl with your fingers onto a clean and floured surface.

Gently form into a unified ball. The dough is very easy to work with and easily comes together. At this stage you can cut the dough in half and freeze one half if desired. Cutting the dough into 2 portions makes the rolling easier.

Use a rolling pin dusted with flour to roll the dough into a large disc about 3mm thick. Make sure it is thick enough, we need that thickness. Not too thick though, the cookies are quite dry and it might get too much for one cookie. 

Use a 4cm cookie cutter to cut little circles.

Note: the size of the cookies will determine how many cookies you'll get. The bigger they are the less cookies you'll get. The original recipe stated that this amount of dough with a 3-4cm cookie cutter will make 40 cookies. However I used a 4cm cookie cutter (yes I measured, and yes I can be that way) and I got enough dough to make 80 cookies! So obviously estimating with your eye isn't enough. So if you don't have a gang of people to feed, you can freeze half the dough. I did.

Arrange 2 cm apart onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper, and straight into the preheated oven. I tasted the first couple of cookies in my oven to help me figure out the baking time I needed.

This is how they look like when the come out of the oven: white, dry, creaked a little on top and spotty looking on the bottom.

Assembly line. I found that it was more time officiant to place a few cookies, face down, in a row and generously fill with a teaspoon (if you get stingy on the filling, the cookies might end up too dry and in the bin). Don't bother spreading it around, it might damage the cookies. It will get even when pressing the second cookie on top.

Make little sandwiches by placing another cookie on top of the ones with the Dulce de leche. Make sure you press the cookies very gently with the palm of your hand and not with your fingers because they are very delicate and will break easily. Wipe excess filling using your fingers if needed but remember the filling needs to 'overflow' a little to help the coconut stick to the sides.

Roll in the coconut shreds and enjoy your little works of art.

Happy Days my friends. Happy days.

Little bundles of joy.
Makes about 80 prep: 30min cook: 7-10min each try

200 gr    Unsalted cold butter
1 cup     Icing sugar
1 cup     Plain flour
3            Eggs 
1 tsp      Vanilla extract
10 gr      Baking powder
500 gr    Cornflour (yes 500 gr it's not a mistake)

For the Filling:
400 gr    Dulc de leche/Nutella spread 
1 cup     Shredded/Desiccated coconut

Preheat oven to 180°C and line a baking try with parchment paper.
In a large bowl with high rime, place butter and icing sugar and mix until creamy using an electric beater.
Add eggs one at a time and mix well after each egg.
Add Vanilla extract and baking powder and mix again.
Sift cornflour into a separate bowl and add it gradually to the butter mixture while mixing. 
Sift flour over the bowl with the mixture and mix well until just combined and a sticky dough is formed.
Empty the bowl onto a clean and floured surface and gently form into a unified ball. 
Cut the ball of dough in half. Cover one half with cling film and put aside or freeze if desired. 
Use a rolling pin dusted with flour to roll the dough into a large disc about 3mm thick. 
Cut little circles with a 4cm cookie cutter or a small cup/jug.
Arrange 2cm apart onto the baking tray and bake for 7-10 minutes each tray at the bottom part of the oven. The cookies should puff up a little and dry out a little but stay white, don't let them get golden.
Cool on the tray before transferring to a wire rack. 
When cooled completely, fill generously with your preferred filling and roll in coconut.
They will keep in a tightly sealed box/cookie jar for up to a week.

1. In my old oven the baking process took 8 minutes exactly for each tray. 
2. You can freeze the dough if desired, and defrost in the fridge before bringing to room temperature.
3. I used home made Dulce de leche but you can use store bought which you can find in specialty shops and delis. 

I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

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