Thursday, April 19, 2012

Let's Do the Alfajores Tango!

La Cumparsita by Cantovano and His Orchestra
I made these darling little cookies for a friend of mine whose birthday is tomorrow.  She's from Argentina and recently returned from a long overdue visit to her family there.  She literally glowed from the joy of seeing her family again!  Well, in truth, she is one of those people that glows all the time - takes her sunshine with her everywhere she goes and lightens up the path of all those she meets.  My knowledge of Argentina pretty much comes from the musical "Evita."  Sad, I know.  But knowing Vanina has made me want to learn more and so I did some digging and discovered that Argentina gave us the tango!!!  I stumbled across this little fact because, in choosing a song, I decided to go with something snappy because I'm betting that Vanina enjoys dancing - with all that bottled up sunshine she HAS to like to dance, right?  And the tango!  Si!  We are doing the tango today, people.  Feliz Cumpleanos, Vanina!

Yeah - I don't think there really is an Alfajores Tango.  I just made that up.  But there should be if there isn't.  And instead of a rose clenched in your teeth - yep, you guessed it - you will have one of these sweet Argentinian cookies.  Only you won't get far because they literally melt as soon as they hit your lips.  You're going to want a napkin and/or plate under your chin.  Or I guess you could just shove the whole thing in your mouth because it does melt fast enough that it's not a problem.  This last option has been road-tested.  True story.

Well, it's time I got around to telling you about what I call the "monkeying around" factor.  I've been wanting to almost since my first post but have managed to put it off.  No longer.  

The "monkeying around" factor came to me from my parents - not in any sort of intentional way.  It's just one of those things I gleaned from my childhood and I'm not sure if my sibs came away with it or not.  My parents are/were the most efficient people I know.  When accomplishing any task they were quick to determine which steps were necessary and which were just "monkeying around."  "Messing around" can also work.  This approach has helped me be able to get a lot of things done in NOT a lot of time.  I value this lesson.  But I have learned that sometimes a little monkeying around is necessary.  Getting a lot done is rewarding - but so is doing fewer things with finesse and details that create a masterpiece.  

Case in point:  I learned to sew from my mom way before I had Home Economics in junior high.  As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure I was wearing a jumper I had made myself the day we started the sewing part of class.  The teacher would hear nothing about how I already knew how to sew.  I was to do it right along with the rest of the class.  My mother scoffed at the pattern directions.  She had never used the directions.  It was the first part of the pattern she threw away.  She showed me the shortcuts proclaiming that a lot of those steps were just monkeying around - such as sewing the side seam and setting the sleeve after.  She showed me how to attach the sleeve along the shoulder and arm seams and then sew the entire side seam of the garment from bottom hem to end of sleeve hem.  Slick.  The teacher wasn't happy.  Oh well.  

These shortcuts got me through sewing most of my adolescent and young adult and family wardrobe.  But then I started coming across other seamstresses and noticed the garments they were producing for their families.  And I saw that their articles had a little something extra about them.  That finesse I talked about earlier.  I started asking questions and paying attention.  For instance, I noticed that they took the time to attach lace and ribbons to their clothing by carefully stitching down each side of the ribbon - instead of hammering down the middle with a huge zigzag stitch - another shortcut to all that monkeying around.  Light bulb!  Sometimes monkeying around was OK.  I soon learned the joy one gets from creating something beautiful - heirloom.  Instead of getting praise for how MUCH I could accomplish I got praise for how WELL I accomplished something.  Huh.

Any why do I need to tell you about this NOW?  Because the "monkeying around" factor with these cookies is kinda up there.  I know recipes have "difficulty" ratings.  I'm always at a loss for words when people ask me how difficult something is to make.  I don't think of things in levels of difficulty.  I look at things in levels of how much monkeying around is involved.  Few things are difficult, I find.  It's just a matter of how much time you're willing to put into it - this goes for cooking, sewing, knitting, reading, gardening, etc.  This recipe isn't difficult - but I've found there's some monkeying around involved.  And, as I would have kicked it to the curb at one time, I decided that it was well worth every minute of it.

The dough is tricky in that it is super "sandy" and hard to get to come together.  But that is what is necessary to give you that melt-in-your-mouth end result.  I found it impossible to roll the dough like a sugar cookie.  I did have success by working with a small portion of dough at a time and flattening it by hand - monkeying around.  I was surprised, though, how quickly I filled a sheet tray by using this method.    Take heart - and get to work!  Tango, anyone?

Printable Recipe Card
adapted from a recipe at all recipes
makes 24 sandwich cookies
1 2/3 c. flour
2 1/2 c. cornstarch (this is not a typo - just go with it)
1/2 t. baking soda
2 t. baking powder
1 1/4 c. unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. rum flavoring (or real rum)
1 can dulche de leche
1/4 c. powdered sugar
1 c. desiccated coconut ( I found mine in the health food section of my grocery store)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line sheet trays with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and baking powder.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg yolks and egg one at a time, mixing after each addition until incorporated.  Add the vanilla and rum flavorings and stir.

Add the dry ingredients all at once and fold until it comes together.  Add a little water a tablespoon at a time, if necessary to get it to come together.  It should just start to clean the sides of the bowl.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Using as little flour as possible, start working the dough.  Take pieces of dough the size of a large walnut and flatten by hand until 1/8 - 1/4" thick.  Use a round 1 3/4 - 2" fluted edge cutter and cut out shape.
You should get about 2 cuts from this much dough.  Transfer to the sheet tray.  Don't try to pull them off your work surface if they stick.  Use a small flat metal spatula.  Don't cuss them!  You are creating a masterpiece!  You can place them very close together as they do not expand.

Bake for 7 - 10 minutes until set.  You don't want them to get much brown on them at all.  Carefully remove from sheet tray and let cool.

Fill a pastry bag with the dulche de leche.  Pipe onto the underside of half of the cookies.
VERY CAREFULLY, top with a blank cookie and gently press, using three fingers across the top so you evenly distribute the pressure.  Press until the dulche de leche oozes out a bit.
Gently roll the edges of filling in a bowl of the coconut, pressing lightly to get it to adhere if needed.
Place cookies on a work surface and lightly dust with powdered sugar.

Sit back and admire.  And where you have odd ones left around, do this little shortcut that's equally delicious!

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