I am not a hipster – never have been, and never will be – by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve never been the one who joins in on the frenzy to try a new craze – waiting until over a year to try infamous – near Sydney celebrity status – creations such as the Black Star Pastry Strawberry Watermelon Cake and the five-bites-and-it’s-gone Mary’s cheeseburger. Its probably changed a little since I started dating a bartender who lives in the city’s inner west, within temptingly close proximity to these venues where previously I had to go far out of my landscaped-gardened North Shore-way to visit.
I’m still yet to get her to try a cronut from Brewtown Newtown – let alone a cruffin – but we’ll get there eventually.
Dating someone with a different perspective on food is a very good learning experience. For a food blogger, I’m unfortunately not particularly adventurous in my tastes – preferring to go with tried and tested flavours and restaurants. She however, has a philosophy of trying anything at least once and it was on our last night of our Melbourne trip late last year when we visited a Peruvian restaurant in Carlton that she made me try anticuchos, or beef heart. Piqueos, the name of the venue, did a main of the beef heart, grilled slowly over charcoal to infuse the meat with a deep, smokey aroma. I was a little leery of the dish with my past experiences of chicken hearts that had been overcooked so much that it was like chewing on small rubber balls, but my lady, Night Owl, reassured me that the beef heart was simply a muscle cut like a sirloin or fillet, and since we were in a nice restaurant it could not be overcooked at all.
It turned out to be one of the most beautiful pieces of meat I’ve tasted – extremely flavoursome, slightly more of a chew to it than your prime cuts; reminding me slightly of a skirt steak in texture.
The chef himself came out at the conclusion of our meal to bring out a medley of desserts – a trio of South American-style sweets being a peanut and chocolate mousse, a flan, and a cookie. I was particularly entranced by the cookie, what they called an Alfajore – two shortbread biscuits encasing a layer of dulce de leche, rolled in coconut and dusted in icing sugar – it was like a caramel melting moment and I decided to see if I could perhaps replicate these at home.
Alfajores (pronounced alfa-horez) are biscuits that pop up in both Filipino and South American culture, being served after the Christmas midnight mass feast. Being such a luscious cookie though, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t have it all around the year!
You can sandwich the cookie with store-bought dulce de leche (from Spanish delis) or tinned caramel, or if you have a bit of time one evening make your own ahead of time; it’s ridiculously easy! In a large, deep saucepan place a folded tea towel on the base before placing in a 395g can of condensed milk. Lie it on its side so it can roll around, then fill the saucepan with water, ensuring it well and truly covers the can. Bring to a boil, then place the lid on and simmer for three hours, checking on it occasionally to ensure that the water level does not drop to below the can height – this increases its risk of exploding. Once you’ve reached three hours, turn off the heat before carefully removing the can from the hot water with tongs. Sit it on your kitchen benchtop overnight to allow it to cool.
Open it up the next morning – check it out!
I had already sneaked a teaspoon of it before I took the photo…sorrynotsorry. Use it for caramel slice, have it with ice cream, on its own…or use it to sandwich the delicious alfajores we’re about to make!
Makes 22 completed alfajores. You will need:
- 300g (2 cups) plain flour, sifted;
- 50g pure icing sugar, sifted, plus extra, to dust;
- 200g cold unsalted butter, chopped;
- 2 egg yolks;
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste;
- 395g dulce de leche;
- 100g (1 cup) shredded/desiccated coconut.
Process the flour, icing sugar, butter and a pinch of salt in a food processor until the mixture resembles crumbs. Add the egg yolks and vanilla, then process until the mixture comes together. Form a large, flat circle before wrapping in cling film and chilling for at least an hour.
Lay out two large sheets of baking paper and roll the dough out between the sheets to five millimeters thick. If it’s a hot day – like it was for me – cut the dough into batches and work on one batch at a time while keeping the others in the fridge so that it doesn’t get too soft. Using a 4cm-round pastry or scone cutter dipped in flour, cut out discs, re-rolling the pastry. Place on a baking-paper-lined oven tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Bake the biscuits for 15 minutes or until light golden. Cool on the tray for five minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.
While they are cooling, if you made your own dulce de leche scoop it out of the tin into a bowl. It will be quite hard, so you will need to whisk it a little with a handheld electric beater to loosen it up enough to pipe.
Spoon into a clean sandwich bag or piping bag, snip off the end if using a sandwich bag and keep in the fridge until required.
Pair up your cookies!
Pipe about a teaspoon of dulce de leche onto each half of the cookies. It was stiflingly warm in my kitchen and I had to work quickly as the dulce de leche started to ooze too quickly for my liking!
Place the un-piped halves on top and slide the tray back into the fridge to chill if necessary. Don’t worry too much about the caramel oozing out around the sides, as we have a saviour! This saviour comes in the form of the coconut.
Scatter your coconut onto a plate. Taking out your chilled alfajores, pick one up and using a butter knife, collect any dulce de leche oozing out to smear along the edges of the cookie sandwich, forming a sticky layer before rolling it in the shredded coconut. Repeat with all of them. Dust each with icing sugar just before serving.
Keep in an air-tight container for a week. I’m keeping mine in the fridge as it’s your a-typical summer heat here in Sydney. The dryness of the fridge also helps to keep the shortbread crisp – and there’s nothing quite like biting through the crisp shortbread, topped with powdered sugar, into the chilled smooth dulce de leche.