Banana–Dulce de Leche Alfajores

BY MARGARITA MANZKE

In Baking at République, Margarita Manzke admits that one of her favorite desserts behind the pastry case at her Los Angeles bakery is a spin on the alfajor—a South American sandwich cookie filled with dulce de leche. Jacklyn Yang, Manzke’s sous chef, takes the caramel filling a step further and adds bananas, brown sugar, and rum. All combined, the sweet, rich flavors—reminiscent of flambéed bananas—are a natural fit and hold together two soft, delicate butter cookies.

Makes 8 cookies

DULCE DE LECHE
1 (396g / 14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk

BANANA CARAMEL
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1⁄4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
packed 1⁄3 cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 small ripe bananas, mashed
1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Myers’s dark rum
Pinch of fine sea salt

ALFAJORES COOKIES
1 3⁄4 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1⁄2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1⁄4 cup cold water Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

1. To make the dulce de leche: Peel the label off the can of condensed milk and put the can in a deep pot. Pour in enough water to cover the can and reach 3 inches from the top of the pot. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to medium low and cook for 6 hours, periodically checking the pot and adding more water as needed to keep it at the original level. Using tongs, remove the can from the pot and set it aside to cool overnight. The next day, transfer the dulce de leche in  the can to a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use, or for up to 5 days.

2. “To make the banana caramel: Combine the butter and both sugars in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring continuously. When the caramel turns a dark amber color, turn off the heat and add the bananas, vanilla, rum, and salt. Turn the heat back to medium and cook the mixture until it’s thickened and has a jam-like consistency, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer the caramel to a bowl or container and cool. Transfe y bag and keep it chilled in the refrigerator.”

3. To make the alfajores cookies: Sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and set aside.

4. Place the butter and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and cream on medium speed until just combined, but no longer. On low speed, alternate adding the dry ingredients and the water in three portions, ending with the water.

5. Place a large sheet of parchment paper on your work surface. Turn out the dough onto the parchment, and top with another large sheet of parchment paper. Roll out the dough to 1⁄4 inch thick. Transfer the parchment and dough to a baking sheet and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.

6. Lightly flour the work surface. Peel off the top piece of parchment and invert the dough onto the work surface. Remove the second piece of parchment. Reline the baking sheet with parchment.

7. Using a 2 1⁄2–inch round cutter, punch out 16 cookies and place them onto the prepared baking sheet, 1 inch apart.

8. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Bake the cookies until the edges are slightly golden, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheet after 10 minutes to ensure even baking. Remove the cookies from the oven and set aside until completely cool.

9. Separate the cookies into pairs, one for the bottoms of the sandwich cookies and the other for the tops.

10. Turn over the set of cookie bottoms and pipe a double ring of dulce de leche, making sure to stay 1⁄4 inch from the edge of the cookie. Fill the centers with the banana caramel. Put the tops on the cookies, then dust with confectioners’ sugar. The filled cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

NOTE: For the best texture, it’s important not to overmix this dough and not to overbake the cookies—or they will be too crunchy and not tender. It’s supposed to be a pale cookie, almost white.

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