St. Valentine's Day will be here tomorrow, and it calls for heart-shaped goodies to express your passion. Alfajores are melt-in-your-mouth sandwich cookies from South America, where they are especially popular in Argentina. They should be very tender, which is accomplished by a good amount of cornstarch in the dough. These cookies are always stuffed with dulce de leche, the thick, caramel-like sauce found at Latino markets, specialty shops, and many grocery stores. The interesting thing about dulce de leche is that it is not caramelized with high heat, but gets its dark beige color from long and slow cooking and the Maillard reaction that turns the proteins in meat brown. Well, forget the science lesson, and make these cookies for an extra couple of kisses from your sweetie.
This recipe is from TEA AND COOKIES (Morrow, 2010)
Makes about 20 cookies
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk, beaten together
2/3 cup store-bought dulce de leche (see Note)
1. Sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt together. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until the mixture is very light in color and texture, about 3 minutes. Gradually beat in the egg mixture. Gradually stir in the flour mixture to make a soft dough.
2. Divide the dough in half and shape each portion into a thick disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap or waxed paper. Refrigerate until chilled and firm enough to roll out, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day. (If the dough is very chilled and hard, let it stand at room temperature for 10 minutes before rolling out.)
3. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
4. Unwrap one portion of dough and place on a lightly floured work surface. Dust the top with flour and roll out 1/8 inch thick. Using a 2 1/4-inch wide heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out hearts of dough, and transfer them to a baking sheet, placing 1 inch apart. Gather up the scraps, roll and cut out hearts until all of the dough has been used. Repeat with the other portion of dough.
5. Bake, switching the position of the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking, until cookies look set and dry, but are not browned at all, 12 to 14 minutes.
6. Let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer to wire cake racks and let cool completely.
7. For each cookie, dollop about 1 teaspoon of the dulce de leche onto the flat side of a cookie, then top with a second cookie, flat sides facing. Press gently to make the two cookies adhere. (The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 4 days.) Just before serving, sift confectioners’ sugar over the tops of the cookies.
Note: Dulce de leche can be purchased in cans or jars at Latino grocers and many supermarkets and specialty food stores, or substitute thick caramel sauce. (You can make it at home, but the traditional procedure is lengthy. Here is a microwave version that I like.) Leftover dulce de leche can be refrigerated in a covered container for up to 2 weeks. It is great stirred into hot tea instead of milk and sugar.