On Saturday, visiting days for the prisoners, she would stop by the house of Gerineldo Márquez’s parents and accompany them to the jail. On one of those Saturdays Úrsula was surprised to see her in the kitchen, waiting for the biscuits to come out of the oven so that she could pick the best ones and cap them in a napkin that she had embroidered for the occasion.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Márquez
I've started this post multiple times, trying to think of the best way to introduce Márquez's truly magnificent novel. It almost defies description. There are innumerable characters in the seven generations we see of the Buendía family, most of whom inhabit the (fictional) town of Macondo. We pick up threads of various different stories as we become entangled in their extraordinary world. It's a fantastic work of magical realism - the world feels intensely tangible yet completely unfamiliar, a perfect interweaving of myth and reality. It's one of my favourite novels. I do feel that I've said this a lot, but if you haven't picked this book up before, do so (before any of the others I've previously recommended)!
The fictional world Márquez has created in this novel is apparently based on his home town, Aracataca, in Colombia. Though the people in this fictional world presumably also enjoy fictional biscuits, I've chosen to go with a batch of (very real) alfajores for this post - a typical Central American treat. Making these biscuits also involved making my own dulce de leche, something I'd like never to be missing from my fridge from now on. My secondary school Home Economics (hi Ms Sleba and Ms Davies, if you're reading!) came back to me while cooking up a batch - you're looking to kickstart a Maillard reaction between the proteins and sugars in the milk. This reaction takes place when the condensed milk is heated, resulting in the deep golden hue you can see above. I've worked to keep the biscuits as short and crumbly as possible; they marry perfectly with the milky caramel filling.
Dulce de Leche
397g can sweetened condensed milk
Grating of nutmeg
4tbsp golden caster sugar
4 egg yolks
150g butter (at room temperature)
170g white spelt flour
4tsp baking powder
50g icing sugar
Heatproof bowl/shallow plate (that will fit inside the baking tray)
Electric hand whisk
1. Preheat your oven to 210C. Pour the tin of condensed milk into the flat heatproof bowl, sprinkle with salt and cover tightly with aluminium foil. Fill a large jug with hot water from the tap. Place the bowl in the roasting tray and place in the oven. Before shutting the oven door, pour the water into the tray around the bowl, to create a water bath (try not to slosh it around). The water should come halfway up the bowl. Close the oven and leave the milk to cook for an hour.
2. While the condensed milk is magically becoming dulce de leche, you can make the biscuit dough. Beat the egg yolks and sugar with an electric hand whisk until very light. Add the butter in cubes, and continue to beat until all the butter is incorporated. Sieve the cornflour, flour and baking powder into this mixture, then fold in with a spatula.
3. Knead the mixture lightly until it is no longer sticky, but try not to overwork it. Roll into a long sausage shape, around 3cm in diameter. Wrap tightly in cling film and transfer to your fridge until the dulce de leche is ready.
4. Once the condensed milk has had an hour in the oven, remove it and carefully peel the foil away from the top (away from yourself so you don't get a face full of steam). Whisk it thoroughly with a balloon whisk, then place the foil back over the dish and return it to the oven. You may need to top up the water if its level has dropped. Cook for another two hours.
5. Remove the dulce de leche from the oven, and whisk by hand for around three minutes, until the mixture is smooth. It should be light golden brown in colour. Sieve the cinnamon and nutmeg into the dulce de leche and whisk again, then transfer to a jar and leave to cool.
At this stage, you can leave the biscuit dough and dulce de leche in the fridge over night, or start baking as soon as the components (dough and dulce de leche) are cool.
5. Heat the oven to 180C. Remove the biscuit dough and dulce de leche from the fridge. Slice the cylinder of dough into 3mm thick rounds. This method is an alternative to rolling out and cutting the dough, and ensures you're working with it as little as possible, to keep the biscuits really short and crumbly. However, you should be a little obsessive about your biscuits, ensuring they're a uniform width as you cut them, or they will cook unevenly.
6. Place the biscuits on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Give them a little space, but they shouldn't spread too much as the dough will still be cool when it goes into the oven. Bake the biscuits in batches for eight minutes, then cool on the tray for a couple of minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
7. Once your biscuits are cool, sandwich a teaspoon of the dulce de leche between two similarly sized biscuits. Dust with icing sugar. Serve with strong coffee, or a glass of ice cold milk.
The biscuits will keep in an airtight container for a couple of days, but are best consumed immediately after assembly.