I have a new favorite cookie. Alfajores. Ever had one? O.M.G.
I picked up Alice Medrich's Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Cookies a while back and love, love her recipes. Her crispy chocolate chip cookies are out of this world and are my current favorite chocolate chip cookie.
Before I get carried away on a chocolate chip cookie fantasy, let me get back to the Alfajores. Alfajores (al-fah-HOR-ays) are sandwich cookies comprised of dulce de leche smooshed between buttery shortbread cookies. With their origins in Spain, they are apparently very popular in South America. And now my house.
At first bite I was in awe of how delicious these were for so little effort. With a second bite my creative juices began to flow with all of the possibilities. I was also struck with what an economical recipe this is. Given the prices at the grocery store these days, that's something. A stick of butter, some flour, and a few other ingredients and you have a lovely batch of cookies for just a few dollars.
Alice's recipe uses a couple of tablespoons of brandy. I halved that and replaced the second tablespoon with a generous pour of vanilla. I think these would work beautifully without alcohol or you could substitute with your favorite spirit. For my fellow Kentuckians (and bourbonites everywhere), bourbon would be phenomenal here.
I had a can of dulce de leche in the pantry and used that, but Alice does provide a recipe to make it from scratch. And not that scary 'cook a can of sweetened condensed milk and hope it doesn't explode' method. I may try making my own next time, and may even go crazy and make the coconut dulce de leche.
Somewhere in the sandwiching of the second batch, I came up with the brilliant idea to add a sprinkle of fleur de sel to the caramel. And brilliant it was. There are no words for the beautiful simplicity of this little cookie.
Got to go. Need to make more alfajores...
Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies
2 1/4 cups (10.125 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons brandy or rum (I substituted 1 tablespoon with vanilla)
1 cup Dulce de Leche (I used canned, but you can make your own if you prefer. Recipe is below.)
Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Position racks in upper and lower thirds of oven.
Combine the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and mix together thoroughly with a whisk or fork.
With a large spoon in a medium mixing bowl or with a mixer, mix the butter with the sugar until smooth and well blended but not fluffy. Add the egg and brandy and mix until smooth. Add the flour mixture and mix until completely incorporated.
Shape heaping teaspoons of dough into 1-inch balls. (Or, on a lightly floured surface, shape dough into square and cut into 8 strips and then cut each strip into 8 pieces to make a total of 64 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 1-inch ball.) For miniature cookies, shape level teaspoons of dough into 96 smaller balls. Place the cookies 2 inches apart on the lined or ungreased pans and flatten to about 1/2 inch thick. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes for larger cookies or 12 to 15 minutes for miniature cookies, until the edges are lightly browned. Rotate pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time. For line pans, set the pans or just the liners on racks to cool; for unlined pans, use a metal spatula to transfer the cookies to racks.
Cool the cookies completely before filling or storing.
Sandwich the cookies with a generous dab of dulce de leche. The cookies will soften as they stand. They are good crunchy or soft. May be stored in an airtight container for at least 1 week.
Vanilla Dulce de Leche
Makes 1 cup
1/2 vanilla bean
1 quart whole milk
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt (optional)
With a sharp paring knife, cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. In a large saucepan, combine the vanilla bean pieces with the milk, sugar, baking soda, and salt, if desired. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently. At first the milk will thicken a little; then it will curdle. It will eventually smooth out again as you cook it. Continue to cook, stirring and scraping the sides and corners and all over the bottom of the pot frequently, until the mixture thickens and becomes a little chewy when spooned over an ice cube or when a spoonful dropped onto a plate holds a shape like thick caramel sauce. This may take 40 to 60 minutes. The mixture becomes especially foamy in the last stages of cooking. Scrape the mixture into a heatproof bowl or jar.
Cool slightly, then taste and adjust the salt, if desired. You can leave the spent pieces of vanilla bean in the mixture if you like. May be kept in the refrigerator for at least 1 month.