I first saw alfajores at a local Peruvian chicken restaurant. Sitting by the cash register, they looked intriguing. But they were expensive – several dollars for just a few cookies. Without anyone to make their case to me, I passed them by.
Fast forward a few years. My friend and neighbor, Paula, adores these little treasures. A native of Colombia, she knows from what she speaks when it comes to Latin American treats. Her winning smile and encouragement got me started down this road and even though it had a few twists and turns, I’m not sorry.
The beginning of the adventure was my search for a dish to make for my August Progressive Eats post. The theme was Latin American dishes and Paula offered to help me find a recipe. As we paged through one of her cookbooks, Paula stopped. She smiled and sighed with delight at the mere thought as she glanced at a photo of the cookies. Although I focused on patacones that night, I also left with Paula’s translation of an alfajores recipe and the sneaking suspicion that I would soon try my hand at them.
My first try was a disaster. The translated recipe did not work. I know for sure that the recipe called for too much butter relative to the amount of dry (cornstarch and flour) ingredients. Plus, it’s possible I should have chilled the dough more. In any event, the cookies started out beautiful, but spread when cooked. They looked like this.
As I cursed (yes, I do) and started to throw them out, my beloved rescued these misshapen blobs. He is right about their taste – they are delicious. But not at all acceptable for putting together into sandwich cookies.
Try two was more successful. But it also involved misadventure. This time it involved a microwave and my haste to defrost butter. Oy. I should know better.
Please excuse the few bumps you might notice on the tops of my cookies. There will be a third (and hopefully more beautiful) version at some point soon. However, for the moment, I need to move on or I’ll go stark raving cookie mad!
What’s so special about these cookies?
Well, for starters, they are incredibly tender. Their dough is made with a combination of cornstarch and flour, not to mention plenty of butter. They are so light they almost dissolve as you bite into them.
Then there is the taste – almost as delicate as their texture. Subtle yet memorable, it keeps you coming back for more. Most alfajores recipes call for just a tad of grated lemon zest. This version has more zest and so the lemon flavor is more pronounced. The cookie itself is not very sweet; the dulce de leche or caramel spread takes on that role.
Finally, there is the cookie’s form. This one takes the sandwich cookie genre up a notch. The final touch, a gentle roll in shredded, unsweetened coconut, adds a beautiful finish. Their round shape is regular, but ringed with coconut and dulce de leche peeking out from inside, you won’t mistake these for blond Oreos.
Tips on Making Alfajores
- Working with the dough – This dough can be crumbly so you may need to patch it. Using waxed/parchment paper or a pastry mat below and paper/parchment above as you roll it helps keep the dough smooth. Don’t skimp on the two chilling periods, one after making the dough and the second after forming the cookies. They are essential to keep the cookies from spreading while they cook.
- Size – I used a 1 & 3/4 – inch (diameter) cookie cutter. I liked the size of the resulting cookie made 1/4-inch thick. Keep in mind that the finished cookie is more-than-double the thickness of a single one, so 1/8-1/4-inch thickness per cookie is right. Using a small round cookie cutter (or a small glass if you don’t have cookie cutters) keeps them regular in overall size. Getting the thickness uniform is a bit tougher. I hold a cookie up a ruler to gauge thickness for the first one or two, then eyeball it for the remaining ones.
- Dulce de leche – This spreadable caramel, also called arequipe, is quite popular in Latin America. Someday, I’ll make it homemade. I’ll probably use BraveTart‘s recipe from her wonderful book, Iconic American Desserts. But for now, I’m all about store-bought. I tried Alpina brand because Paula recommended it. I’m no expert on store-bought caramel spreads, so I’ll rely on others to tell me what I should be looking for in dulce de leche. In any event, it tasted good to me and served the purpose well. Some recipes use a huge dollop inside the sandwich. I prefer less. Keep in mind that the more you use, the sweeter the sandwich cookie gets.
- Coconut – I use unsweetened. It adds just a fleeting taste of coconut and no sweetness at all. Shredded is better than flaked coconut, because the pieces are smaller and stick better to the sides of the sandwich. If you’re a super-sweet lover, convert it into sweetened using my method.
Alfajores, Dulce de Leche Sandwich Cookies
These light cookies literally melt in your mouth. With a touch of dulce de leche or caramel spread, they are dressed up and pretty, but also delectable.
- 2 & 1/2 cups cornstarch (142g)
- 1 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (200g)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 9 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature Two sticks + 2 tablespoons (200g)
- 3/4 cup sugar (165g)
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest From about 2 small or 1 large lemon
- 1 teaspoon white rum
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 8 ounces dulce de leche (600g)
- 1/3 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
Sift together the cornstarch, flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar together, preferably in a stand mixer at medium speed for about 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, one at a time to the batter, mixing just until combined. Then add in the lemon zest, rum and vanilla and mix just to combine.
Add the dry ingredients, mixing only until combined. Press the mixture on plastic wrap into a flat disc and refrigerate at least one hour until firm enough to roll out easily.
Roll out half the dough and using a cookie cutter, biscuit cutter, or small glass, cut it into circles (Choose size between 3/4-inch -2-inches. Make them all uniform.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Chill the cookies on a parchment-lined cookie sheet before baking, preferably in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Bake for 10-14 minutes, one cookie sheet at a time, just until the bottoms lightly brown. Cool the cookies on the cookie sheets for a few minutes, then transfer them to a wire sheet.
Filling and Finishing the Cookies
Gently spread about 1 teaspoon of dulce de leche on the wrong side of a cookie, making sure to get it to the edges of the cookie. Top with another cookie and (again gently) press them together. Roll the edges where the dulce de leche peeks out in a small bowl filled with the coconut shreds. Turn the cookie around as you roll it, so that all the edges are lightly coated with coconut.