Alfajores

It’s right around the corner.  Christmas is knocking on our doors.  It’s coming to me without family, snow or a big Christmas tree.  When it comes down to it, what does Christmas mean to you?  I’m learning that it doesn’t always have to have snow.  There’s only a small percentage of the world that gets snow for Christmas if snow at all, so Christmas can’t be all about snow.  And our North American traditions are lost on the Peruvians down here.  I even played some Vincent Guaraldi – Charlie Brown music and my Peruvian friend, Sammy, asked, “Is this Christmas music?”

Chad has Slingbox, so on Thanksgiving we were able to watch football, and I was so sad when I saw that stores were opening at 9 o’clock that evening to start “Black Friday.”  Really, consumerism is consuming the hearts of many across the map.  It makes me think of 1 John 2:14-17.  I think sometimes Christians can come off as hippies, but truth be told, it’s all about love.

For me, Christmas is all about love.  That’s why we give presents, not because it’s a big excuse to spend money on things we want, but there’s a big ball of love backed-up behind that gift.  It reflects what we celebrate on Christmas.  It’s Christ’s birth and the love our Father has shown us by taking form of man and living amongst us.

I love baking, and in turn, love baking for other people.  This year I decided to make something for the people that I’m coming to know as friends and who are coming to know Christ as their Savior.  I actually felt the love pouring out of my hands into these cookies.

These cookies are easy to make.  And they are a true Peruvian/Latin American classic.  They are everywhere in street-vendors’ stands.  They are called alfajores (ahl-fah-hor-ehs (accent is on the -hor- syllable)).  They are shortbread type of cookies made into caramel sandwiches.  They are buttery, flaky, caramelly, GOODNESS!  WARNING: You will need to eat over the table, sink, or plate.

I wrapped these little cookies into stacks with cellophane and strings and will be playing Santa and will deliver these little sweets to my contacts today.  I hope it’s not too late for you to try this for your friends.

What cookies are you making this year?!

Alfajores

Indredients
2 cups flour – sifted
1/4 cup powdered sugar – sifted
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter cut into small pieces and softened to room temp
1 1/2 cup condensed milk OR dulce de leche

Alright, so like I said, it looks easy right?  It is!  And it works perfectly at high altitudes because, ♪ duh duh duuuuuh ♪♪ it’s got absolutely no leavening.  Love it.

The reason I say condensed milk or dulce de leche is that you can make your own dulce de leche (which down here is not called dulce de leche, but manjar (mahn-hahr)).  Go here to get the low-down.  If you make your own you will want to start this first.

Put your dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and with a fork whisk them together so it’s all evenly incorporated.  Then start putting pieces of butter into the mixture and begin to cut it in.  I actually didn’t even measure my butter, I just cut it in until it formed a smooth, unsticky dough.  When it can form easily into a ball, that’s when you’ve put in the right amount of butter.  You may have to use your hands at one point to sort of knead in the drier parts that won’t mix easily.

Note: This is kind of like pie dough, so if you haven’t guessed it already, you can use a food processor.  Now, if I had a food processor you wouldn’t think this blog would be called The Handicapped Kitchen, do you?!  Go here to find detailed instructions on using a food processor for this recipe.

Once your dough is made put it in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and take the dough out of the fridge.  Roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 1/8″ thickness.  You can use whatever you want to cut out the shapes.  I used a cup and some Christmas shaped cookie-cutters.  This recipe calls for a 2″ round cookie cutter to make about 16-18 cookies.  If you double the recipe like I did you can make the same amount of 3″ or 4″ sized cups.  

Place the cut dough onto a parchment or foil lined cookie sheet and bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden and firm.  Take out of the oven and let sit for five minutes before transferring to cooling rack or towel.

Let cool for 25 minutes so they are completely cool.  Then you can start making the sandwiches by spreading the dulce de leche/manjar on your pieces and… well do I really have to tell you how to make sandwiches?!

