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!

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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.