I suspect these cookies are Alfajores but these delightfully crumbly, none too sweet, dulce de leche filled shortbread cookies are light as air and just might be the favorite cookie of angels. I first found this recipe on a Canadian Mennonite website.
These circles of yummy were touted as the favorite Christmas cookies of our friends to the north and were introduced to me as Angel Kisses.
Imagine my surprise when I bumped into a similar recipe for these favorites in a cooking magazine article on Christmas favorites from around the world. The writer of this article gave credit to Argentina, not Canadian Mennonites, and called them Alfajores (pronounced AL-fa-HO-res). The historian lurking within me went on a search for the true origin of these crumbly delights. As it turns out they are the national cookie of Argentina and are popular throughout Latin America.
Alfajores are a made with two crisp and crumbly shortbread cookies sandwiched with a milk caramel called Dulce de Leche. The cookies are not very sweet, making them the perfect sandwich for the very sweet filling. Their ultra crumbly texture is a result of the inclusion of cornstarch.
You can find Dulce de Leche in Latin grocery stores, or you can make it yourself by simmering cans of sweetened condensed milk in a pan of water until the sugars caramelize. Of course a third option is to simmer milk and sugar for 4 hours, being careful to prevent scorching... After trying three ready made options I decided that I prefer to make my own by boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk. Two of the ready made options included vanilla in the ingredient list. I think it gave an odd flavor note to the dulce de leche. The third option was too runny and too fussy.
To make dulce de leche yourself simply place a can of sweetened condensed milk on its side in a large soup pot. Fill the pot with room temperature water until the water is at least two inches above the can. It is very important that the can is completely submerged; never let the water level get any lower than one inch above the can as it simmers. I check the water every 30 minutes and add more as needed. The rest is easy. Simply simmer the can sweetened condensed milk for 3 hours.
I learned to avoid opening the can when it is still hot the hard way. Yep. Hot molten lava nearly exploded out of the can and coated my hand with OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! It was not my brightest move. So to be clear: DO NOT OPEN YOUR CAN OF DULCE DE LECHE UNTIL IT IS COMPLETELY COOLED.
Sorry about yelling at you but those burns hurt!
I like to let the can cool for 1-2 hours after simmering and then place it in the refrigerator overnight before using. But I am very cautious now. The scars are nearly gone but the burning memory lingers.
These cookies are not last minute cookies; you need to plan ahead. That said, they are worth it.
Angel Kisses AKA Alfajores
1 cup soft butter
3 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp grated lemon rind
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups cornstarch
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 can sweetened condensed milk
Dulce de Leche
To make the dulce de leche filling place a can or two of sweetened condensed milk on its side in a large soup pot. Fill the pot with room temperature water until the water is at least two inches above the can. It is very important that the can is completely submerged; never let the water level get any lower than one inch above the can as it simmers. Check the water every 30 minutes and add more as needed. Simmer the can of sweetened condensed milk for 3 hours. Cool completely in the refrigerator. I usually prepare the dulce de leche the day before I bake cookies. Please see comments above for a cautionary tale.
To make the cookies mix sugar and lemon rind in a small bowl and set aside.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until very creamy, about 1 minute. Beat the egg yolks lightly and then add yolks and vanilla to the creamed butter. Add cornstarch to the butter and then add the flour mixture. Beat until smooth.
Shape the cookie dough into a ball, wrap in waxed paper, and set in refrigerator to chill-ax for at least 1 hour.
Taking about ¼ of the dough at a time, roll ¼inch thick on a floured surface. Cut small rounds using a small, round cookie cutter. I use a 1½ inch cutter; smaller cutters also work well but are not easy to find. Place on cookie rounds on floured on a silpat lined cookie sheets and bake at 350°F for about 8 min. Do not over bake. Cookies should just be starting to brown along the edges. Cool completely on wire racks.
Spread 2 teaspoons dulce de leche on the underside of one cookie and top with a second cookie. Freeze to set the dulce de leche. Store in air tight container in freezer and beware if someone in your family likes eating them frozen! They might disappear if they are discovered!