Voila!  You have delicious cookies to share with your friends and family.  I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Dulce de Leche Brownies

Today was kind of a bummer day.  It’s just one thing that can put the bushel over your candle and snuff out what bit of positive light was left fizzling on the wick.  It wasn’t particularly a productive day, other than the house got really clean and the fridge thawed… which I hope is never as hard to do again as it was today.

We were supposed to meet with Leonor, this woman we met months ago.  It has been a long time since we’ve been able to sit down with her and do a Bible study, and that time has been extended even more.  She wasn’t home.

I’m glad that I had my friend Kristen there with me, yet I felt bad.  I drug Franci and Kristen out there with me so Leonor could meet some of the girls on our team, and it was a fluke.  So, we prayed and came back home.

It’s funny the things that can bring us back from a sour mood.  This is why I was glad Kristen came along tonight.  She was talking about how much she falls down, this amused me.  So, when I got home I ran to the computer with a grilled cheese sandwich and invited Kristen to join me in watching some America’s Funniest Home Videos on YouTube… specifically people falling.

I love watching people fall down!  Am I a masochist?  No… well, maybe.  There’s just something about watching people bodies flopping about.  I think that’s the concept that really makes me laugh… flopping.  If they had really been hurt I don’t think they would have sent their videos in to be laughed at… right?

So, now I’m listening to John Mayer… oh heavenly voices of heaven.  And I have this guy in my lap:

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Oh, Rocky.  You have helped soothe my soul.

And then, the reason you’re here of course, I made these last night:

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and I had a piece when I got home… I think this really topped it off.  In fact, I took just a few bites from the piece and hid the rest in my armoire because Micah’s in the living room and I’d have to share if he saw me here gnawing on heaven.  I’m just not ready for that.

Rocky just snotted on my wrist… yuck.  But, I’m sure it was loving snot… I’ll take that.

You have two questions to answer; What’s your favorite John Mayer song?  Mine is Stop this Train.  If you don’t have one… I am ashamed.  The other, what is your pet’s name and, well, what is it?!

Dolce de Leche Brownies
as adapted from David Lebovitz (my new muse)

Brownie Mix
1/2 cup salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces
6 ounces (170g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup  unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
optional: 1 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped (yuck)

Dulce de Leche
1 can condensed milk…
1 pinch salt
(yea that’s it!)

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The best thing about these brownies is that there is no leavening product to be seen in the ingredients.  This makes these brownies the perfect candidate for anyone living at high altitudes.  The only thing you have to worry about is not over-whipping your eggs!

You’ll first want to work on the dulce de leche.  I found this nifty way of making it, Make Dulce de Leche but since our boiling point is at a lower heat it was not working as it should.  Plus, the man in the video knows nothing about Spanish… don’t pay him any attention.  Six hours later I decided to do it my way.

Much like brigadeiro (a brazilian chocolate truffle, which I should do a segment on soon) you cook down the condensed milk in a pan over low heat, with continuous movement.  So, I just dumped the condensed milk in a pan with a pinch of salt and over low heat let it simmer while stirring non-stop.  The milk turned into a beautiful bronze dolce de leche in 15 minutes.  You can do it which ever way you decided.  Set to the side.

Grease an 8×8 pan and dust with flour and preheat the oven for 350 degrees F.  Set the pan to the side.

Then, melt the butter in a medium cooking pot over low heat.  Then, break the chocolate into pieces (or chop it into pieces) and stir constantly.  Once all the chocolate is melted remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth.  Add in the eggs one at a time (if you’re at high altitude add 1 more tablespoon egg… so the white, if you’re in Puno at 12,000 ft add the whole egg).  Then, stir in the sugar, vanilla and flour (I always add 2 or 3 tbsps of flour at high altitude, it gives the cake mixture more structure and strength while it bakes).  Mix in the nuts if you’re going to ruin your brownies.

Pour half the batter into your pre-greased pan, spreading it evenly over the surface.  Then, plop, drip, drizzle, spread, whichever method you want to employ, just get half of the dulce de leche in there.  Use a knife or something to swirl it around so everyone gets an even bite of it.  Otherwise, your kids are going to be freaking out about who gets the piece with more dulce.  I’m just thinking of you!  Then, pour the rest of the batter over and spread evenly.  Then repeat above dolce de leche application.

