A few weeks after my husband and I started dating, we attended a Christmas eve barbecue hosted by the parents of his best friend (and later, Best Man) Will. I was reasonably excited; mostly as I was about to meet Will’s beautiful parents, Nafa and Susan, who had swiftly adopted Aaron into their family after he and Will became best mates. Aaron has shared countless stories of this couple’s love, acceptance and generosity towards him, so it was a privilege to meet them as a ‘second set of in-laws’, so to speak.
I was also quite excited about the barbecue itself. Now, for those of you who are used to throwing a couple of snags on the barbie (‘sausages’ on the ‘barbecue’, for my non-Australian friends), let me explain: this was not just any barbecue. Will and his family are Argentinean migrants, and his father Nafa has become famous amongst our friends for his traditional, slow-cooked Asado (Argentinean-style, hot coal barbecue).
As soon as we arrived at the house, I understood what all the fuss was about. The smell of slow-roasted beef, sizzling pork ribs and chicken filled the air in a smoky, fragrant cloud. We were swiftly greeted with warm hugs, snacks and icy cold Coronas before tucking in to creamy potato salad, hot baked rolls, seasoned rice and mountains of charred meat laced with garlicky chimichurri. When we’d eaten our fill, the men started exchanging garlic-scented burps whilst the women sipped on maté and shared narratives of days gone by.
Towards the end of the evening, Susan and her daughter Miriam re-set the table with another spread: an assortment of teas, coffees, chocolates, fresh hot water, ‘first dessert’ and the requisite ‘second dessert’. Despite being full, I partook in fruit salad with ripe, fresh cherries, vanilla ice-cream and dulce de leche, a thick, glossy caramel that has since become a personal obsession of mine. Eaten straight from the jar, it somehow manages to taste both like thick condensed milk and deep, dark burnt sugar; when melted over ice-cream or pound cake, it transforms into the warmest, thickest and most delicious caramel sauce you can imagine.
Since that night, Aaron and I have become loyal consumers of this Argentinean confection, usually over ice-cream but also in baked goods such as cheesecakes and more recently, soft-baked cookies. Up til now, I’ve been purchasing my supply from El Asador, a Perth company that locally manufactures their own chimichurri sauces, empanadas and homemade chorizo according to the family recipes of owner Max Pineiro.
However, despite the convenience I’ve recently been tempted to try and make my own caramel at home via David Lebovitz’s tutorial. Most other recipes for dulce de leche involve the hazardous step of boiling a can of condensed milk in water for hours. David’s method involves a baking tray with less pressure (consequentially removing the potential of an explosion… big yay for occupational health and safety).
So, after that prolonged introduction (sorry) today’s recipe is a variation of a soft-baked cookie recipe that I originally found on Sally’s Baking Addiction. I’ve enriched the basic cookie dough with fragrant cinnamon and toasted, crushed walnuts before stuffing each cookie with a spoonful of rich dulce de leche. The end result? Soft, chewy cookies with a fragrant, toasty walnut batter and a sweet caramel centre.
They’re some of the best cookies I’ve ever tasted, and I’m saying that entirely without bias (as to be honest, I’m harder on my own cooking than anyone elses!). Try one on its own, or crumble a couple (preferably straight from the oven) over cold vanilla ice-cream for a deliciously sweet and easy dessert.
Soft-baked Cinnamon Walnut Cookies with Dulce de Leche
Makes 40 cookies
- 170g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 3/4 cup (165g) dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup (50g) white caster sugar
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon + 1/4 tsp extra, for sprinkling
- 2 cups (250g) plain white flour
- 2 teaspoon cornflour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- sea salt
- 1 cup toasted walnuts, crushed + 2 tbsp extra, for sprinkling
- 100g dulce de leche (substitute with cajeta or Nestlé Top n’ Fill)
Place the butter and sugars into a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer. Cream together until light and fluffy. Add in the egg and vanilla, then continue to mix at medium speed until well combined.
Sift in your flour, cornflour, baking soda, cinnamon and a large pinch of salt. Mix together with a spatula or wooden spoon, adding in your walnuts when the mixture starts to come together. The dough will be thick, moist and sticky. When well combined, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate your dough for at least 30 minutes, or until firm.
Scoop out 1 tbsp of dough from your mixture. Flatten it into a 0.5cm-thick pancake in your hands, then place 1/2 tsp of Dulce de Leche into the centre of the circle. Bring up the corners to enclose your caramel filling, then gently roll the dough into a ball. Place onto the baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough and Dulce de Leche, placing each ball about 2cm apart on the baking tray or cookie sheet. When you’ve finished rolling all of your cookies, return the trays to the refrigerator to chill for 5-10 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Take the cookies out of the refrigerator and flatten each ball slightly with your hands. Press a few bits of crumbled walnut into the top of each cookie and sprinkle with cinnamon. Place the cookies into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, swapping trays half way through the cooking process.
When ready, the cookies will be pale golden (not browned) and soft to the touch. They will firm up considerably upon cooling, so don’t worry if your finger sinks into the cookie surface when you touch it. Once you’ve removed the trays from the oven, leave the cookies to cool on their trays or cookie sheets for at least five minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.
These cookies will keep fresh in an airtight container for up to one week. I’d suggest separating each layer with greaseproof paper to prevent sticking (as they’re quite soft, they’ll break if you try to separate them… and broken cookie = sad day).