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Cascarones!

It is the beginning of Fiesta in San Antonio, and that means a celebration of our city involving parades and parties, cascarones cracked on heads and confetti everywhere, and lots of good food and drinks.

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River Parade

In a coincidence of my office and my home lives overlapping –  something that seems to happen on a regular basis – my oldest daughter Claire announces she wants to make an Argentine treat for her Spanish class for a Fiesta party this week, and with Michael just returning from Buenos Aires last week – thoughts of the architecture and flavors of Argentina have been all around me.

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Architectural exuberance in Buenos Aires

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Malvon Confiteria – panes, dulces, comidas

So this week I will share a few recipes for fun spring treats that are traditional favorites of Argentinos – the Alfajores de Maizena & the Pionono, both of which feature the sweet delicacy of Dulce de Leche.

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Alfajores de Maizena

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Pionono

The Alfajor has its roots in Southern Spain in an old Spanish-Arabic pastry that was born in the Andalusian city of Medina Sidonia in the province of Cadiz.  Drawing its name from the Arabic word alfahua or “honeycomb”, this Spanish treat is a long, cylindrical pastries that are stuffed with almonds, honey and spices like cinnamon, cloves and anise seeds.

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Medina Sidonia in Andalusia

The South American interpretation bears little resemblance, though, as it has become more a version of the French macaron of Latin America. Argentinian alfajores are made from two delicate short bread cookies, filled with a layer of a sweet spread – most commonly the sublime Dulce de Leche.  They are finished in a variety of ways – rolled in coconut flakes, dusted with powdered sugar, or dipped in chocolate.

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The making of Alfajores de Maizena shortbreads

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Adding the Dulce de Leche

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The finishing touches

The Pionono also draws it roots from Andalusia where it was said that the pastry was born in the town of Santa Fe, a small town near Granada, where the small traditional rolled thin sponge cake was filled with a sweet liquid and a topping of whipped cream.

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Santa Fe de Granada

The Latin American treat is made with mostly sweet fillings of fruit, but the Argentine tradition includes the filling with a layer of Dulce de Leche alone or with fruit, and this savory treat is topped with powdered sugar.

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The making of Pionono cake

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Pionono cake spead with dulce de leche

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The finished treat

The Ducle De Leche filling for both of these is said to have originated in Argentina in 1829.  During the Argentine Civil War, preparations were being made for meeting for the Canuelas Pact, a treaty being negotiated by the Unitarian General Juan Lavalle and General Juan Manuel de Rosas of the new government in Buenos Aires.  Arriving very late to the camp to General Rosas camp, Lavelle was tired and while awaiting the arrival of Rosas, he retreated to his tent to rest.  While he was napping, a serving woman was preparing “la Lechada”, a drink of heated sugar and milk, for the encampment.  She went to speak with Rosas in his tent, but upon entering discovered the enemy general.  She had no idea of their planned meeting or the plans for the treaty, so she ran out to find soldiers to come in and capture the sleeping general.  General Manuel de Rosas arrived moments before the soldiers and stopped them from waking Lavalle.  During all of this, the woman had forgotten “la lechada”, and when she returned to check on it discovered that it had become a dark brown jelly like substance.  It was said that a very brave and even hungrier soldier tried the jelly and Dulce de Leche was born.

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General Juan Manuel de Rosas of the new government in Buenos Aires & unitarian general Juan Lavalle

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Making Dulce de Leche

So after a fun night of baking with my daughter and in the spirit of Fiesta, I hope you try and enjoy these treats from Argentina – “Disfruta los dulces!!”

The Recipes

Alfojores de Maizena

Ingredients for the cake roll

  • 2 12 cups cornstarch (Maizena Brand)
  • 1 23 cups flour
  • 12 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 34 cup sugar
  • 1 cup  butter
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 -2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar gradually, beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and lemon rind.
  • Sift together the cornstarch, flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, beating until thoroughly combined.
  • Drop the batter by small spoonfuls onto well buttered baking sheets. Leave enough space between the cookies because they will spread.
  • Bake in a 350 degrees oven 15 minutes. Immediately remove from the baking sheets and let cool.
  • When cool, spread some Dulce de leche on the bottom half of the cookies and make a sandwich with the remaining cookies.
  • Squeeze the sandwiches so that some of the dulce de leche is squeezed out the sides, and roll the sides in the grated coconut.
Piononos

Ingredients for the cake roll

  • 5 Eggs
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1/4 cup of Plain flour
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence

Ingredients for the filling and topping

  • Dulce de leche – see separate recipe
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • ½ cup of glazed cherries –cut in half
  • 3/4 cup of coffee mix with 1 Tbsp vanilla essence
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
  • Melting Dark Chocolate (optional)
  • Preheat the oven to 400 F. Grease a cookie sheet with the butter – cover every inch of the cookie sheet. Make sure to coat it evenly. Now sprinkle the flour and shift it back and forth in order to spread the flour around the cookie sheet. Put the prepared cookie sheet in the fridge.
  • In a bowl place eggs, sugar, honey and vanilla and using a hand mixer/ electric mixer and start mixing on medium to high speed for about 5 to 6 minutes–you should have a pale and semi-thickened fluffy –spongy batter. Sift the flour into the bowl with the fluffy–spongy mixture– all at once; fold together using a spatula and making slow encircling movements until flour is incorporated– not living any lumps of flour—remember to Be careful not to de-fluff the batter.
  • Take out the prepared cookie sheet that is in the fridge and pour the mixture into it, making an even layer covering the cookie sheet. Bake for 5 to 6 minutes.  When ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool completely.  Place the pionono to a flat counter and lightly soaked with the coffee and vanilla essence mixture—this will give the pionono an extra moistness and delicate taste that is going to melt in your mouth.
  • Now for the filling spread a thick layer of dulce de leche over the cake. Cover with the shredded coconut and the glace cherries. Carefully roll up the cake until you reach the end—Make sure the first turn is tight so the cake will roll evenly. Transfer the roll to a serving plate and dust with confectioner’s sugar before serving. Slice into 1 to 1 ½” thick pieces.
Dulce de Leche

There are several recipes for Dulce de Leche, from the very simple to the perhaps more dangerous of boiling a can of condensed milk – hoping that it does not explode. Below are two methods, one with condensed milk and the other with milk.

Ingredients for the dulce de leche

  • Fill the bottom of a double boiler halfway with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium for an active simmer.
  • Pour a 14-oz. can of sweetened condensed milk in the top of the double boiler and set it over the simmering water. Don’t cover.
  • Every 45 minutes, check the water level and give the milk a stir. Replenish the simmering water with hot water as needed.
  • When the milk is as thick as pudding and is a rich, dark caramel color, 2 1/2 to 2 hours, remove from heat, cool thoroughly, cover, and refrigerate or use immediately.
  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Bring the milk to a boil in a heavy bottom sauce pan.
  • Add all other ingredients, being sure to stir the sugar with a whisk until it’s completely dissolved. (Otherwise, your Dulce de Leche will have a gritty consistency–not so good.)
  • Cook on medium low until it turns into caramel, about 2-3 hours.  It should have a rich tan or brown color and smooth texture when done.
  • Consistency is a matter of taste-some like theirs runnier than others, but test it by spooning some onto the center of a plate. If it stays without running and making a puddle, it’s ready.