amaretto and dark chocolate shortbread. TSP christmas cookie week

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It’s hard to believe it’s the final month of 2014. This year has flown by in a tumble of seasons and emotions, the most significant of which were two summers and two autumns (the product of a four month trip to the Northern Hemisphere, which I’ve written about in a series beginning here).

This month marks the beginning of our second summer – hot, dry and sun drenched, trademarks of an Australian December. As I write, a soft breeze drifts through the window; eucalyptus-scented and warmed by the afternoon sun.

It’s less than three weeks til Christmas. Three weeks until glasses will clink, presents will be opened and carols will be sung around gilded trees. As per usual, I’m a little behind in terms of organizing small stuff like presents, cards and, uh, turkeys, that kind of thing.

But at least I’ve baked cookies.

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Now that I’ve confessed my chronic Christmas disorganization, let me introduce you to someone who’s the polar opposite. Despite planning for the (exciting!) arrival of her very first child, my beautiful friend Erin at The Speckled Palate is again hosting a massive Christmas Cookie Week for 2014!

If you’re a long-term reader of this blog you may remember that I scraped into the last day of Christmas Cookie Week 2013 by the skin of my teeth (or rather, by furiously typing into the wee hours – read the post here). I’m pleased to say that this year’s been a little bit different. I’ve baked, jotted and photographed in time for the kick-off!

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As for the recipe? Well, after a recent trip to Scotland I couldn’t help but think of shortbread as the classic Christmas cookie. For something extra special, I’ve embellished the traditional version with almond meal, Amaretto liqueur and a drizzle of bitter dark chocolate.

The Speckled Palate‘s Christmas Cookie Week will run from Sunday, December 7th to Saturday, December 13th 2014. If you’d like to participate, you can find more details right here.

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Amaretto and Dark Chocolate Shortbread

Makes 18 cookies

  • 125g butter, at room temperature
  • 60g pure icing sugar, sifted
  • 60g almond meal
  • 115g (3/4 cup) plain flour
  • 2 tsp Amaretto liqueur
  • 50g dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa content), melted

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Line 2 baking trays with non-stick baking paper, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat the butter, Amaretto and sugar together until pale and creamy.

butterAdd in the almond meal and flour, then stir to combine (the mixture should be cohesive but not sticky).

dough

Roll tablespoonfuls of the mixture into balls, then place onto your lined trays (allow room for spreading). Press down gently with a fork until the cookies are about 1.5cm thick.

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Bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes or until golden.

Remove from the oven and leave for five minutes (the cookies will be soft when you first remove them from the oven) before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

When your cookies are completely cooled, drizzle with the melted chocolate (I just used a fork dipped in chocolate in a back-and-forth motion, however you can use a small snap-lock bag with the corner snipped off if you prefer).

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When set, store in an airtight container for up to one week.

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Thanks Erin for coordinating another beautiful Christmas Cookie Week for 2014! Now, onto my Christmas shopping…

alfajores payes – TSP christmas cookie week

stackbutton2It’s 1.23am on Friday 20th December, 2013. Instead of getting ready for bed, I’m kneading a batch of cinnamon shortbread dough. Why? Well, firstly because I promised you a recipe for alfajores payes in this post from almost a fortnight ago. Secondly, because I kinda like my friend Erin from The Speckled Palate.

Erin’s hosting a Christmas Cookie Week this week and today’s the deadline for adding to the gorgeous stack of delights including salted caramel thumbprint cookies, vanilla bean shortbread cookies and classic coconut macaroons (all recipes available via the Christmas Cookie Week link). As abovementioned, by contribution to this week’s cookie goodness is a recipe for alfajores payes, chocolate-coated Argentinean shortbread cookies filled with thick salted dulce de leche caramel.

spreading dish

The recipe I’ve included for alfajores payes was originally sourced here from The Gourmet Traveller. After completing a trial batch, I made some minor changes including a reduction in the diameter of the cookies (my first batch were 6.5cm but I found them to be a little too large, so I’ve reduced the measurement in the recipe to 5.5cm), doubling the amount of cinnamon for spiced goodness (from 1/4 to 1/2 tsp) and adding a sprinkling of sea salt atop the dulce de leche before sandwiching the cookies together (the little ‘pop’ of sea salt flakes adds a gorgeous layer of complexity to this already divine Argentinean biscuit).

I also chose to make the shortbread dough by hand rather than with a food processor, because… well, I’m a bit like that. Floured hands, cold butter and a wooden bench make me feel like I’m doing good in the world.

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You may also notice that I’ve dipped my sandwich biscuits into the tempered chocolate rather than spreading it with a pastry brush. This was mainly due to being time poor, however I have included both techniques in the recipe text below. The advantage of brush application is that the top and bottom layers of chocolate set independently, creating a neater finish. Dipping each biscuit is far more efficient but will likely create a ‘foot’ of chocolate that pools as the liquid sets.

As this will likely be my last post before the Christmas arrives, I’d like to wish everyone a blessed, merry and peaceful Christmas week. Thanks for the Christmas wishes and inspiration over the past month!

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Alfajores Payes (cinnamon shortbread with caramel filling)

Makes 24 sandwich biscuits.

*Begin this recipe one day ahead.

Biscuits:

  • 2 cups (300g) plain flour, sieved
  • 1/4 cup (40g) pure icing sugar, sieved
  • 250g cold unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Dulce de leche filling:

  • 395g can sweetened condensed milk, unopened
  • 1 tsp sea salt flakes

To serve:

  • pure icing sugar, to dust, or
  • 150g tempered melted dark chocolate (65% cocoa solids), to coat

For the dulce de leche: Place the can of condensed milk in a large saucepan. Cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cook, covered with a weighted lid, over low heat for 3 1/2 hours. Do not uncover or touch the can whilst it cooks as it may explode.

Turn off the heat, then leave to cool completely (for at least 2 hours) before removing the can. Ensure that the can is completely cold before opening it. Transfer the caramel to a bowl, add in 1/2 tsp sea salt flakes and stir to combine completely. Cover and refrigerate whilst you make your biscuits.

For the shortbread biscuits: Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon and 1/4 tsp fine sea salt in a bowl. Dice the butter and add it to the dry mixture gradually, rubbing it in until the mixture comes together. Knead until a dough forms, then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm.

Roll the dough out to 5mm thickness on a floured work surface, then cut into rounds using an upturned glass or a 5.5cm diameter cookie cutter (re-roll the scraps). Transfer to flat, even baking trays lined with baking paper, then refrigerate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 180 degrees C. Remove the biscuits from the refrigerator once chilled, and transfer directly to oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden. Cool for 5 minutes on the tray, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

To serve: Spread half of the cookies with dulce de leche. Sprinkle on a few flakes of the extra sea salt, then top with the remaining biscuits. Place onto a wire rack.

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Temper your chocolate (I’m not going to go into the finer details here, see David Lebovitz’s guide or my friend Trixie’s blog for instructions), then brush one half and sides of each biscuit with melted chocolate.

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Tempered chocolate cools fast, so if you’ve processed your chocolate properly the coating should set within the hour. Turn over and brush the other side with melted chocolate, stand until set (as explained above, I placed all of my melted chocolate into a shallow bowl and dipped half of each biscuit into it. After allowing excess chocolate to drain, I placed the biscuits onto lined trays to set).

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Store your biscuits in an airtight container in a cool place for up to four days.

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A huge thanks to the gorgeous Erin also for the opportunity to participate in the event that is Christmas Cookie Week. Make sure you check out The Speckled Palate‘s official link for much more cookie goodness!

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