I’m just going to dispense with the niceties and cut to the chase. What do you read when you retreat to the china closet? Maybe you take the newspaper (get over that; newspapers sadly may not be around much longer, I fear) or maybe you take that novel you’ve been trying to finish, bit by bit, when you either sit on the throne or tumble yourself into bed at night. For me, it’s usually a cookbook. I will stand in front of my ridiculous collection, pick one out and head to you-know-where. I’ve re-discovered some of my best cookbooks that way.
The most recent in that category is “Second Helpings” by Danny Meyer and Michael Romano, featuring recipes from Union Square Square Café in NYC. I’ve had the good fortune to dine there several times and as I read through the book again, I was inspired by some of their recipes, most notably Pan Dowdy, Blueberry – Lemon Meringue Pie, Chocolate Pudding Flan, Butterscotch Pudding with Brown Sugar Sauce and Rosemary Cake with Honeyed Goat Cheese.
I also came across their recipe for Alfajores. What’s that, you might ask? Let me just describe it as a refined whoopie pie. It consists of lovely, tender lemon-scented cookies, layered with dulce de leche and finished with a bit of toasted coconut. I heartily recommend that you make them for your next dinner party. Or to heck with that, make them for your own consumption. They are lovely, lovely, lovely. Make them soon!
ALFAJORES (from Union Square Cafe)
For the cookies:
½ cup all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 ¼ cups cornstarch
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 egg (I used extra-large)
1 egg yolk (I used extra-large)
Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt and baking powder. Set aside.
Cream butter, sugar and lemon zest in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, about 3 minutes. Scrape down bowl several times. Beat in the egg, then the egg yolk, scraping down bowl several times again. The mixture will look somewhat curdled; don’t worry about it.
Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until dough just comes together. Turn out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, form into an oval and refrigerate for at least two hours or preferably overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325-degrees. Roll dough out to ¼-inch thickness and cut into 2-inch rounds. Place rounds on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Place chilled rounds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 8 minutes. Rotate pan and bake for 2 minutes more until cookies have just set and are slightly puffed, but not at all colored. Cool 2 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely. You will probably need to do this in 2 batches.
For the filling:
1 cup dulce de leche (see link below)
1 cup shredded, toasted coconut
Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the dulce de leche onto the bottom (flat side) of a cookie. Make a sandwich by placing another cookie on top, flat sides together. Press gently together to spread filling to the edges. Roll the sticky rim in the coconut. Repeat with remaining cookies.
Yield: 16 sandwich cookies
* I wasn't sure what to expect when I made this recipe. I thought the dulce de leche might be too runny to make it work. What I found was that yes, it was runny when I sandwiched it between the cookies but once I rolled the sides it the coconut, it set up pretty well.
* Don't refrigerate these. They are best left at room temperature.
* The interesting thing about this is how the flavors meld together. You get a little hint of citrus, but unless you know, you can't identify the dulce de leche. I actually let Henry eat one (where were the Food Police?) and he didn't have a clue. Well, duh - why would that be a surprise??? Mikey liked it, though!