Alfajores.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Before I Forget

Did everyone have a thoroughly enjoyable weekend? Did you have an easter egg scavenger hunt? Or eat a lot of chocolate bunnies? Cadbury creme eggs (man, I could tear one of those down right now, never mind the fact that I just shoved a piece of cake into my face…)? Did you wear really lame-looking pastel-colored outfits with bow ties and Mary Janes? Or did you force those sort of cute things on your kids, instead?!

Get this: I didn’t do any of those things. Except, of course, I did have an enjoyable weekend. Duh.

We spent all day Saturday at Tomales Bay Oyster Farm again, because going this long without an oyster retreat was just silly. The weather was brilliantly sunny, speckled with a  few appearances by the clouds and the wind, and we had plenty of awesome food to choose from, which meant we pretty much ate from 11 AM to 5 PM, and there was nothing wrong with that in the slightest. We finished up the day with some Walking Dead episodes, since Judy and Jared can’t seem to get their act together to watch the rest of this season on their own. Dang non-cable-havers.

Sunday started off with an hour and a half of constant sweating at Bikram yoga (I’m still not sure why I’m torturing myself in these classes, but I think I sorta like them…) and a nice lunch with friends followed by a few hours of pinning, blogging, photo-editing, and grocery-planning. Jealous? I get that all the time :). What won’t make you jealous, I’m sure, is that doing laundry was also part of the fun.

So before I forget, I wanted to slip in the recipe I mentioned a few weeks back – the fennel & manchego shortbread cookies that were part of the co-winning Iron Chef dish at the last battle. I’m not sure why shortbread cookies are named as they are – they are neither short nor bready, but what they are is extremely tasty. Butter-laden, they are always perfect cookies to have around tea, or coffee, or in this case, ice cream. And caramel. But I ate a few by themselves and they were just fine too.

Now don’t let these cookies surprise you – they are a touch sweet, and they definitely live up to the definition of shortbread, which essentially requires that they are loaded with fat, ahem, butter, and that they are crumby and biscuit-ish, but what they also do is this – they also lean more to the savory side of things, which some people find weird for cookies. For one, they have a healthy amount of cheese baked into them, which once out of the oven they possess a gorgeous orangey-brown speck here and there, like the cheese in a cheddar biscuit, perhaps (and yes, now I am dying to demolish a biscuit. with or without cheddar. preferably with.).

For two, they are showered in fennel seeds, which I promise you only makes them better. You could nix the fennel if you wanted to, and add say, sesame seeds or lavender or orange zest or whatever, but I swear to you the fennel and Manchego cheese are meant to be in this cookie. I promise you, your mouth will thank you.

 

Manchego Shortbread with Fennel & Sea Salt
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2012; makes ~24

printable version

time commitment: 3 hours (1 hour active; 2 hours chilling dough)

ingredients
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c powdered sugar
1 t freshly ground black pepper
3/4 t kosher salt
2 c all-purpose flour plus a little more for rolling out the dough
1 c finely grated Manchego cheese (about 2 ounces)
1 T fennel seeds
1 t sea salt
2 T extra-virgin olive oil

instructions
Using an electric mixer, beat butter in a medium bowl on low speed until smooth, 1–2 minutes. Add powdered sugar, pepper, and kosher salt. Reduce speed to medium and beat, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until light and fluffy, 4–5 minutes. Add flour and cheese. Reduce mixer speed to low and beat mixture just until dough comes together.

Wrap dough in plastic and flatten into a rectangle. Chill until firm, at least 2 hours. You can do this up to a few days in advance if you want. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before continuing.

Pulse fennel seeds in a spice grinder (aka coffee grinder) until coarsely crushed (or close them up in a Ziploc bag and crush with something like a rolling pin). Transfer to a small bowl; stir in sea salt. Set fennel salt aside.

Arrange a rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove plastic wrap from dough. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a 10×8-inch rectangle about 1/4-inch thick. Cut in thirds crosswise, then cut each third crosswise into 6 rectangles. Arrange cookies on prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. Brush cookies generously with oil, then sprinkle with fennel salt. If you have extra dough, you can always roll that out and re-cut. I did this with my dough to make even more cookies, just make sure the dough doesn’t get to warm or else the cookies will flatten when they’re baking.

Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until cookies are golden brown (flecks of cheese will be slightly darker), ~20 minutes. Let cool on sheets for at least 10 minutes. Cookies will keep in an airtight container for a couple of days.