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Smack in the middle of our Israeli vacation we stayed in the town of Ramot Naftali, a moshav (settlement) in the Upper Galilee. This was our “base” for three nights and every day we pulled out maps, books and of course our computer to plan activities for the following day. Sadly, the internet connection only worked when I was outside sitting on the steps of our little cottage. But this little glitch didn’t stop us from being on the go, go, go!
One of the biggest highlights of this part of our trip, for me, was an intriguing woman named Miriam Bronstein, the owner of our Zimmer (an Israeli version of a bed and breakfast.) This lively lady was born in Argentina and now lives in Ramot Naftali with her husband and 13 year old son. Her other two grown children are quite a bit older (mid-20s?) and live in Haifa and Tel Aviv. In addition to owning and managing the zimmer, Miriam sews wedding dresses on site. I don’t know how old she is but I speculate that I am many years her senior. At this stage of my life I don’t even try to guess one’s age!
I knew right away that Miriam possessed wonderful cooking skills. She provided a full Israeli breakfast for guests if requested – featuring delicacies like grilled vegetables, homemade biscuits with cheese and an array of fruit salads. Much to my delight, she was eager to discuss cooking concepts and recipes and we did the best we could given that my Hebrew is awful and my Spanish language skills not much better.
The first night we arrived Miriam brought the most unbelievable cookies to our room – alfajores de maizena, or cornflower sandwich cookies. The little pastries were beautiful and were the perfect compliment to the passionfruit and fresh figs we had in our room.
Those of you who know me best won’t be surprised to learn that I insisted on getting Miriam’s recipe. After a good deal of gesturing, a lot of pantomime and my attempts to use Spanish I was able to cobble together an actual recipe! The funniest thing to me occurred in the translation. One of the ingredients Miriam listed was “corn flour”, but after eating the cookies I couldn’t taste corn meal and asked her if this was yellow in color, coarse or fine flour. She gestured and I finally asked her to get the package so I could see what it looked like. Lo and behold, corn flour was really corn STARCH. And that made much more sense – although I have never baked a cookie with this much corn starch before.
This just goes to show that, if you keep an open mind, you never know where or when you might unearth a favorite new recipe. I certainly didn’t imagine I’d find the formula for Argentinian cookies in the heart of Israel!
Alfajores de Maizena (cornflower sandwich cookies) – dictated to me by Miriam.
The recipe was written in Hebrew and translated into English by Miriam after several phone calls to her sister!
Yield: 30-35 sandwich cookies
- 8 ounces butter (2 sticks)
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 egg + 2 more egg yolks
- 1 Tbsp brandy
- 1 ⅓ cup cornstarch
- 1 cup white flour (or you can use cake flour which is better + ½ tsp soda in place of white flour and baking powder)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp vanilla
- zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped
- 1-2 cups Dulce de leche (you can buy this at a Mexican grocery store or make it from condensed milk)
- 1 ½ cups unsweetened shredded coconut to roll the cookies
Preheat oven to 350 with oven racks in the middle. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Cream butter and sugar. Add egg , beat well then add yolks one at a time. Add brandy, vanilla and lemon zest.
Stir together all dry ingredients and quickly mix into the batter until just combined. Divide into two smooth balls and refrigerate ½ hour.
Roll out each the dough balls onto pastry cloth or counter dusted only cornstarch (NOT FLOUR) to keep the dough from sticking. Roll into a ¼ inch thick circle. Using a glass (~1 ½ inch in diameter) dipped in cornstarch, cut little.circles and carefully transfer onto parchment-lined sheets.
Place cookie sheets in the oven and bake 15 minutes, switching the two sheets halfway through.
Remove the cookie sheets as the cookies are still white in color. Gently pull parchment with cookies from the metal cookie sheets and let cool. When the cookies are totally cooled carefully remove the cookies from the from the parchment.
Using a flat knife or offset spatula, spread the flat side of one cookie with dulce de leche. Sandwich the flat side of another cookie on top, and press flat sides of the cookies together, squeezing out a little dulce de leche so it is around the perimeter. You can also spread more dulce de leche around the perimeter if there isn’t enough to “ooze.” Roll each cookie in unsweetened shredded coconut.
I think next time I will dip half the cookie in dark chocolate. Yum!
You can search for recipes for dulce de leche-it can be made in the pressure cooker, stovetop or crock pot.