Valentine's Day--you can love it or hate it. We've all gone through Valentine's Days alone or heart-broken, Valentine's Day days head-over-heels, Valentine's Days spent with girlfriends on the couch watching a weeper or out to dinner ignoring the holiday. Even earlier, most of us suffered the unforgettable heady yet awkward exchange of Valentines in class. (The one when you're hoping that your crush returns your feelings as you slip your Strawberry Shortcake/StarWars card into the paper bag decorated in class).
In our household, Valentine's Day is always a mixed bag. One year it was celebrated with a heart-shaped diamond necklace (before marriage and kids), the next it was forgotten altogether. It's been quasi-celebrated with a quick dinner out while leaving the (then) baby with a sitter, and spent apart while one of us was on a business trip. And it has also been celebrated with kids--not an over-done, romantic dinner, mind you, but a fun, family celebration, demonstrating as we do in a thousand small ways daily, our love for each other. We light candles and use little Valentine's napkins, and eat these for dessert. Esteban loves any occasion to celebrate!
This heart-shaped alfajor is just perfect for that type of casual dinner, whether your sweetheart is 4 or 40 (or 4 months old, as it were).
I made these to share this weekend with friends for dinner (actually, in a romantic and uncharacteristic moment, the men did the assembly. It was made with a jar of homemade dulce de leche from our hosts, another American/Argentinean couple, the van Halls.) Esteban's pre-school teachers are also getting a couple, in a decorative bag tied with a red bow.
So whether you are celebrating the day of 'Amor y Amistad' in grand style, or at home with the family, we wish you the best the day can bring!
This recipe for alfajores is adapted from the book, Argentina Cooks! by Shirley Lomax Brooks
1 3/4 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 pound butter (1 stick) at room temperature
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 recipe for dulce de leche (or one jar of it)
1 cup grated and sweetened coconut (optional)
Combine flour, salt, sugar and baking soda in a bowl. Cut the butter in with two knives, then mix by hand until well incorporated. Work in the lemon zest and then mix in the egg yolks, egg and vanilla. (Alternatively, you can do this in a food processor, fitted with the dough blade.) The dough will be soft and slightly sticky. Shape the dough into 2 balls, wrap in plastic, and chill for 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. On a floured work surface, roll out each ball of dough to a thickness of 1/4 inch. ( I used lots of extra flour to get the dough to be pliable, not too sticky, and easy to cut.) Cut into 2-inch rounds (or use a heart-shaped cutter) and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until done. The cookies will be dry but not brown.
When the cookies are cool, spread a generous spoonful of dulce de leche in one cookie and top it with another. Press together gently and smooth any squished-out dulce de leche with a pastry knife, or add a bit of extra so the coconut will have a good smooth surface to adhere to. Roll the seam of each sandwiched cookie in shredded coconut. (I used Bob's Red Mill shredded unsweetened coconut, purchased from Whole Foods.)