Cookie Time

I love cookies. I try and keep all different kinds in my freezer for company, but usually I just eat them myself.

August Alfajores (Spanish Sandwich Cookies)

This recipe is from my friend Linda Sendowski (www.theglobaljewishkitchen.com).

The word alfajor stems from the Arabic al-hasú, which means filled or stuffed. Alfajores (pronounced al-fa-ho-res) are a traditional sweet cookie that has been around for centuries, and can trace it roots to the Arab World, and they came to Spain when the Moors conquered the Iberian Peninsula. As a result of almost 500 years of occupation in Spain, the alfajor migrated to Spain then to the New World. It was brought to South America by Spanish immigrants, and later when dulce de leche appeared on the scene, the modern alfajor took its shape using ingredients that were available, and was made as a sandwich with dulce de leche in the middle. The cookies can be hard or soft, depending on the recipe used. The Lebanese ma’amoul is a close cousin to the alfajor.

Alfajores can be found in Peru, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, to Spain, Nicaragua, California, Mexico, Florida, and Cuba; and each country has a different version.

The original cookies were made of dried fruit preserves rolled in a special dough then rolled in an assortment of nuts and sugar. Eventually each region adapted the Spanish version and made it their own.  No matter where you go in South America and Latin America you will find these delicate cookies, and now they are available in Latin markets, and various ethnic restaurants.  If you love dulce de Leche these cookies are a must.

My friend Linda Sendowski tasted her first cookie on a trip to Florida with her sister.  The local coffee shop they passed on their morning walks sold individually wrapped alfajores.  Since Linda is a star baker and cook, she did some research, and came up with her version of these wonderful cookies, including making her own dulce de Leche.

This recipe is very workable and not hard to execute.

Argentinean Sandwich Cookies or Alfajores de Maizena

Alfajores are a most incredible short bread kind of cookie sandwich with dulce de Leche oozing from the center and coconut clinging to the sweet caramelized filling.  The cookie crumbles into buttery shards as you bite in and dulce de leche coats your tongue in velvety goodness.

Yields 32 to 36 sandwich cookies. The recipe yields about 72 cookie halves, however since these are sandwich cookies you actually end up with half as many.

2 and 1/2 cups cornstarch (Maizena brand is preferred)

1 and 2/3 cups unbleached flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

3 extra large egg yolks

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

2 teaspoons lemon zest

2 cups shredded coconut

3 (approximately) cups dulce de leche

Heat oven to 350°F.  Measure cornstarch, flour, baking soda and baking powder into a medium bowl, stir to combine. Place butter and sugar in bowl of stand mixer or in a large bowl to use with a hand held beater. Beat butter and sugar until creamy and then, add egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition until fluffy. Next, add vanilla, orange juice and lemon zest.  Add flour/cornstarch mix to creamed butter in three additions, starting with mixer on lowest speed and mixing until just combined. Prepare a floured work surface, either a granite countertop or I prefer a large silpat and a rolling pin. Roll dough out in a rectangle about 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick.  using a one and one half inch diameter biscuit cutter cut out an even number of circles. Re-roll cuttings gently, without working dough to much and cut out circles again.

Place cookies evenly spaced on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet; 20 fit perfectly on  a 12 by 18 inch half sheet. Place baking sheet in oven with rack in the middle. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Cookies should be pale in color, barely starting to turn a little gold.  Remove cookies from oven and cool on a rack.

When cookies are completely cool, place a small spoon full of dulce de leche on half of the cookie halves. Place a second cookie on top to create a sandwich and press down to spread dulce de leche out to the edge of the sandwich. Roll exposed dulce de leche in coconut placed on a flat plate and place cookie aside.

Each cookie may be individually wrapped and stored in the freezer or eaten very soon. Dulce de leche gets soft at room temperature, so store soon to be eaten, individually wrapped, cookies in the refrigerator.

Homemade Dulce De Leche

For homemade dulce de Leche, empty the contents of two 12 – 14 ounce cans of sweetened condensed milk into a glass pie plate. Cover pie plate tightly with heavy duty aluminum foil and set into a bain marie or roasting pan with hot water, coming half way up the side of the pie plate.  Place milk in a preheated 400°F oven and bake for one to one and a quarter hours.  Remove foil cover and stir dulce de leche with a wood spoon until velvety and smooth.  Store refrigerated in a tightly covered container. Dulce de leche keeps for at least a month.

Date and Walnut Pinwheel Cookies

These delightful cookies are a variation on the traditional Arab cookies called maamul. While maamul cookies are stuffed, these are rolled, which is even easier.  Cook in Israel: Home Cooking inspiration with Orly Ziv, (www.cookinisrael.com) brings Israeli home cooking into kitchens around the world.  Filled with 100 kosher recipes, most vegetarian, accompanied by beautiful color photographs, and step-by-step illustrations, it shows that  healthful and delicious home cooking doesn’t need to be time consuming or complicated.

Dough:

2 1/2 cups self-rising flour

1/4 cup semolina

1/2 cup orange juice or milk

2 large eggs

6 1/2 ounces butter, softened

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon rose water

Filling:

6 1/2 ounces date spread  (jam is fine)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon rose water

1 cup chopped walnuts

Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Combine all dough ingredients into a smooth flexible dough.

Press or roll dough into a rectangular shape in between 2 floured pieces or parchment paper to prevent sticking; wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.  Prepare filling: melt the date spread with 3 tablespoons boiling water. Add the cinnamon, cloves, and rose water; mix well.

Spread the date mixture on the flat dough and sprinkle with nuts. Roll dough into a tight log, or logs, and place in a baking pan. Cut about half way through but not all the way, into slices.  Bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Remove from oven, cool slightly, slice, and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Makes about 40 cookies.

For more recipes or details about Sheilah Kaufman, visit www.cookingwithsheilah.com.

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