Being a Spanish teacher who is fairly obsessed with food and food traditions has its benefits. In addition to being able to share these traditions with my students, I relish opportunities to eat and recreate them.
I know the glory that is queso de cabra al horno en tomate or goat cheese baked in tomato sauce, a standard hot tapas dish from Spain. I’m well-versed in the deliciousness that are tacos al pastor, a traditional pork taco dish from the farm communities in Mexico. And don’t even get me started on the wonder and glory that is mole negro from Oaxaca, Mexico.
I’m always up for a new dish, snack, meal, or food-related experience, but even more so if said experience can later be relayed to my students as a “when are we gonna use this” example. Somehow, food is always something that middle school kids can relate to.
In a search for desserts to explain to my students during their food vocabulary unit, I came across an Argentinian (and Peruvian, and Chilean) “junk food” known as alfajores. The concept is simple: two buttery cookies sandwiched together with dulce de leche, a.k.a. milk candy or creme caramel. I knew that they would be on my winter break baking list.
When we were invited to a Hanukkah party, I took the opportunity to bake these. To say they were a hit is an understatement. I’ve never had a dessert, or dare I say, any dish, be so well-recieved as these little delightful cookie sandwiches were.
The recipe is quite simple, and rather remarkable at that. The dulce de leche is made by poking two small holes in the top of a can of sweetened condensed milk , submerging said can, holes-side-up, in a pot of water, then boiling it for 3-4 hours, replenishing the water as necessary. What is created is a rich and sweet caramel, but it wasn’t quite dark enough for my taste. So I simmered it a bit out of the can as well.
Then for a simple shortbread recipe, I turned to the original source for this idea, Joy of Baking. The recipe was beyond easy, and while shortbread dough is usually pretty unforgiving in my experience, this dough was beautifully smooth and easy to work with.
Ingredients (30 sandwiches)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
Dulce de Leche
- Poke two small holes (using a can opener) in the top of the can of sweetened condensed milk.
- Place the can, holes-side-up, in a pot taller than the can.
- Fill the pot with enough water to fill within 1/4″ of the top of the can.
- Boil over medium heat for 3 to 4 hours, refilling the water as necessary.
- Do not let the water get below 1/2″ below the rim of the can! (this can also be done in the crock pot, or completely submerged in a large pot of water, just skip the holes)
For the cookies
- Meanwhile, make the cookie dough.
- Beat the butter until light and fluffy.
- Add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth.
- Add the vanilla and salt and beat about a minute.
- Slowly add in the flower and mix until a thick dough forms.
- Remove the dough to a large sheet of waxed paper, form the dough into a disk, and refrigerate until firm, at least an hour.
- Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.
- Roll out the dough to about a 1/4″ thickness, and use a 1 or 1 1/2″ cookie cutter (I used a shot glass) to cut out the cookies.
- Place the rounds on a cookie sheet, leaving a bit of space between. Refrigerate the cookie rounds for about 10 minutes to ensure they keep their shape while baking.
- Bake for 12-14 minutes or until the edges are browned.
- Remove to a rack and allow to completely cool before assembling sandwiches.
To assemble the cookie sandwiches
- Spread about a teaspoon of the dulce de leche on the back of one cookie.
- Sandwich with another cookie.
- Sprinkle generously with powdered sugar.