I always look forward to passport D.C. and, this year, managed to squeeze in 9 different embassy visits. The one where I spent the most time was probably Chile, in part because I really enjoyed the traditional dance demonstrations outside the Embassy but also because the line was deceivingly long inside the Embassy. But the wait was worth it. I got to see the 2011 winning peep diorama “Chilean CoPeepapo Mine Rescue” and taste a number of Chilean culinary specialties like quinoa, pisco sour, wine, fresh fruits and alfajores.
From top left to bottom right: wine tasting, alfajores, traditional dance demonstrations, winning Peep Diorama “Chilean CoPeepapo Mine Rescue”, the office of the Ambassador
Alfajores are delicate cookies typically associated with Argentina, but baked throughout Latin America. Delicate. Not dainty like macarons. Though they’re composed in a similar fashion. Here you have 2 crumbly cornstarch cookies (as opposed to almond flour cookies) held together by dulce de leche and sprinkled with powdered sugar. The Embassy provided visitors with a recipe sheet for alfajores de maicena and other intriguing dishes like a panna cotta with honey and quinoa (might I remind you 2013 is the International Year of the Quinoa?) or a meat and corn pudding. I decided to give the alfajores a try at home but with a (dubious) French twist… why dubious? Well, because I replaced the dulce de leche with speculoos spread. And while I grew up eating spéculos, they’re more of a Belgian and Dutch specialty than a French one. So maybe we’ll call this a Northern French twist on a classic South American dessert.
1/2 tsp vanilla, 1 egg, 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup cornstarch, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 stick of butter at room temperature, speculoos spread and powdered sugar.
I used speculoos spread from Maison Dandoy that I brought back from my latest trip to Brussels. If you ever visit the Belgian capital, you should definitely make your way to 31 rue du beurre (that would be butter street, I kid you not!) to visit the oldest Belgian speculoos shop. Their spiced shortcrust biscuits are still crafted by hand and made of 100% natural ingredients just like their great-great-great grandfather did 184 years ago. Of course, you can also probably walk into any grocery store there and find a more generic brand. I grew up with spéculos, the cookies, but not with speculoos spread. That’s actually a new product that came out of a 2008 reality TV “invention” contest and became very popular throughout Europe… In the US, you can find it at Trader Joe’s under the name Speculoos cookie butter or at Le Pain Quotidien.
Start with a stand mixer and cream the butter and the sugar. Add in the egg, vanilla (you can drop a half a teaspoon of pisco or brandy as well apparently) and beat over medium speed. In a separate bowl, mix flour, cornstarch and baking powder together, then add them to the butter mixture and continue mixing until it becomes a consistent dough. Remove the dough from the mixer, separate into 2 balls. Wrap each of them in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F.
Once it has chilled, roll it out to about 1/4 inch thick a floured surface and cut little rounds into it. I used a shot glass for mine, you probably don’t want anything much bigger. Repeat the rolling until you have used up all the dough. Place the cookies on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes. The cookies should brown very slightly.
Once they are cooked, let them cool down before placing a generous dollop of speculoos spread on one and topping it with another cookie and pressing slightly to make a little oreo looking cookie sandwich. You can cover one side of the cookie in sifted powdered sugar too.
Speculoos alfajores, a French slash Belgian twist on a South American classic