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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Maicillos – Cornstarch Cookies

“You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone,” is not a phrase that stands true only for hot-shot guys who take their women for granted.  It’s true for many occasions.

Do you have a favorite season?  Mine used to be Spring, only because my birthday was in Spring.  But then, I went to Costa Rica during my Junior Fall Semester of college and I missed Autumn.  I was going mad, calling my parents telling them to send me really, honest-to-goodness, authentic autumn leaves.  I need to smell them and crunch them in my hands.  When I got back from C.R. and the next year came around I found that Autumn was my favorite season.

Well, now I’m in a real pickle.  My whole equilibrium is out of wack.  I’ve missed every Northern Hemisphere season.  I’m in danger of having four favorite seasons.  And right now it’s winter I’m missing.  Has it snowed yet?!  I don’t even really want to know… because I’m madly missing winter.  I had never missed a winter until these two years.  It’s been two years since I’ve walked out into the cold and felt my nose hairs instantly freeze to each other.  It’s been two years since I’ve held a snowball.  It’s been two years since I’ve heard the crunch of dry snow under my feet.  It’s been two years since I’ve fallen on ice.  It’s been two years since I’ve spent Christmas with my family.  Ohhhhhh, you never thought you’d hear me say it… but I miss everything about snow from watching it fall ever-so softly from the heavens to the adrenaline-filled drives on black ice.  Could someone send me a box of snow?

There is no snow here… even though it’s cold enough sometimes to actually have snow.  You would think being in Peru it wouldn’t be cold, but then I’d give you a swift slap to the face and remind you… I’m at 12,000 ft.  There are nice days too, though.  And on one such nice day the team went out to Sillustani.

 I’m the guy on the far right whose eyebrows unfortunately look like they were misplaced or shaven off.  I’ll tell you though, I have eyebrows.  That sun is such a prankster!  I’ll let you read about Sillustani here.

I had been asked to do a post on a typical dessert in Peru.  It’s been something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time now too, so being asked was the extra push that led me to Maicillos.

Maicillos’ name comes from maiz which means corn in Spanish.  The corn influence in this recipe is from the maizena… or cornstarch!  I’ve seen other recipes that call for cornstarch in cookies and call them melting cookies.  They really do seem to melt in your mouth.

And here’s something I’d like you to see from the culture.

Say you’re fat.  The people are going to tell you so.  Oh, they’ll say “Hey little fatty!”  And they won’t blink twice.  Say you have a mole on your forehead you’re a little self-conscience about.  Forget forgetting about it, they’ll remind you it’s there.  Say you’re white or black, they’ll say so!  Negrita is a common household product brand and it means “little black lady.”  It’s striking in the name alone, but with it’s logo it was rather offending to the us, the North Americans.

Back to cookies… These maicillos are typically made around Halloween for Todos los Santos (All-Saints Day).  But, I’m bringing them to you a little late.  Oops.  As a side-note, I believe these cookies to be best the day after!

Maicillos

1 1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/4 cup flour
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp clove
6 tbsp butter or shortening
egg yolks
1 tbsp vodka
1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.

In a bowl whisk together the dry ingredients.  Then cut in the butter/shortening until it seems even.  It’s not going to look like pie crust dough, the butter/shortening will get pretty lost in all the dry ingredients.  Make a well in the center and put in all the wet ingredients.  It will seem hard for the dough to come together.  You may have to add 2-4 tbsp of milk to get it to come together into a ball.

 Break off pieces of the dough with floured hands and roll into balls about 1 inch in diameter.  Then, smash them flat in the palm of your hands and place on a foil lined cookie sheet.  Note: you do want to smash them down pretty thin.

Then put them in the oven and let bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.  Pull them out of the oven and remove carefully from the cookies sheet lest ye break them and have to eat hot cookies that burn your tongue.  I speak from experience.

Voila!  You have a Peruvian cookie.  Enjoy!