One of the side effects of having this blog is paying a closer look to the food that I eat and the food that is eaten in this corner of the world. I mean, I could talk about burgers but there wouldn´t be much fun in that since there´s nothing really new about it and I´ve come to realize there´s plenty of food that´s more typical of Argentina that I could ocassionally discuss with all of you.
Besides, one of the things that engage me the most as a blog reader is discovering new ingredients, recipes and things that are staples of different cuisines I just haven´t been exposed to… of course, my beloved chai would top that list, but panko, wonderful spices like cardamom, curry, coriander follow… I can´t believe the stuff I was missing out on just a few years ago!
This leads me to dulce de leche (also called “cajeta” in some countries). The legend says that dulce de leche was invented by one of Rosa´s* maids when she was cooking milk with some sugar and left it unattended for a few hours because there was some sort of emergency: when she came back, the milk and the sugar had transformed into a thick brown dulce de leche. Now, this sounds a bit far fetched but many great inventions were born out of pure luck, so I won´t be the one to contradict that. Besides, who cares? All it matters is that whatever it was, wherever it was, lead me to this piece of heaven:
There are few things that say home to me more than a good “alfajor de maizena”. Alfajores are sweets made by joining two cookie-like layers with a sweet filling: most times dulce de leche, sometimes different jams, we have some with peanut butter fillings, chocolate mousse… pretty much anything you can think of. They can be covered with chocolate, different types of glase or nothing at all… as is the case with these alfajores de maizena.
The dough of this particular alfajor is made with over 2 cups of Maizena, which is the brand name for corn starch. The recipe I used is a very simple one that´s been in the family for decades, literally, the smudged, blurred recipe is a testimony of how many times it has been used. My mom used to make it quite often when we were kids and eating a home-made version of one of these beauties definitely reminds me of childhood and just blows my mind because it´s incredibly good.
I am perfectly aware that some of you might now be able to find dulce de leche, but it can be found online at Amazon for 5 dollars in this case and for 9 dollars here. My favorite dulce de leche ever is Conaprole´s, which is an Uruguayan brand which can be found here. AND you can even make it yourself (the condensed milk can trick doesn´t even come close to the real thing though, so don´t even try it), I´ve found some interesting recipes: this one by Emeril and this other one. I know, making dulce the leche must be a pain, but it can be done, and if it´s the only way to eat dulce de leche, then it´s well worth it.
But, if you can´t find it anywhere or make it yourself, you could always substitute it with things like nutella, jams, chocolate mousse or anything that suits your fancy. Of course, it wouldn´t be the original or anything like it, but maybe it´ll force you to rethink your priorities and take a trip to Argentina and try one here hahaha I know I would… trust me, they are worth it.
Alfajores de maizena
All-purpose flour 1 2/3 cups
Maizena (corn starch) 2 1/2 cups
Baking soda 1/2 teaspoon
Baking powder 2 teaspoons
Butter 200 grams
Sugar 3/4 cup
Egg yolks 3
Cognac or whiskey 1 teaspoon
Vanilla extract 1 teaspoon
Grated lemon zest 1-2 teaspoons (I lean towards 2 for sure, I love how it works in this recipe)
1. Zift all the dry ingredients together.
2. Cream the butter with the sugar. Add the egg yolks, the vanilla extract, the cognac and the lemon zest.
3. Add this cream to the dry ingredients making a hole in the middle of the flour and making a crumbly dough using a spoon and being careful not to overwork the dough or knead with your hands. When you see that the dough is cohesive enough, make a ball with your hands pressing the different pieces together.
4. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 30-60 minutes (30 is usually enough if you are in a hurry).
5. Roll out the dough carefully flouring the counter until it gets around 1/2 a centimeter thick. Cut with a round cutter, and repeat joining the scraps again and again until you´ve used all the dough.
6. Place in a clean cookie sheet and bake for around 17-20 minutes in a 180°C-350°F oven. Please check often after the first 10 minutes. The dough should be white, not golden, it can appear undone, but it´s not, if you wait too much you will end up with a dry alfajor.
7. Quickly remove the cookies and place them in a rack (otherwise they can get burned and will get stuck to the cookie sheet).
8. Once the cookies are cold, put a spoonful of dulce de leche in the middle of one cookie and carefully place another cookie on top. Press the top cookie gently to get the dulce de leche to the corners of the alfajor. (You can roll the sides on some shredded coconut for a more classic look, but I didn´t because I didn´t have any and it didn´t hurt them at all.)
That´s it! You are done Now take a bite and forget everything and everyone around you.