Category Archives: Uruguay

Alfajores – Dulce de Leche Cookies

You may remember that my mom lived in Uruguay for 12 years while her parents were missionaries in the capital city of Montevideo.  As I was growing up, she shared a few tasty treats with us from that culture, including today’s treat – alfajores!  I’m going to be demonstrating them for the upcoming International Festival of Raleigh (September 19-21), so last week I made a practice batch.

alfajor

Alfajores are a shortbread-like cookie sandwiched together with dulce de leche, a caramelized sweetened condensed milk.  The first step in this recipe is to make the dulce de leche (it can also be purchased in latino grocery stores).

You can find various recipes online for making dulce de leche. Let me just say that we usually boil it in the can, unopened and submerged in the boiling water. I’m not recommending that you try that, as it can potentially explode if you leave the pot untended and let the water level drop!

However you get there, dulce de leche is this wonderful creamy caramel spread that is delicious on toast, as pretzel dip or ice cream sauce – or just straight off the spoon :)  Or try one of my mom’s salted caramel chocolate cupcakes at Shank’s Bakery – a chocolate cupcake with dulce de leche filling, yum!

dulce de leche

You want the dulce de leche to be very thick, in fact the picture shown just above was still too thin and running out of the cookies when I tried to assemble them. Once I cooked it a little longer over a double boiler, it got thicker and a deeper brown, and worked a lot better.

Alfajores

10 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1 egg
1 1/3 c. flour
1/2 c. cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream together the butter and sugar until smooth.  Add one egg and mix until incorporated. Sift together the flour, cornstarch, and baking powder – add gradually to the butter mixture.  Finally, stir in the lemon zest and vanilla.

cutting cookies

Roll out to about 1/4-inch thickness. Dough will be soft – if too soft to work, you can chill it briefly to make it easier to work with. Use a little flour on the board and rolling pin to keep it from sticking.

Cut out rounds of the desired size and place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake at 325 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottom, but still white on top.  Remove to cooling rack.

cookies

The final trick is that you should be very gentle while spreading this extra-thick dulce de leche on fragile cookies that will break with too much pressure. Take your time and it will be ok. If a few of them may break, but those can be the chef’s spoils :)  If you like, roll them in coconut on the edges. Enjoy these sweet and delicious cookies!

alfajores

 

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Fainá

My mom (who grew up in Uruguay) has fond childhood memories of a flat bread called fainá.  Fainá is made of garbanzo flour, and is closely related to an obscure Italian dish called farinata, found mainly in the region of Liguria/Genoa. There are variations of the dish in other pockets of the Mediterranean. According to an online article, the immigrant Guido family introduced fainá to Uruguay when they started their first local garbanzo milling business in 1915.

Fainá is commonly served by pizzerias in Uruguay. In “pizza a caballo” (pizza on horseback), a thin slice of fainá is placed on top of a regular slice of pizza, making a kind of pizza ‘sandwich’. Fainá can also be served as an appetizer, and some even top it with sugar, chocolate or dulce de leche for dessert. Check out this blog post for more details and pictures of the real deal from someone who lived in Uruguay for awhile.

At my parents’ bakery in Virginia this week, my mom and I decided to make some fainá together. The resulting product was very similar to her recollections of the bread, but not at all what I had expected from hearing it described. It’s not really much of a bread at all, but even better – more the texture of a thin fried polenta. The black pepper and cheese was a nice complement to the garbanzo-flavored fainá, which was crispy on the edges and soft in the middle. It’s not really like anything I have previously eaten, so it’s difficult to describe – but very easy to make, and delicious – so I encourage you to try it for yourself!

Fainá
2 1/2 cups garbanzo (chick pea) flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. parmesan cheese
1 tsp. ground black pepper (or more, to taste)
1 3/4 cup water

Whisk these ingredients together, and let the batter sit for at least 30 minutes to absorb the water and thicken. [At this point, our recipe mentioned adding another 3/4 cup of water. But the batter was already easily pourable without the additional water, so we chose not to add any more. Might depend on the climate, altitude, how coarsely ground the flour is, etc. – so if it looks like you need more water, add it. It should be about the consistency of a pancake batter.]

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. For this batch, we used a 9-inch cast-iron skillet and a 9×13 cake pan. Use cast-iron or metal pans with sides, drizzle the pans with a couple of Tbsp. olive oil and heat in the preheated oven for 5 minutes until pans and oil are sizzling hot.

Remove the pans from the oven and pour the batter thinly in the heated pans (one recipe said about 1/4-inch thick), jiggle to spread evenly and place back in the oven. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until crispy on the edges and nicely browned on the bottom. Cut into pieces, garnish with additional Parmesan or other toppings, and serve warm. Delicious!!