Monday, December 19, 2011

Alfajores and Spirals: This year's Christmas Cookies

This year's Christmas cookies are very special to me, as they were always present at the most memorable events of my life. Alfajores de Maizena are cornstarch shortbread cookies stuffed with dulce de leche and rolled in coconut, Maizena is actually the most popular brand of cornstarch in Argentina, hence the name. It is incredibly common to find these everywhere in Argentina (and I understand there are similar versions scattered around South America and Spain). There are other kinds also, (chocolate, white chocolate, filled with jam, etc.) that you can buy at any kiosko (street stands and mini markets), but these are the traditional homemade ones that will greet you at every Argentinian gathering.

You can use the dough to make the pictured Coconut- Dulce de Leche Spirals! The shaping process is explained below in the vegan version (product of a whole day of experimenting, phew!) Note: none of the spirals given out this year are vegan, we wanted everyone to experience the magic of real dulce de leche first, (we left the yummy vegan version for the family, they were crazy good, and in the cookie the vegan dulce tasted very similar to the regular one). So, keep reading and don't miss the fun cookie pictures!

Now, let me dedicate a few words to Dulce de Leche. When we first arrived to the US, it was very difficult to find our favorite staples and although we loved American flavors we needed dulce de leche! So my Mom got a tip from a friend that involved boiling condensed milk for several hours, what a wonderful idea that was! We spent years boiling cans, and still do. Now, you can get ready-made dulce de leche anywhere but back then, you couldn't. Argentinian dulce de leche is made with vanilla, I figured you could add a few drops of vanilla extract when it's still hot I haven't tried it because my husband loves it just the way it comes out of the can, and I can't complain either!

This weekend was Christmas baking weekend. It was certainly, a very busy one, thankfully, my mom came to the rescue and took loads of work from my back and in between laughter, flour and sticky fingers we shared an amazing and very overdue mother- daughter day. Thank you Ma!











And finally the recipes! I present to you:



 Alfajores de Maizena

 

Makes about 24 alfajores

For the Dulce de Leche

Ingredients
2 cans of sweetened condensed milk

Directions
Four to five hours before baking the cookies (you can make it days ahead, just keep it in the fridge until ready to use), remove any labels from the cans and place them in a large pot filled with enough water to cover them. I recommend you put a ceramic plate under the cans or wrap them with plastic to avoid rust staining the pot. Cover the pot, bring the water to a boil, then lower to a simmer for 4-5 hours. Check every once in a while to make sure the cans are still covered with water, add more hot water if necessary. Let the cans cool down a bit before opening. Add a few drops of vanilla extract if desired. Refrigerate. To make alfajores is highly recommended that the dulce is very stiff, otherwise they will become a big messy treat, depending on the brand of condensed milk you buy is the amount of time you will need to cook it. Like in any caramel, the cooling process will increase the viscosity.
Scroll down to the vegan version for a link to make dulce de leche the traditional way!



For the Alfajor Cookies



Ingredients
1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
About 1 1/2 cans dulce de leche
Finely shredded coconut


Directions


In a large bowl, using a mixer, cream the butter with the sugar.

Add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing after each addition.

Add the vanilla and lemon zest.

In a large bowl, sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and baking soda. Mix well.

Once the butter is creamed, add the dry ingredients and mix until the dough just comes together. Like any butter dough, you might have to refrigerate if it gets too sticky to shape.


At this point you can preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a 1/4" thickness and cut circles with a cookie cutter (or a cup, cap or anything you have in hand) with a 2" diameter. If the dough starts to become warm, refrigerate it or stick it in the freezer for a few minutes.

Pick the circles up with the help of a dough scraper and transfer them to an ungreased cookie sheet ( I always line mine with parchment paper, no matter what). Refrigerate any extra raw cookies to prevent excessive spreading when baking.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the bottoms just start to brown. Transfer to a cooling rack.

Once the cookies are cool, start making the sandwiches: Place a rounded teaspoon of dulce de leche in the middle of one cookie, the more dulce the yummier, just make sure it is not runny!

With a knife spread more dulce de leche on the sides and roll on the shredded coconut! And ces't tout!

Enjoy with a warm cup of coffee or hot cocoa :-)

Refrigerate left-overs in an air-tight container. 

Vegan Coconut Dulce de Leche Spirals

 
Makes about 24 cookies


For the vegan dulce de leche:
Recipe adapted from Alton Brown's Dulce de Leche recipe
Makes about 2 cups



Ingredients
6 cups regular soymilk
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup of vegan buttery spread or Earth Balance Coconut Spread
You can replace regular sugar with 4 cups of powdered sugar for a smoother consistency


Directions


Combine the soymilk, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds in a saucepan and stir until the sugar is dissolved, add the baking soda. Bring to an almost simmer and continue cooking uncovered for 1 hour, pay close attention, soymilk boils over just like regular milk does. Stir often, you don't want to clean up this mess!


 Remove the vanilla bean and continue cooking until the mixture gets reduced to about 2 cups and it turns a deep brown caramel color. Remember to stay close to stir when necessary. Once it reaches the ribbon stage, drain the caramel to get rid of any foam and add the buttery or coconut spread, this will keep it from crystallizing when you put it in the fridge. Refrigerate.
If for some reason, it doesn't harden as desired, you can always bring it back to a boil and add 1 teaspoon of agar agar powder, and stir for 5 minutes.



For the Vegan Cornstarch Shortbread

Ingredients
 
1/2 cup vegan buttery or coconut spread
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
6-8 tablespoons soymilk
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/3 cups cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
To assemble the spirals you will need 1/2 cup of vegan dulce de leche mixed with 1/2 cup of shredded coconut flakes. 

Directions



In a large bowl, using a mixer, cream the butter with the sugar.
Add the vanilla extract and lemon zest.
In a separate bowl sift the flour, cornstarch, baking soda and baking powder. Mix well.
Add the flour mixture, 1/2 cup at a time alternating with the soymilk. If 6 tablespoons of milk is not enough to make the dough come together add 1 or 2 more tablespoons. Do not knead as this will make the dough become sticky, put it in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes if this happens.
On a lightly floured surface, roll half of the dough into a 1/8" thick rectangle.
Spread a very thin layer of dulce de leche-coconut mixture covering the whole surface of the dough.
Fold, jelly roll style, starting from the short end.
Repeat with the second half of dough.
Wrap the roll in plastic wrap and freeze it for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.





Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut the roll into 1/2" slices and place them on the baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes.
With a very thin spatula, place them on a cooling rack, being careful as they are very tender when warm.
Refrigerate in an air-tight container if not eating right away.










Enjoy your indulgent vegan treat!

 The idea of these cookies was inspired by the Nutella Rugelach with Hazelnuts from What's Cooking Italian Style Cuisine



Finally, after the longest post ever!, a few closing words.
I feel very fortunate to have this blog which gives me the opportunity to share this, among other special recipes with you. I hope to have inspired you to make these cookies, and I hope they create special memories as they have created in my life. 


Enjoy and have a Beautiful, Sweet and Merry Christmas! 

**** Update**** 12/23/11

Yesterday I was going through some old pictures and I found one that I found hilarious! In the past, I had the same hairstyle as the picture above (my bangs are a few weeks old only)  and I was eating an alfajor! Check it out!

The one on the left is a picture of me and my sister on her first birthday in 1987.
 

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