Bake in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes.  Now, bake it until it’s firm in the middle.  Meaning, you can poke a toothpick in the center and it can come out still a tad goopy.  If you press the center of the brownie and it’s rather firm to the touch, it’s done.  Take it out and let cool.  Baking it like this will give you that nice gooey center everyone loves brownies for.  If you want to bake it more… I guess that’s your prerogative, but I’m going to label you as strange, and I hate labels so don’t make me do that.

Caramel Apple Dumplings

Yea, I’m stuck in fall.  I’m not going to lie.  You can see it pretty much written all over this blog.  And I’ve also a sick obsession for the apple recipes as well.  It’s just that the apple, cinnamon, pie pastry texture and tastes all remind me of home.  Being here in this country that only has two seasons really leaves me reaching out to fill those I’ve missed in Ohio!

I love etymology.  That’s why I like language so much.  And it’s extremely interesting to me when I find a connection between two words that others are not as excited as I am!  I found that nostalgia has some interesting roots.  Nosto is greek for home and algos pain.  So, in a sense nostalgia just means homesickness!  Now, you can’t tell me that is cool.  If you can’t admit to it you just need to leave.

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Really… how could you blame me for being stuck on apple deliciousness?  Are you seeing this?  I’m about to swallow my own tongue!

Caramel Apple Dumplings

6 McIntosh Apples (as this serves six people)  Do we have McIntosh apples in Peru?  No… so we had to just find something softer that would cook nicely.  This is the beaut we found.

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Sauce
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp butter

Crust
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup milk

Caramel Sauce
You can use store bought OR you can make this
Caramel Comfort Sauce… really, which sounds more fun?

First you can get your sauce ready.  Super simple.  Are you ready?  Throw the water and sugar in the pan and start to bring it to a boil.  Put in the cinnamon and nutmeg.  When the sugar-water comes to a boil put in the butter and let melt.  Mix it up and when it’s melted completely remove from the heat and set aside.

To cut and peel your apples, cut them in half and then cut out the core.  I’ll show you some pictures, because I’m not sure how to explain with words.  Then, peel those halfs.  Don’t cut them into quarters because then you’re going to have a great time trying to hold them together when you wrap them up in dough!  That’s sarcasm by-the-way.

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Make sure you keep your apple halves with their mates… otherwise you could end up with some silly-looking dumplings.

Once you’ve got your apples ready get on your dough.  In a bowl mix together your dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder) and then start to cut in your shortening.  If you’re like the Handicapped Kitchen and you don’t have shortening you can use butter (which I perfer anyway).  Cut in the shortening until you have what looks like fine crumbs.  Then add your milk just until the dough comes together in a ball.

Roll the dough out into a rectangle measuring about 18”X12”.  Then cut the dough into six squares.  So, that should be two horizontally and three across the length.  If you were a math major in college than you can figure out easily that that’s six equal squares!

Working one at a time, place an apple in the center of one of your perfect squares (that’s nearly impossible) of dough holding the halves together.  Pour a nice unhealthy amount of sugar into the center of the apple and shake a pretty portion of cinnamon and nutmeg over the apple and settle a pat of butter on top.  Fold up the four corners of the dough and pinch it closed.  You can also use water to help seal it better.

Place in a pre-greased baking dish.  When you’ve got all your dumplings set in the pan pour the sugar mixture we made earlier over the apples making sure to dump it over each dumpling.  Then, sprinkle with more sugar!  SUGAR SUGAR SUGAR!  Kind of reminds me of Rebecca Black’s FUN FUN FUN!  Oh dear… poor girl.  Anyway, bake at 375 degrees F for 35 minutes or until you can easily poke a fork through easily.

Let cool and drizzle with caramel sauce while still warm.

TIPS:
1.) Use smaller apples so your dough will easily cover those babies.
2.) Some of my apples fell apart in the oven, but with my quick smarts I pulled some toothpicks out of my drawer and secured the apples together sticking the toothpicks through the apples in a crossing-action.

