I lived in Argentina for six months when I was in college. My diet consisted of beef, potatoes, dulce de leche and alfajores. My host mother introduced me to dulce de leche on my first day in Buenos Aires. She used to say that dulce de leche goes with everything and makes everything taste better, although I did notice that we never used it as a marinade on our daily beef dinner... Dulce de leche was present in almost every dessert. My non-baking host mother often served bananas and dulce de leche for dessert.
I never questioned what dulce de leche was made of or how it was made. (If I had even tried a little, I would have realized that 'dulce' means sweet and 'leche' means milk and I might have been on to something...) Like caramel sauce or peanut butter, we bought jars of dulce de leche in the store and since most stores in the United States don't sell it, I assumed I would need to fly back to Argentina to taste it again. When I recently discovered that I could make it myself, I was thrilled. Then I found out that not only can I make it, but it's the easiest thing ever to make. All it takes is a pot, some hot water and a can of sweetened condensed milk (sweet of milk or dulce de leche!).
After making my jar of dulce de leche and after eating several heaping spoonfuls of it straight out of the jar, I started to wonder what else I could do with it. Then it came to me, alfajores! These little cookies are very popular in Argentina and in other parts of South America. I used to eat them whenever I stopped for tea or coffee. I must have filed the thought of them in the back of my brain...the part that thought I'd never eat them again outside of Argentina. Alfajores are the perfect complement to dulce de leche and are even better with a cup of coffee. And best of all, I don't have to fly back to Argentina to indulge in them!
Dulce de leche
2 cans of sweetened condensed milk
Take the labels off two cans of sweetened condensed milk. Fill a dutch oven or large pot with water and bring it to a boil. Drop in the cans and make sure they're fully covered with water. Leave the cans submerged in the boiling water for 2-3 hours. The longer you heat it, the thicker the dulce de leche. (I left mine in for 3 hours, which makes it thicker and better for alfajores.) Make sure that the cans stay completely covered with water and stir them around occasionally. (I checked mine every 30 minutes and added additional water.) Otherwise, the cans will explode and you'll have dulce de leche all over the kitchen.Alfajores
12 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons cognac [I didn't have cognac so I substituted rum]
2 1/2 cups cornstarch [I only had 1 1/2 cups of cornstarch so I increased the amount of flour by 1 cup]
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
zest from 1/2 lemon
grated coconut [optional]Instructions
Preheat oven to 300 and grease a cookie sheet
Cream butter and sugar; mix in eggs, cognac, cornstarch, flour, vanilla, backing powder and lemon zest; knead the dough until it is smooth
Let dough rest 15 minutes (this helps the dough roll out nicely); roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it's about 1/4 inch thick and cut out 2 inch rounds (I used a drinking glass)
Bake at 300 for 20 minutes
After the cookies are completely cool, spread the dulce de leche on one cookie, press another one on top and let the dulce de leche squeeze out, then roll in coconut flakes