Our Book Group meets the first Tuesday of every month. Yes, I know this past Tuesday was the second Tuesday, but we’re a true bunch of renegades, and we don’t really spend much time talking about books anymore anyway. So, on the second Tuesday of the month, our first-Tuesday-of-the- month Book Group that talks more about food than books, met. (Did you get all that?)
The book we were “discussing” was Tom Wolfe’s “Back to Blood.” But that’s beside the point. (So, if you’re expecting a book review, you’ll have to go elsewhere.) The consensus was, “the book was long,” “the book was classic Tom Wolfe,” “we all saw Bonfire of the Vanities.” Oh, and this last comment was most prevalent: “Let’s eat.”
Before you begin making some cheap generalizations about the IQ and attention span of the group members, I have to say that many of them are MIT grads, MDs, Ph.Ds, and biotech execs, so the brains are definitely present...it’s just that the stomachs usually win out over the brains.
We have each unintentionally been pigeonholed into our designated food categories, and I always have the dessert one. I try to never bring an overly fussy or heavily frosted dessert--we do sometimes have books lying around, you know, and I would hate for them to get dirty.
My repertoire has run the gamut of cookie bark, biscotti, quick breads, and scones, and this time I went the cookie route. One of the members of the group lives with a man who comes from Spain. She once mentioned how much they loved “Alfajores,” a traditional treat popular in Latin America and some regions of Spain. It’s basically a shortbread cookie sandwich filled with dulce de leche, a thick, creamy caramel. I promised to make them some and there was no time like the present.
So here it is, this month’s contribution to the Book Group. I wish my contribution to the book discussion could have been as good. (Although I doubt it would have been as appreciated.)
Alfajores (Caramel-Shortbread Sandwich Cookies)
(makes about 25 sandwiches)
6 oz. unsalted butter, at room temp.
1 whole egg
3/4c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. brandy
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1tsp. grated lemon peel
2c. all purpose flour
Dulce de Leche:
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. kosher salt
Sift cornstarch and flour together and set side. Using an electric mixer, cream butter, lemon peel and sugar together until fluffy. Slowly add the egg, brandy and vanilla extract and mix until combined. On medium speed, add flour mixture and mix again, until dough forms into a ball.
Remove dough from mixer bowl, divide in half, and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough for 2 hours.
Meanwhile make Dulce de Leche:
Empty contents of the can into an oven-proof dish; sprinkle with the salt and tightly cover with foil.
Place the covered dish in a larger roasting pan or casserole dish and fill it up with water until it reaches three quarters of the way up the covered dish. (You're creating a water bath.) Bake at 425 degrees for 60-90 minutes, checking every 30 minutes on the water level and adding more as needed.
Dulce de leche is ready when it takes on a brown and caramel-like appearance. Remove from the oven and whisk to smoothness. Leave at room temperature if using right away. If not, store in a covered container in the refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the middle of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Using a lightly floured 2-inch round or scalloped cookie cutter, cut out cookies. (You will have approximately 50.) If you have time, place on the baking sheets and place in the fridge for about 15 minutes. (This will firm the cookies so they maintain their shape when baked.) Bake for about 12 minutes, or until cookies are brown around the edges. Cool on a wire rack. Shortbread cookies with keep in an airtight container for about a week.
Alfajores: Take two shortbread cookies and sandwich them together with a heaping teaspoon of Dulce de Leche. Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with confectioners sugar or dip them in chocolate. Can be covered and stored for a few days in the refrigerator, but the cookies will soften a bit.
Makes about 25 cookie sandwiches.