Alfajores [ahl-fah-HOH-rehs] These cookies are a favorite in many South American countries such as Chile, Peru, and Uruguay, and particularly in Argentina. Traditional versions consist of two cookies san dwiching a layer of the caramel-like mixture known as dulce de leche.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from my coworker with a set of links to recipes for these cookies with the message, “Please make these!” We’ll file this under another instance of work place foodie bullying (in the best sense of course!).
I, of course, happily obliged as who can refuse the prospect of making a beloved international dessert?!
I had never heard of Alfajores before a few weeks ago. I happened to try one at a coffee shop recently. They are delicious with a center of dulce de leche and crumbly, rich cookies on top. Plus, I love anything with coconut!
As I’ve since learned, alfajores are popular in Argentina (they are the largest consumer) although they are found all around the Spanish-speaking world. Interestingly, the alfajores in Spain are very different than those found in South America. There, they are cylindrical confections made of flour, honey, almonds and spices.
As this great blog post explains, “Spanish words beginning with “al” have Arabic roots” and as such these cookies can be though to have been brought to Spain by the Moors in the 8th century.
They were then transported from Spain to South America in the 16th century evolving into the beloved cookie they are today due to the conditions, resources and ingredients of the South American countries where they found a home. I love dishes that are full of history especially ones that have followed the ebb and flow of conquest across centuries!
But anyway, enough of this history lesson, on to the baking!
Not only was making alfajores going to be an exciting new challenge, but I got to make homemade dulce de leche for the first time!
I have never really been quite sure what dulce de leche is but as I have learned… it’s made by gently cooking sweetened condensed milk over low heat until it becomes thick and golden brown. In Spanish, it translates to “sweet of milk,” or “milk candy” and it is just that. It’s kind of incredible that sticking a jar of sweetened condensed milk in a water bath in your oven for 2-3 hours can yield such a delicious substance!
So your adventure to make alfajores at home starts with making your own dulce de leche. Skip this step if you opt to buy the premade kind.
Next up, make your cookie dough. This is not like any dough I’ve ever worked with before. There’s more cornstarch than flour in these cookies. They are super crumbly so be careful while working with them, both when making it and rolling it out and also assembling the cookies.
Finally, assemble these bad boys. Spread a tablespoon or so of the dulce de leche onto one of the cookies and gently press the second cookie on top. Remember be gentle! My first couple tries ended up with cracked cookies as the cookies are super crumbly and my dulce de leche was a bit thick. You want to gently press the cookie sandwich together, applying pressure all around to avoid cracks. Then, gently roll the cookies in shredded coconut.
Et voila, homemade Alfajores!
- 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
- ¼ teaspoon fine salt
- 1 cup cornstarch
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon fine salt
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon pisco or brandy
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- shredded coconut
- Heat the oven to 425°F and arrange a rack in the middle.
- Pour milk into a pie plate and sprinkle with salt. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place in a roasting pan. Place the roasting pan in the oven and add enough hot tap water to reach halfway up the sides of the pie plate. Bake for 1 hour.
- Remove the roasting pan from the oven and remove the pie plate. Carefully uncover the plate and whisk the mixture until smooth, about 1 minute. Replace the foil and return the pie plate to the water in the roasting pan. Place back in the oven, adding more hot water so that it remains halfway up the sides of the pie plate. Continue to bake until the dulce de leche is dark golden brown (about the color of peanut butter), about 1½ hours more.
- Remove from the oven and transfer the pie plate to a wire rack. Remove the foil and whisk the dulce de leche until smooth, about 3 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate in an airtight container with a tightfitting lid for up to 1 week.
- Place the cornstarch, measured flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk briefly to combine; set aside.
- Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl once with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is light in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolks, pisco or brandy, and vanilla and mix until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. On low speed, gradually add the reserved flour mixture and mix until just incorporated with no visible white pockets, about 30 seconds.
- Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape it into a smooth disk, and wrap it tightly. Place in the refrigerator until firm, at least 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Lightly flour the top of the dough. Roll to ¼-inch thickness (the dough will crack but can be easily patched back together). Stamp out 24 rounds using a plain or fluted 2-inch round cutter, rerolling the dough as necessary until all of it is gone.
- Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, 12 per sheet and at least ½ inch apart. Bake 1 sheet at a time until the cookies are firm and pale golden on the bottom, about 12 to 14 minutes. (The cookies will remain pale on top.) Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Flip half of the cookies upside down and gently spread about 2 teaspoons of the dulce de leche on each. Place a second cookie on top and gently press to create a sandwich. Dust generously with powdered sugar before serving.