A look at cooking freely within constraints –be they environmental or culinary or other.

Having major food allergies (all things cow related, shellfish, mushrooms and beer), I have had to adapt how and what I cook in order to eat “normally” – this in turn cultivated a love of cooking and feeding people.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Alfajores.... no! Beta-jores! Or maybe Omega-jores..... but not your mother's Alfajores!!!

Here is Argentina, the cookie of choice is the Alfajore.  A sweet shortbread style cookie with dulce de leche filling.  They are sweeeeeeeeet.

And I can't eat them.  Each cookie itself has something like a stick of butter in it, and the dulce de leche is milk based caramel.  Hence.  No Alfajores for me.  And that is not fair, at all.  So after watching Sorin eat his 10,000th alfajore, something in me snapped.  I wanted one.  So the only thing to do was to make them.

Maybe I'll share them with him.  Maybe I won't.  :-)

So I did some research on this typical Argentine dulce, and there was not a lot of variety out there for either the cookie or the filling.  It is a simple cookie and most of the variety seems to be additions to the cookie, such as a sugar glaze, dipping in chocolate or rolling the cookie in coconut.

It amuses me, before I even posted this, before the experimentation began, I have been reprimanded by Argentine friends that what I am making is not alfajores - they can not be - alfajores MUST have butter and dulce de leche or they are NOT alfajores.  Never have I come across a people so passionate about their traditional foods.  :o)  So I will NOT be calling these Alfajores - I have yet to come up with the right name, so suggestions are welcome.  One suggestion already received was Debbijore - but the phonetic pronunciation "Debbi Hore" is, well.......  not such a good idea I think.......

So here is what my research produced.  I have to say, I am a fan of this cookie.  Although preliminary results (aka Sorin's 2 cents) are that the dulce de Non-Leche is very tasty, but not Dulce de Leche-like.  It is more chocolatey - which I attribute to the coconut milk.

Cookie Recipe - so easy it kills me.....

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup margarine, room temp and cut into cubes
1/2 cup almond milk
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla

Put everything but the almond milk in a bowl, use a pastry blender, mix all ingredients until dry and crumbly.  Now, if you have a food processor - awesome - pulse it for a few seconds until crumbly. For those of us without modern equipment, it will take a few minutes.  :o)
Once crumbly, slowly add the almond milk and blend.  I broke it down into three separate additions of almond milk.  On the third addition, really watch your dough, it needs to be incorporated into a ball, but not sticky.  If you get sticky, add a little flour.
Wrap in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes while you make the filling.

Dulce De Non-Leche - slightly difficult to make, but sooooo worth it!

1 cup coconut milk
1 cup margarine
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup muscovado sugar
1/2 cup honey (non pasturized)
1 tsp vanilla

Mix the sugars, honey and vanilla in a large sauce pan and caramalize.  In a separate pan, warm the coconut milk and margarine until the margarine is melted and incorporated into the coconut milk.

once the sugars are caramelized, add the warmed coconut milk mixture.  STIR constantly!  Bring to a boil and then reduce and cook over very low heat. 
How do you know when it is done??  Well, when the caramel is thickened and slightly viscous and smells like butter and sugar and chocolate.
isn't this just gorgeous?!?!?

Do you know that feeling when you are making scrambled eggs over very low heat, and they just start to turn from thick liquid to soft eggs?  That is the feel you want in this caramel.  Easy?  No.  I screwed up twice.  If you over cook the caramel, it instantly turns to a burnt sugary mess.  So here are some pictures from my failure.  If you over boil it, it will look like marshmellow, and then seize into a solid lump of granular nasty.
Houston, we have a problem....

NOT Caramel!! - FAIL!!!
Once the caramel is done, take it off the heat and set aside to thicken.  It will thicken as it cools, so don't worry that it is still liquid-y.
Take the cookie dough out of the fridge, roll it out if you have a rolling pin and the much desired counter space.  If you don't, break off 2" sized balls, knead in your hands for about a minute, then roll into a ball and flatten in your palm.  Place on a greased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.  Cool completely.

Now the cookie itself if flakey and almost pastry crust like.  I ate one alone and was rather disappointed.  It was nothing.  But then I added the caramel to it and I realized that the flakiness was the perfect vehicle for the sweet sticky caramel.  Perfect!

So once the cookies are completely cooled, and the caramel is also cooled to room temp, spoon the caramel onto a cookie, then sandwich it with another.  Mine are a little ghetto looking as I did not have a rolling pin, pastry board, oh yeah - or counter space, so they are a little chunky and not super elegant.  But that's ok.  I love them anyway.  :o)

Once you have the cookies filled and sandwiched, there are some traditional treatments to the cookies.  I rolled mine in coconut, which did an admirable job of keeping the caramel inside the cookie.

as you can see, some of the caramel tried to get away, but the coconut is keeping it sort of contained....

Other treatments you can use are dipping the cookie in chocolate, or making a sugar glaze and dipping it in that.  Both are too sweet for my taste, so I am sticking with the coconut.

