Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pepperidge Farm milano cookies

Hot tip:
If you're new to a job, bring baked goods. 
In no time everyone will (a) know your name and (b) love you.
Case in point:

On Friday I decided to bring in some cookies for work and sent an e mail to my ~45 person company saying there were cookies in the lunchroom. On my way there, I decided to go to the bathroom first, and when I arrived in the kitchen there were about 10 people anxiously awaiting my treats. And I think they were more pissed at me that I was late in bringing their sweets! But once they took a bite of my cookies, love was once again in the air.

So what did I make on Friday that got everyone so excited?! Well, I attempted to make alfajores, but ended up with Milano cookies instead.

Confused? Let me explain...

On Friday a bunch of work people decided to make a trip to Taste of Peru, a hole in the wall, BYOB restaurant in a strip mall in Rogers Park (north part of Chicago). With a night full of Peruvian food and pisco sours- all we needed was a Latin American dessert. And it just so happens that alfajores have been on my "to make" list f-o-r-e-v-e-r (since I had THE BEST EVER alfajores from Sabores Del Sur year ago in San Francisco).

All of my Bay Area friends should hunt these 
alfajores from Sabores del Sur down if they can.

Anyways, I had seen a recipe on Martha Stewart for alfajores from a food blogger that I like, Matt Bites. So off I went, on my 3+ hour project to make alfajores with dulce de leche, entirely from scratch.


To be completely honest, at first I was really disappointed. The cookie for alfajores is supposed to be a shortbread cookie. These were, well, very cake-like. Also, I felt the cookie was a little too sweet, especially since it was filled with a very sweet dulce de leche.

But then I realized something- these cookies taste just like a fluffier, cakier version of Pepperidge farm Milano cookies! So I filled half the cookies with dulce de leche and the other half I dipped their bottoms in chocolate. And wow!!! What a great cookie! I definitely preferred the chocolate dipped cookies by a long shot, but people at work were split in their preference.

It's amazing how expectations can color our satisfaction. When I expected the cookie to taste like alfajores I was disappointed. But when I tasted them again with no expectations, I realized they're actually a really good cookie.

So have I found a recipe that comes anywhere near the Sabores del Sur ones I had all those years ago?? Sadly, no. My hunt for the perfect shortbread cookie continues.

But on the plus side, I've found a great homemade version of Milano cookies!

The batter for these cookies was seriously like cupcake batter! 
But don't worry, just drop them by the spoonfull on a baking sheet 
and let the oven spread them into (almost) perfect rounds.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't discuss my epic experiment in dulce de leche making. Again, I wasn't 100% pleased. Partly I don't think I'm a giant fan of the stuff. And partly I think I learned a lot in the first time making it that will help make it better the next time around (if there is a next time...)

It took about 2 - 2.5 hours of milk simmering, but other than having to stir it once in a while (and slightly more regularly toward the end) it's actually quite simple. And I found this Joy of Cooking you tube tutorial that places the time more at 1 - 1.5 hours, so I think I could have cranked up the heat a bit more.

Milk + sugar + baking soda + heat + time = dulce de leche

And I mean come on, just look how delicious it looks!

Spread dulce de leche on the bottom of a cookie...

... and top with a second cookie

So let's recap the main points from this blog post, shall we:

1. Bake for people. They'll love you for it.
2. Get alfajores from Sabores Del Sur if you're in the Bay Area.
3. Go to Taste of Peru if you live in Chicago. Bring a bottle of Pisco with you (they're BYOB!) and have them prepare the pisco sour mix for a delicious drink. Also, order the seco de carne with cilantro rice if you like home-cooked stews made of cilantro and beef.
4. Make these cookies if you like Pepperidge Farm milanos.
5. Try this dulce de leche recipe if you've got a few hours to kill. Alternatively you can make dulce de leche from canned sweetened condensed milk using an oven method or the slightly more dangerous boil-the-can-in-water-for-a-few-hours method.

Your in trying new recipes, and staying on the hunt for the perfect alfajores recipe...
Jacqueline

Milano-like cookies, from Martha Stewart/Matt Bites

Ingredients 
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
orange zest for more of a citrus-y kick, if you're into that kinda stuff (optional)
Dulce de leche, cajeta, jam, chocolate, or whatever you'd want to fill these cookies with (optional)
Confectioners' sugar, for serving (optional)

Directions 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats; set aside.
Jackie's tip: cookies baked in nice, heavy baking sheets and a silpat mat brown so much more evenly and nicely. If you make cookies enough, invest in both of those items.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and continue mixing until well combined, about 1 minute.

4. Working in batches, add flour mixture (it took me about 4); mix until well combined. Add milk, orange juice, and vanilla; continue mixing until a dough forms, 1 to 2 minutes.
Jackie's Note: this dough will be like a thick cake batter, and not a typical cookie dough. DO NOT WORRY- that's OK.

5. Using a tablespoon or a small ice cream scoop, drop dough onto prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Transfer to oven and bake, rotating baking sheets halfway through baking, until golden, 10 to 14 minutes.

6. Transfer cookies to a wire rack until completely cool. When cookies have cooled completely, spread the bottoms of half of the cookies with dulche de leche, cajeta, jam, melted chocolate, or whatever you can think of; sandwich together with remaining cookies. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Just before serving, lightly sprinkle with confectioners' sugar, if desired.

Dulce de Leche, from Alton Brown

Note: Watch this video from Joy of Cooking as well for a nice visual. My dulce de leche had a lot more of this "baking soda scum" develop on the top of my caramel (which you can see in my photos). Alton Brown says not to incorporate this, but I think I may have inadvertently done that at the end, leading to a slightly gritty dulce de leche. Since I don't know the *perfect* method just yet, I figured I'd share with you some extra resources.

Ingredients

4 cups whole milk
12 ounces sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Directions

1. Combine the milk, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds in a large, 4-6-quart saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved.

2. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the baking soda and stir to combine.
Jackie's note: This will foam up A LOT (because of the baking soda). Make sure you're using a pot that looks way too big to hold 4 cups of milk. And be careful at the beginning and don't step away, otherwise you'll have a giant mess on your hands. 

3. Reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered at a bare simmer. Stir occasionally, but do not re-incorporate the foam that appears on the top of the mixture. Continue to cook for 1 hour. Remove the vanilla bean after 1 hour and continue to cook until the mixture is a dark caramel color and has reduced to about 1 cup, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Jackie's note: The Joy of Cooking video says to keep it at a low, even boil, and the time for cooking the caramel ends up being a lot shorter (~ 1.5 hours total). So it seems like you can bump up the heat a little bit to reduce this time.

4. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Store in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to a month.

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