Alfajores.

IMGP2065

For a number of years now, I’ve had this mental list of places I want to travel to. Italy again. New Zealand. Thailand. Africa. Morocco. Turkey. The list goes on and on and on. It’s hard to imagine ever getting to all of those places, what with the simple fact that we, you know, work and all. But I figure we can take it slow – knock off a big one every couple of years or so, presuming we have years and years and years to finish the list.

There are about 500 places in South America I want to visit, too. Argentina is at the top of that “mini-list”. Their food is pretty spectacular, their wines are great and getting better by the year, and the scenery is breathtaking. But since we aren’t getting to Argentina this year, cooking food from Argentina seemed like a good alternative.

IMGP2055

We do this cookie swap at work every Christmas. It makes our quarterly meetings a little more bearable because we all know that loads of sugar are the reward. Some people take them home to share, but I (ssshhh!!) actually leave mine at work with the same thought in mind – a cookie is a really nice reward for making it through a rough day, or maybe even just a really annoying patient. (Yes, there are annoying patients. I hope you aren’t one of them.)

So I made these Argentinian (Argentine? whatever.) sandwich cookies this past year. They involve a few steps, but the beauty of those steps is that they don’t have to all be done at once. I made the cookie dough one day. I baked the cookies a couple of days later. And the night before the swap, I filled and coated them. Easy peasy.

The best part? It made a TON of cookies. So instead of having a thousand more cookies at home, I took some to my work, gave Chris some to take to his work, and I froze the rest.

IMGP2058

Which brings me to the Argentinian feast I mentioned in the last food post. Yes, the one I wrote about 10,000 years ago.  I was trying to figure out what to make for dessert and had literally forgotten about the cookies I’d frozen not even 2 weeks before. I started googling South American dessert ideas and of course, alfajores was at the top of the search. Funny, I had some of those in the freezer. So the rest of these cookies came out for dessert that night, all consumed between champagne, moonshine cocktails (thanks, Judy, for trying to kill us but not succeeding), and – check this out – a little Rock Band. It was a good night indeed.

IMGP2059

Alfajores (chocolate-covered sandwich cookies with dulce de leche)
from Fine Cooking Cookies via Serious Eats; makes ~30 sandwich cookies

time commitment: ~2 hours + time to chill overnight (i.e., make these a day before you need them)

printable version

ingredients
12 oz (2 2/3 c) all-purpose flour; more for rolling
6 oz (1 1/3 c) whole-wheat flour
2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/2 lb unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
3/4 c granulated sugar
1 1/2 t finely grated orange zest
2 cans Nestlé dulce de leche (13.4 ounces each)
1 lb bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 pint heavy cream

instructions
Make the cookies: In a medium bowl, whisk both flours with the baking powder and salt. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the orange zest and vanilla. Scrape down the bowl and paddle with a rubber spatula.

With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. After adding the last of the flour but before it’s fully incorporated, add 1/4 to 1/3 cup cold water and mix just until a smooth dough forms, 1 to 2 minutes. Divide the dough, shape into two disks, and wrap each in plastic. Chill overnight (or for a couple of days if you need to!).

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment. Roll out the cold dough on a lightly floured surface until it’s 1/8 to 3/16 inch thick. With a 2-inch plain or fluted round cookie cutter, cut the dough into rounds—you can gather and reroll the scraps once.

Bake one sheet at a time until the edges are very lightly browned and the cookies puff up slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool on a rack and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month, until you’re ready to fill and coat them.

Fill the cookies: Lay out the cookies, flat side down. Put a heaping 1/2 tablespoon of the dulce de leche on half of the cookies. Cover each with a top cookie, flat side up.

Coat the cookies: Put the chocolate in a small, deep, heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream just to a boil. Pour over the chocolate and let sit for 10 minutes. Stir the mixture very gently, incorporating the cream steadily and without overworking, until glossy and completely mixed.

Line two cookie sheets or rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Pick up a sandwich cookie with a small offset spatula. Immerse in the chocolate mixture, flipping the cookie to coat completely. Pick up with the spatula and tap a couple of times on the side of the bowl to get rid of excess chocolate. With another spatula in the opposite hand, gently smooth out the top of the cookie and then run the spatula along the bottom. Transfer to the parchment-lined sheet. Repeat with the remaining cookies. Allow the coating to set at room temperature for a few hours and then serve.

