Tiny Alfajores … and Buenos Aires
I’ll admit, the story behind this buttery little cookie filled with dulce de leche and dusted with sea salt is a rather meandering, but kind of fun, so bear with me. Over a decade ago, Sarah and I had a great adventure in Buenos Aires. (Actually we were invited to a wedding, but I’d rather not talk about that particular part of the adventure today, thank you very much.) Anyway, I pulled out the long-forgotten pictures from Argentina today… looking for evidence of my obsession with dulce de leche. And I found it. Along with a few other pictures that explain a lot that I’d like to share.
I have to wonder if this was the beginning of Sarah’s passion for food – because we basically spent a week eating our way through BA. This is my then 10-year- old enjoying a snack at a hotel bar in a red beret:
We roamed all over the city, going to museums, finding great gelaterias, shopping, watching tango dancers on the streets, and wandering the famed Recolata Cemetary:
I believe we had steak and fries every single night for dinner, at a series of wonderful restaurants. Really, Argentine steak is some of the best on the planet… especially when accompanied by a nice chimichurri sauce. We enjoyed feasting on empanadas and provoleta as well. Sarah always ate quite enthusiastically, and because dinners always start so late, she was an incredibly good sport and just dozed off when the clock neared midnight. Likely a rare form of child abuse, but she was so happy before she got sleepy… (and really, I was not feeding her Malbec)
While I enjoyed the dinners immensely…. My photos reflect my meal of choice – breakfast… for at breakfast, dulce de leche was part of every other pastry, and one was encouraged to put dulce de leche on everything else… fruit, cheese, toast…:
Yes, that trip to Buenos Aires fueled my love affair with dulce de leche. While things made with butterscotch and caramel are always very nice, the thick, creamy dulce de leche is far superior in my book… and I’m forever hunting for fabulous food or recipes that include the stuff.
My chef brother John came to town this weekend from Chicago, and asked to be taken to a restaurant that would inspire him. After doing lots of research and consulting with my favorite Venezuelan neighbor, I hit upon Del Campo. I was intrigued by the review in the Washington Post: “What’s the chef smoking? Just about everything. From the olive oil perfumed by applewood chips and dried herbs to the rice pudding punched up with grilled mango sorbet, chef Victor Albisu leaves seemingly no dish untorched in this dashing tribute to his Cuban father and Peruvian mother….Del Campo (“of the country” in Spanish) evokes the asados, or barbecues, of South America. Come hungry.”
So we came hungry, feasted, and left inspired. We started with the Grilled Octopus and the Burnt Vegetable Salad with Burrata (yum!). Next came a selection of grilled meats on a big wooden tray placed in the middle of the table… We had a skirt steak rolled with layers of chimichurri, the brisket, sweetbreads and sausages… all perfectly grilled and fabulous. John said it reminded him of the cuisine of Buenos Aires… Though we said we couldn’t possibly have dessert, somehow we managed to split a flan and a s’more…
And chef Victor even came out from the kitchen to say “hello.” What an incredibly nice guy. Ladies and gentleman, you must try this restaurant.
And at the very end of the meal, a little iron skillet of alfajores appeared… filled with lovely dulce de leche:
They were beautiful, so I decided I must go home and recreate them. Immediately. Because that’s the way I roll. (well, actually the next morning… I’m not quite that insane.) My version started with a simple shortbread recipe:
I cut out dozens of these little cookies, and sprinkled them with a touch of sea salt before they went into the oven:
Coincidentally, Deb Perlman of the Smitten Kitchen made her own dulce de leche this week… which looks amazing, and is a highly admirable endeavor that I aspire to (perhaps during summer vacation), but I didn’t have that kind of time in pursuit of cookie greatness this weekend. I made due with the lovely La Salamandra found at the local market:
I spooned the dulce de leche into a plastic ziplock bag, and cut a bit of the tip off the corner, to make a simple makeshift pastry bag, and dropped a little dollop on half the cookies:
Then popped the other half on top:
I made dozens of these little cookies… And they were inhaled by the group of friends I hung out with last night.
One wrote to me this morning, declaring she had a cookie hangover (Honestly, I’m not sure it was really just the cookies, but ok…).
And another dear friend insisted I share the recipe … so here you go, friends:
- 3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 T heavy cream
- sea salt
- 1 jar dulce de leche
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Add 2 Tablespoons of heavy cream. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Shape into a three or four flat disks, and chill for 30 minutes.
Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut with a half-inch scalloped cookie cutter. Place on a baking sheet and sprinkle each cookie with a bit of sea salt. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until the cookies are just beginning to brown. Let the cookies cool completely. Flip half of the cookies over. Scoop the dulce de leche into a heavy duty freezer bag, and cut a corner of the bag off (so it functions like a pasty bag). Squeeze about a teaspoon of dulce de leche onto half the cookies. Place a second cookie on top of the dulce de leche, creating a sandwich cookie.