Monday, June 27, 2011

Alfajores Santafesinos: Take 2

Yep, this was my second attempt at making the official alfajor of Santa Fe province. The first attempt, well, it taught me a lesson on meringues. I crossed a lot of lines with this recipe. First, I made a completely Argentine concoction, which is pretty much in opposition with almost all of my posted recipes. I usually try to replicate the tastes of home with what is available to us down here. Second, I had to get over my fear of raw eggs -- which, it turns out, isn't too hard when they taste like fresh marshmallow. So, thanks to Katie's challenge and encouragement, here I am embracing a taste of our current homeland.

The defining characteristics of alfajores santafesinos are (thick!) layers of dulce de leche sandwiched between thin crispy cookies and a sugary, egg white glaze that slightly crackles on your tongue as it dissolves. As a vegetarian, my challenge was creating a thin, crispy cookie without using lard. In my first attempt, I followed a recipe that called for melted butter - these shrank up hopelessly in the oven and weren't at all flaky.

The baked cookie inside of the cookie cutter - Just look at that shrinkage!
So, I asked around for suggestions - but nobody had any clue. Seriously, no one I know in Santa Fe could help me out with a recipe. But everyone could describe the perfect alfajor, and warned me not to screw it up. Hmmm. No pressure. I did, however, get a Sandra Lee-like suggestion to use pre-made empanada dough instead and, in my desperation, I did so. I will get to that later.

In the end I settled on this recipe from La Majuluta, and swapped out lard for an equal amount of vegetable shortening. Also, I translated it all by myself so there's another big girl victory. I tried it her way (still shrinkage problems), but also switched it up with my knowledge of pie crust makings and that worked way better for me.
Top: Pre-made dough, Bottom Left: Made with cold shortening, Bottom Right: Made with melted shortening 
300 grams all-purpose flour
1 pinch of salt (that's a direct translation, so get to pinching)
60 grams vegetable shortening
2 egg yolks
100 ml warm water (do you know that American measuring cups actually list ml? nice.)
1 Tablespoon booze (some recipes call for anise liquor, but I used vanilla vodka)
A few drops of lemon extract (which I didn't use, but suggest)

400 grams dulce de leche repostero (specifically for baking)

200 grams sugar (superfine if you've got it)
80 ml water
1 egg white, room temperature

Whisk together flour and salt. Use a pastry cutter or two knives to blend in the chilled shortening (see, here's my pie crust expertise at work). Stir in the yolks, water, booze, and extract to form a crumbly dough - try not to over mix, just get it to stick together. Form a ball and flatten slightly, to create a disc shape (to make rolling out easier). If you have limited counter space, you may want to divide the dough into two discs. Cover and put in the freezer for at least 20 minutes, or until you're ready to roll it out (if you leave it longer, let it sit out for 10-15 minutes before rolling). Roll out on a lightly floured surface to 1.5 mm thickness (thinness!). Use a 7 or 8 cm cookie cutter to cut into circles and prick them with a fork to prevent puffing (I got 39 cookies out of it, after re-rolling the scraps.) Bake at 200C/400F for 10 minutes, or until they begin to turn golden. Let cool. Assemble a three-cookie-layer sandwich using nearly one full tablespoon of dulce de leche between each layer.

Make the glaze by bringing the sugar and water to a boil until the mixture reaches 112C - I got a candy thermometer to ensure success this time around. Start beating the egg white shortly before the sugar hits 112 (beat on low speed for maybe 1 minute). Let the syrup cool briefly, like 20-30 seconds or when the needle on the thermometer starts to drop. Slowly add it to the egg while you continue to beat it (no one wants to be defeated). It shouldn't take more than 30 seconds to combine them and get a nice shiny white glaze - like thin marshmallow fluff. Use a pastry brush to immediately brush the sandwiches with the glaze - this is super tricky and I found it impossible to get all of the sides covered, but work fast and at least spread a thin layer on top. Let them drip and dry (which takes about 2-3 hours) on a cooling rack.

Immediately after adding the glaze
Now, as I mentioned above, you can use pre-made empanada dough for the cookies. I tried it with La Saltena's small rounds (8cm) - poking them and baking for 10 minutes. This, however, resulted in a giant alfajor that disturbingly resembled a combination of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and a BK Stacker, and was too chewy to qualify as a cookie.

Alfajor Sandraleesino
I'm glad that I added a classic Argentine dessert to my recipe box, and I'm especially glad that I wrote it out in English - that's one less hurdle for the next round.

For more delicious alfajor recipes from all over Argentina, please stop by these blogs!

Alfajores Marplatenses: Seashells and Sunflowers
Alfajores Cordobeses: From Argentina to the Netherlands, For Love!
Alfajores Mendocinos: From Argentina With Love
Alfajores de Maizena: Ana Travels
Alfajores Salteños: Buenos Aires Foodies, Bee My Chef

Friday, June 17, 2011

¡¿Cabina Fotográfica?!

Well, we couldn't very well call it a photobooth, now could we? Cotillón (party props and attire - you know, funny hats and such) is a very important part of Argentine weddings and parties. You usually bust it out on the dance floor around 3am. But what if your party doesn't include dancing? Enter the photobooth: so popular that it's almost cliché at home, but soon to be all the rage here.

What do you need? 
1) Any cotillón that you have stolen from weddings
2) Funny mustaches and glasses on sticks
3) Additional props, as needed (a feather boa is pretty much a necessity and a small blackboard is nice)
4) An empty picture frame

5) A sign that says "cabina fotográfica"- you know, since it's such an odd concept

6) I would also say that you need some sort of background but large groups are likely to rush the booth and you would need a wall full of fabric for that so don't beat yourself up over it.


Links to printable mustaches:

7) A puppy to try your props on

Links to printable glasses and more:
Photobooth Props (play with the size)

I traced the staches onto black goma eva and the glasses/bow tie/lips onto card stock paper, then cut them out and super glued them onto some kebob sticks.

Here are some of the resulting photos (but not the professional ones - those I'll post later):