When in Singapore…

Sadly, I wasn’t the one who got to go to Singapore – this time. Chris headed out there last Friday as he says, to “take care of bizniss”. And although he spent 2 of the 5 days going to and fro, the other 3 were primarily loaded with plenty of Apple-related activity.

He did get to eat to eat plenty of good food, like black pepper crab and all sorts of handmade noodle dishes, and he shopped for durian in the local markets. He admitted that it smelled like shit, and even though it’s fruit, technically, it supposedly has a weird custard-like consistency. Meh. I’ll stick with Asian pears as my “exotic fruits”.

Anywho, he arrived back safe and sound late this week, bloated, jet-lagged, and with a bag of boxed noodle dishes so I can make my own Singapore noodle entrees at home. YUM. I’m definitely glad he’s back, but while he was gone I must say I accomplished quite a bit.

For starters, I mopped. Okay, our detergent-filled robot mopped, but that still meant I had to move rugs around AND put them back. Why, you ask? We’re having a party this weekend. That’s right, Iron Chef San Francisco is about to be in full effect. YES!

I listened to Bjork. And Cake. And I watched a few episodes of What Not to Wear. I even drank a bottle of Pinot while watching Something Borrowed on Saturday night, with Indian takeout in my belly. It was downright awesome. Sometimes a quiet weekend evening is the most perfect thing on earth (especially with lackluster romantic comedies at play).

I went to the San Rafael farmers’ market in search of pink lemons, only to find the three remaining fruits hard and shriveled; the weather was nice, though, and Judy bought dining room chairs – finally! Earlier that weekend, we noshed on plenty of goodies at the SF Street Food Festival, including steamed pork buns, arepas, and something I’ve been craving for weeks – no lie – chocolate babka from Wise Sons Deli.

And then!, inspired by the layers upon layers of said chocolate, and in between Mexican dinner and ice cream with the other Heather – a perfect weeknight catch-up, I finished off my lonely week by making my own babka at home. I even took it in to work the next day for fear I’d eat it all when no one was watching. Or even if everyone was watching, because when something’s this good, who cares, really. There’s no need for class when chocolate’s involved, is there?

 

Chocolate Babka
from Good to the Grain; makes 1 cake

time commitment: ~ 4 hours (a little over an hour active time – most of time is letting dough rise) + overnight chilling in the fridge

oh! a couple of things. this recipe came from one of my favorite cookbooks, which means that a lot of interesting flours are used. I’m sure you can find them online, but I bought my Kamut and millet flours from a bulk market (Rainbow Grocery in SF). Whole Foods probably carries them too. if all else fails, I’m sure you could substitute other flours or even just use all purpose, although the texture and taste will obviously be a little different….

also! i’m serious when I say to put the rolls in randomly (you’ll see). the dough falls into place upon baking and when it comes out, it looks like a perfect gorgeous cake. this bread is amazing like that.

printable version

ingredients
sponge
1 pack active dry yeast
1 c 2% milk
1 T honey
1 c Kamut flour
1/4 c millet flour

dough
2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 T kosher salt
3 eggs
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp

filling
1 c pecan halves
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 c brown sugar
1/4 c sugar
1 t kosher salt
2 oz (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

instructions
make the sponge. pour yeast into bowl of stand mixer. heat milk in microwave so that it’s warm to the touch; pour over the yeast and stir together. add honey, Kamut flour and millet flour, then stir again. add all-purpose flour to the top of the dough, then the salt; do not stir.

let the sponge sit for 30 minutes, until flour cracks. meanwhile sit eggs out to come to room temperature. after 30 minutes, crack eggs and add to the sponge. affix the hook attachment and mix on low until flour is incorporated, scraping down sides.

if dough is sticking to the sides, add 1 extra T of all-purpose flour at a time and stir until dough is forming a cohesive mass and pulling away from the bowl (may take up to 1/2 c). turn mixer to medium and mix for 5 minutes; strop and scrape dough from hook and bowl. mix for another 5 minutes. at this point, the dough should be an elastic mass. add butter 1 T at a time and mix on medium until each is incorporated. afterwards the dough will be shiny and soft.