So, are you going to make these things?  Are you going to eat them in the middle of the sweltering summer?  Does it matter what time of the year you eat Apple Dumplings????  I think not.

Apple Fig Caramel Death By Pie

My mother would kill me, kill me, kill me if I ever put up our family apple pie recipe on the internet.  Don’t worry Mom!  This is not our secret pie!  This is my new pie!

Let’s be totally honest here.  I mean, we’re cool, right?  Pies are not the hardest things in the world.  There might be a ton of folk that tell you otherwise, but once you get the crust down…

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So, when Chad brought back a bag of figs from the market for the family, I knew I had to try a pie with them… with apples.  And what, I thought, would be more heavenly that drizzling the thing in Caramel Comfort Sauce.  Apple pie, by far, is my favorite pie.  Knowing I couldn’t post my mother’s pie here, I had to try something new!  Figs and caramel are definitely not in my mom’s pie.  I’m off the hook!

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I found a perfect crust.  I’ll tell you about it in a sec, I swear.  This crust, is so delicious, and you would never believe it, but yes, it’s easy to handle.  Seriously, I’m not kidding you, either I’m some kind of pie crust god, or this is just the pie crust you’ve been dreaming of.  So, when you try this out… you’ll have to tell me if I’m a god or not.  Don’t worry, you won’t hurt my ego.

I had two helpers in the kitchen when I made this pie, who both had just gotten up from their naps.  I present Mr. Thomas and Miss Ella:

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They did so well, until they got bored and decided to watch Finding Nemo… which the shark parts were too scary for Thomas.

Buttermilk Pie Crust
via Joy the Baker

2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup butter/shortening (cold cold cold cold)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup buttermilk (cold cold cold cold)

Mix together in a bowl the flour, sugar and salt.  Then, cut in your butter with the classy fork, pastry mixer, food processor etc., until you have what resembles course crumbs.

Handicap: I don’t have buttermilk.  I don’t even know what the name for it is in Spanish let alone if they even produce it in Peru… which if they did it would be expensive.  But fear not!  Buttermilk can be substituted as such.  For each cup of regular milk at 1 tbsp of white vinegar.  Works like a charm and that’s exactly what I did.

Mix in the buttermilk until you have until your dough forms into a ball.  The key, my mother always says, to making good crust is using cold cold cold cold cold cold cold ingredients.  Got it?

Let sit in the fridge for an hour… says Joy, but I did less time and it turned out fine.  I think I need to turn our fridge down.  It’s way too cold, but I love the ice crystals I get in my milk.

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Then roll out your dough so it will fit in your pie pan.  To get the dough from the counter into your pan it’s best to fold the dough over itself in half then, pick up the half and place it in your pie pan so that when you unfold it your dough is neatly in place, right where you want it.

If my directions don’t explain this clearly enough, click the link above that says Joy the Baker and her advice might help you better.

Filling

1 1/4 cup sugar (separated)
3-4 cups preferably McIntosh Apples… anything but red delicious I suppose (peeled and sliced)
about 1/4 cup Caramel Comfort Sauce
1/4 cup figs (the red flesh)
cinnamon for dusting on top

Remember when I said that once you get past the crust pies are really easy?  Well, as I promised it is!  Dump in 1 cup of sugar on the bottom then nicely lay out the apples inside so you can have the maximum amount fit inside the pie.  Then on top of the apples spread over the red flesh of the figs and sprinkle with the 1/4 cup sugar.  Then, over everything, drizzle the caramel sauce.  To top everything off dust with cinnamon.  Don’t go to heavy on it, or you will be sorry!  Use the same technique for the bottom crust as the top.  Fold in half and lift off!

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Put her in the oven at 350F.  I create a foil tray with the sides folded up to create a boil-over catching pan.  It makes for easy clean-up, because you know this pie is done when it boils over and you have a sugary-goo mess on your foil tray.  Also, check to see how tender your apples are with a fork.  If they’re nice and soft, that’s a good sign too.  Careful, sugar does tend to smoke quite a bit, if that burns don’t think your pie is burning too.  It should take from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours to make this baby.  I swear, she’s a delicious one!

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