As I sat in front of my neon-flecked Alienware laptop, my fingertips poised on top of the keyboard like a bunch of overzealous teeny-boppers hoping to snatch front-row seats at the next Justin Beiber concert, I began to think about how to write this post. And my mind drew a blank. My fingers were stuck, frozen on the same line of letters, just waiting for some crazy brilliant epiphany to course through them and onto the screen. No such luck.
Blogging was supposed to be fun. It was supposed to be my little, cozy niche in this gigantic blogging universe, where I could abandon my inhibitions, share my creativity, and allow you to poke fun at all my random idiosyncrasies. Yes, I give you permission. Second stabs are admissible and encouraged even! I’ve been known to indulge in a little bit of masochism on occasion.
But, alas, the deeper I got with blogging, the more critical I became of myself. As a food blogger, I spend a big chunk of my time reading other people’s blogs, seeking a sense of camaraderie, fun, and inspiration. I am always amazed at the amount of talent there is out there — from bloggers dedicated to showcasing their expertise in the baking realm to bloggers paying homage to their Italian heritage to bloggers master-crafting their skill as food photographers; the choices are abundant.
And then, there’s me. Just a fraction of what the food blogging world has to offer. As I read the prose of others, I started to nit-pick my own writing style, worrying that it wasn’t good enough or avant-garde enough or OMG! forever life-changing enough. I began to doubt, my ability as a food blogger, which then translated into less creativity and less motivation. I was my own worst enemy.
This past Sunday, I spent the entire day in the kitchen. No rules. No contests. Just me doing what I love best — cooking. A pinch of this, a splash of that. It’s exactly what I needed to help put things in perspective. I am my own person, with my own voice, my own style, my own vision. I remembered the purpose of this blog.
I’m here to share with you my love for food. I want to encourage you to be confident in the kitchen — even when you screw up. And, believe me, you will screw up (as I still continue to do!). But, as with any tribulation in life, you get back up, brush yourself off, laugh at yourself, and then figure out a better way to do it next time. Lastly, I want you to have FUN in the kitchen! Don’t ever be afraid of your ingredients. You’re the boss. You’re the artist. Your spatula is your brush. The dish is your canvas. Drizzle some garlic-infused oil onto your plate, top it with crunchy popcorn and call it your masterpiece. Sell it for a million-gazillion dollars, buy a pony, and rule the world!!!
Wow, that was weird.
Switch gears. I should let you in on a little secret.
I hated baking. Hated it. Loathed it. Partly because it left my kitchen looking like a flour bomb went off. But also because more often than not, I would end up with a piece of tasteless, drier-than-dry cake or hard teething cookies, or in extreme cases, a batch of flat, hybrid cake-cookies that screamed Smurf-blue mania (just ask my good friend A. she’s privy to that piece of information).
Lately, though, I decided to throw my anti-baking campaign to the wind and just go for it full stop. And the verdict? I actually LOVE it! I love the therapeutic actions of kneading dough, of sifting flour, of just taking the time to make something delicious with just a handful of raw ingredients.
I went back to my roots and made some Alfajores, Peruvian-style cookies filled with dulce de leche and then sprinkled with powdered sugar. They turned out sublime! I have to thank my abuelito for this, as it’s his personal recipe. Gracias, abuelito!
Dulce de Leche
As easy as these are to make, they do take some time to prepare. But, do what I did and fix these up on one of those lazy, stay-inside-all-day, kind of days, turn on some jazzy cafe music and enjoy the experience. You won’t regret it.
Yields about 40 cookies
500 g. flour (use a kitchen scale for accuracy; they are inexpensive and are a good kitchen staple to have when baking)
300 g. shortening
3 T. corn starch
4 T. powdered sugar
1 T. baking powder
1-2 tablespoons milk, depending on smoothness of dough
1 can dulce de leche (you can find this milk caramel in the latin-american foods section of your local grocer’s market)
Powdered sugar; for topping
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place the flour on your counter, creating a well in the middle. Add the shortening to the well. Sprinkle the corn starch, powdered sugar, and baking powder to the flour, dispersing it all around. Add the egg to the well also. Using your fingers and the palm of your hand, start to slowly incorporate all the ingredients together. Splash just a wee bit of milk if the dough is too dry and clumpy. Form the dough into a round and then quarter it. Leave one quarter out to start working on; wrap the rest into plastic wrap and place in the fridge to stay cool.
Clean off the counter a bit, and then cover with a sheet of plastic wrap. Place dough on top of the plastic wrap and flatten slightly. Then, cover it with another sheet of plastic wrap. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to about 1/4 of an inch in thickness. I find it useful to take 2 thin, flat pieces of wood 1/4″ thick and put them on both sides of the dough as I roll it out to give me an accurate thickness. Take plastic wrap off. Using a cookie cutter (any small round one will do), cut the dough into circles and place on a greased, parchment paper-covered baking sheet (very important so the cookies don’t stick). Prick the middle of each cookie with a fork. Put this batch of cookies in the oven to start baking for 15 minutes, taking care to not let the cookies brown. Seems kind of counter-intuitive, but with these types of cookies, you don’t want them to be golden brown. You want them pale and just cooked through. Meanwhile, repeat with the rest of the dough, combining the scraps and the remaining dough in the fridge, remembering to only take out what you’re working on at the time.
When all the cookies are done baking, let them cool. Take this time to dance around the kitchen, tell someone you love them, and then get to work cleaning up the mess you made in the kitchen. A swig of wine makes the latter bit a tad less excruciating.
Get a butter knife or a small off-set spatula and start spreading the dulce de leche on the cookies. These are super tender and fragile, so be carrrreful. Though, I have to say, even with my deft touch (poppycock!), I managed to break quite a few of the cookies. More for the cook, I say! Mmm…
Once all the cookies have been filled you can dust them with some powdered sugar. Serve with a glass of milk. Provecho!