spray or butter a large bowl, scrape dough into the bowl, cover with a towel and let rise for 2 hours. punch dough down, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

rub a bundt pan with butter or spray and add a bit of sugar to dust. toast pecans in a skillet over medium for about 10 minutes, tossing occasionally. meanwhile, dust top of dough with flour and place, flour side down, onto a floured work surface. dust top with flour and roll into a rectangle 10 x 16 inches. rub butter onto dough or drop into small chunks. combine sugars and salt into a small bowl and spread over dough. once pecans are toasted, slightly break them up and sprinkle over sugar mixture, then add the chocolate.

starting at the wide end of the dough, roll into a tight log, and slice into 13-15 pieces. place pieces randomly into the bundt pan (some upright, some spiral side down, etc), filling in large spaces, until all pieces are added. dump any extra sugar/pecans/chocolate over the top; cover and let dough rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

preheat oven to 350 F. once dough has risen, bake for 40 minutes. remove from oven and let sit for 15 minutes, then place a rack over the top and flip upside down, releasing the bread. if not eating right away, store in airtight container.

Dunkable

There is something so entirely comforting about brown sugar. I know that shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the sticky buns and the cupcakes, or the fact that a ‘tag search’ takes you to a handful of other brown sugar-containing sweets and savories. Like waking up in my own bed after a long vacation of hard mattresses and wimpy water pressure, brown sugar is home to me.

Home, and knowing that anything you make with it can’t go wrong, and that it probably has something to do with the simple fact that brown sugar is just sugar with, you guessed it, molasses.

And since I’m currently making my way down the Oregon & California coasts, likely acquiring something similar to the bed sores the old folks at rest homes get, I figured it’s the least I could do to provide a little droolworthy treat and some comfort to you fine folks. And don’t get me wrong – I’ll take the sores, the early morning awakenings, and the creaky springs any day you let me if those days position me directly in front of the Pacific Ocean, its crashing waves, my hair blowing valiantly with the wind, and the sunset view from the Golden Gate Bridge.

I’ll also be happy to take a meal at The French Laundry, or maybe even a slice of toast from Bouchon.

Though I could possibly eat spoonfuls of brown sugar for breakfast, something tells me you might prefer a few more ingredients in the mix, and to remedy that, cookies seem fitting  – do you agree? These aren’t your average chocolate chip cookie, I can promise you that.

Do ya’ll remember me talking briefly about this lovely little book, inside of which I found some lovely little tarts? At some point, I hinted about some other recipes I’ve tried, and this was one of them. And while it’s nearly impossible to compare these to a rhubarb tart, or a buckwheat pancake, or even a scone, these would certainly rank as my number 1 from the book so far, and all they are are chocolate chip cookies.

Chocolate chip cookies that are quite likely the best ones I’ve ever eaten, and I have eaten a lot of chocolate chip cookies in my 30 years. They are firm enough to provide good structure, but ooey and gooey on the inside so that they practically melt in your mouth with each chew. Darker than your average choco chip cookie, they are loaded with whole wheat flour and dark brown sugar, and what I like is that the flour is more nutritious than standard flour, so after eating 4 or 5 in a row I liken it to jogging a few miles, and I call it a day. While eating them, I find myself making those noises that are reserved for only the best of foods – the constant mmmmmm’s in differing tones and decibels that if made behind closed doors may be mistaken for something other than eating.

Did I mention that they taste divine? Hearty, but not dense and sweet with a very noticeable molasses note from the dark brown sugar, and a piece of chocolate in every single bite. While the raw dough is every thing I’d want in chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, try to resist and bake these things up, because the smell of them baking is intoxicating, and once you realize how lovely they are dunked into a glass of cold milk, you’ll be hard-pressed to save any for anyone, or anything else.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce; makes ~24

printable version

ingredients
3 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 1/2 t kosher salt
8 oz cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 c dark brown sugar
1 c sugar
2 eggs
2 t vanilla extract
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
4 oz milk or dark chocolate, roughly chopped

instructions
position two rack in oven in upper and lower third. preheat oven to 350 F. line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

whisk all dry ingredients (flour through salt) in a large bowl. add butter and sugars in bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment. cream butter and sugar together until blended. scrape down sides of bowl. add eggs, one at a time mixing with each addition. add vanilla. add flour and blend on low until just combined, about 30 seconds. scrape down sides of bowl.

add chocolate and mix on low until evenly distributed. scrape down sides of bowl. with a small ice cream scoop, scoop mounds of dough onto baking sheet, about 6 per sheet. bake for ~18 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through baking. let cookies cool on sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to cooking racks. repeat with remaining dough.