Friday, October 8, 2010

mmmmm.... coooookies...... Part 1

So, after making almond milk, there is leftover almond pulp that is simply too good to throw away.  So I have been experimenting with different ways to use it.  One of my favorite ways, as of right now, is cookies.  Which I thought was an easy solution, until we discovered cookie wars in my kitchen.  I thought I had a really good cookie using the almond pulp, and in fact, I do.  It is simple, not too sweet, and in my eyes - perfect.  Then I had Sorin taste it.   He thought they were fine, overly simple, not sweet enough, and more of "A base for something brilliant".


I thought they were brilliant.

And so experimentation began.  I knew that I had a good cookie for those who don't like a cookie so sweet your teeth will itch, like me.  But I also had to recognize that there are a lot of folks out there who are like Sorin and like their sweets to be SWEET.  But what he said struck a cord - a good base.  What else could this cookie carry off?  Could this cookie be the "strong silent woman" behind the "successful man"?  And what would that successful man be made of?

The usual suspects came to mind, chocolate, caramel, preserves, coconut.... but what else could be added that would be unusual and "brilliant"?  My mind started ticking away on a marriage of subtle almond to boisterous X.  What is X?  Suddenly I feel like the culinary equivilent of EHarmony....  the pressure!

So what could be X - cardamon?  chai spice? rosemary?  rosewater?  lavender scented?  candied orange peel?  candied ginger?
And I am in Argentina right now, so some of my musings might be utterly impossible to try, but I am going to do my damnedest.
Here is a break down of the first of my attempts, along with the original recipe.

Simple Almond Cookie

1 cup margarine (you can substitute butter if you can/do eat that)
1 cup sugar
1 cup almond pulp
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups unbleached flour

Cream the margarine and sugar. Add the almond pulp, spices and vanilla.  Incorporate thoroughly.  Add in the flour until completely  incorporated.  You may need a little more flour if your almond pulp is overly wet.  You can add up to 1/2 cup flour more to make a nice, slightly sticky dough.  Chill for at least one hour - 4 hours is better.  Roll into small balls, roll in granulated sugar, then place on a greased cookie sheet and press them into thick discs.  Bake at a pre-heated oven of 350 for 15- 20 minutes.

You can stop there if you wish.  Or you can become adventerous and try one of the following:

Who does not like chocolate?  And more importantly, the marriage of dark chocolate to almond is a solid, tried and true connection.  Although, as Sorin stated, it is an expected match.  All you need to is chop a dark chocolate bar into inch sized bites, then roll the dough around the chocolate and bake as instructed above.  Simple.  I also rolled the chocolate cookies in dark, molvado sugar, which caramelized on the bottom, and it added a very satisfactory crunch to the cookie.  The dark chocolate was a nice addition, not over powering to the chocolate.  All in all, a winner.  And Sorin's favorite - despite the "expected match" statement.

Candied Ginger
I am a fan of the zing of ginger, so I chopped up some candied ginger and added it to the mixture when I added the almond pulp.  Approximately 1/4 cup of candied ginger to the dough - you can add more or less according to how zippy you want the end result.  This was my favorite.  The zip of the ginger melded with the smooth nuttiness of the almond, and a fantastic cookie was born.

Chai Spice
Where I am it is spring, but back on the Northern side of the equator, fall is coming.  And chai tea is one of my favorite fall and winter beverages.  And I thought the spices of chai would met the almond in a happy union.  I was right.  In addition to the cinnamon and ginger, add 1/2 tsp each cardamon, clove, all spice and nutmeg.  This was a spicy, deep and flavorful cookie.  I did not roll it in any sugar, which I preferred.  But I bet if you roll it in cinnamon sugar, it would add a nice sweetness to the spice.

I used my thumb to create a depression in the cookie and placed a dollop of raspberry jam.  I think I would have preferred peach or apricot, but alas, what I had was raspberry.  This was ok.  The jam sort of took over the cookie and elbowed the almond to the back corner.  Not my favorite, but I have a feeling the sweetness of the jam would be a hit with other folks.

Dulce de Leche
In Argentina - Dulce de Leche is their version of caramel and it is on EVERYTHING.  Now, caramel is not exactly friendly to non-dairy folks, so I adapted the recipe to be vegan.  1 cup of coconut milk, 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of margarine, 1 tsp vanilla.  Cook over medium heat in a sauce pan until it is all incorporated, then allow to simmer for 20 minutes to a half hour until it is reduced and warm in color.  Then dollop onto the top of the cooked plain almond cookies.  Sweeeeeeeet! 
Note of warning - stay with your caramel!!  Do no - I repeat - do not ask your boyfriend to watch it while you go to the bathroom for 1 minute - you will come back to a burnt mess and your boyfriend industriously busy with his laptop, pretending everything is fine....  just sayin'.  Stay with your caramel or you will have a molten mess of yuck.