I first became aware of dulche de leche a few years ago. It kept popping up on American food blogs - a sweet South American staple which had been appropriated further north as a frosting on cakes, and a flavour of ice-cream. It was paired with bananas in pancakes and muffins, dolloped in thumbprint cookies, oozed out of doughnut holes and molten chocolate desserts, and was purportedly so good, it was eaten straight out of the jar.
The next time I was in the States, I made it my mission to track some down, but I was in Seattle, a town known for many things but not its huge Latino population (or Latino grocery stores). To cut a long story short, after a great deal of research, I got my hands on two jars (one for me and one for my friend Elizabeth), lugged them all the way back to Australia, only to discover that I could make it myself with nothing more than a tin of condensed milk (readily available in any old supermarket). Well, technically speaking, dulche de leche is made with a few more ingredients, and Smitten Kitchen has a recipe I have no doubt is great if you want to go that route. But just know that the same rich, thick, copper-coloured caramel can be yours with one ingredient, an oven and a bit of time. And once you've got a jar of this stuff, the dessert world is your oyster. It's a quick and easy way to turn something quite standard - like the humble shortbread cookie - into something special.
Alfajores are Argentinian cookies - thick, dark dulche de leche sandwiched between two pale discs of melt-in-your-mouth shortbread. The good news is that the cookies are as easy to make as the caramel. They're lighter than traditional shortbread, a good thing given how rich the filling. I like them with a cup of black coffee to balance the sweetness, but milky coffee drinkers, and drinkers of plain old milk will no doubt revel in the creaminess of that combo. So next time you're in the supermarket, pick up a can of condensed milk. One will yield enough dulche de leche to make these cookies, and leave some leftover for you to experiment with... or just eat straight from the jar. Por qué no?
Adapted from a recipe by Food52
- Cream the soft butter together with the icing sugar until the mixture is fluffy.
- Whisk together the cornflour and the flour, then combine it with the butter and sugar using a large wooden spoon until the dough starts coming together into a ball.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F (175° C) and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Place the disk of dough on a floured surface, dust it with some extra flour, then carefully roll the dough out to a thickness of no more than 5 millimeters (less than 1/4 inch).
- Using a 5 centimeter (2 inch) round cookie cutter, cut out 24 cookies (you will have to re-roll the dough a couple of times to do this), and place the dough circles on the prepared sheet pan, leaving about 1 centimeter (about 1/2 inch) of space between the cookies.
- Place the sheet pan in the fridge for approximately 10 minutes, so that the cookies can firm up.
- Bake them for 12 minutes, or until they’re just starting to color around the edges. Lift the cookies onto a cooling rack and leave them to cool.
- Once they’re at room temperature, top half of the cookies with dulce de leche, using about 1 teaspoon on each one. Then sandwich those cookies with the plain ones. As you press the cookies together, carefully rotate the two cookies in opposite directions, which will help spread the dulce de leche all the way to the edge of the cookies.