“al-FA-ho-RACE” is fairly close, at least by virtue of my five years of high school Spanish. Then again, that was a bit longer ago than it’s comfortable to admit…
Anyway, alfajores are one of South America’s, specifically Uruguay’s, contributions to the world’s dessert table. The cookie is particularly light and crumbly, due to large amounts of cornstarch supplementing the flour. Fresh lemon zest and a splash of brandy (my own improvisation) give the cookie a sophisticated taste that’s not overly sweet. After all, the chocolate icing and the filling provide that in abundance, enough to satisfy even the most ardent sweet tooth.
No doubt, though, the filling is the main attraction. Of course it is, it’s dulce de leche! For those of you unfamiliar with it (¡Ay, pobrecitos!), dulce is milk, sugar and vanilla, heated until it’s reduced to thick, creamy, rich version of caramel. Except much better. Divine, actually.
One of you first introduced me to dulce when she baked a cake from her native Brazil. You may recall me raving about it in a prior posting. (Thanks again, “Z”!) From that point I knew I had to try to make my own! Fortunately, I found Alton Brown’s recipe. Mine probably isn’t as good as his and it’s certainly nowhere near the magic “Z” created, but it was a satisfactory first try; at least I hope it is.
The overall recipe for alfajores was featured on a site called BakeSpace, wherein one of the contributors shared her parents’ recipe for the cookies (they were born in Uruguay, by the way, so it’s straight from the source). Her version rolled the cookies in coconut, but I omitted that step in favor of enrobing them in chocolate ganache. Before you think me completely presumptuous, I would point out that some Uruguayan recipes specify doing precisely that, so my take is “authentic” too.
Oh, I found these cool Uruguay flag stickers, so after wrapping the cookies in plastic (to keep them fresh until they make their debut Monday) I affixed one of these to each:
Be advised, though, the cookies are quite messy! Worth the trouble, though; at least you might agree.
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 and 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 6 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut (*2)
Sift together flour, cornstarch and baking powder and set aside.
In an electric mixer bowl beat the butter, sugar and lemon zest on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Beat in whole egg, then the egg yolk. (*3)
Reduce mixer speed to low and add the sifted ingredients all at once, until the dough comes together. Turn out onto plastic wrap and form into a disc. Wrap the plastic around the dough disc and refrigerate for at least two hours, up to overnight.
Roll the dough on a flat surface until it’s about 1/4-inch thick. Use a bit of flour or cornstarch to keep the dough or rolling pin from sticking. Cut the dough into desired shapes and bake in a 325-degree oven for ten minutes. Cookies will be puffed out slightly, but they shouldn’t be darkened much.
Let the cookies cool, then assemble the alfajores by gently pressing (*4) a couple tablespoons of dulce de leche between two cookies.
1 – The original recipe also included instructions for preparing the dulce de leche, but I omitted them in favor of Alton Brown’s take, below.
2 – As noted above, the original recipe instructs the baker to roll the cookies in shredded coconut, but you won’t need it if you choose ganache. The original recipe is here, though, so if you’d prefer the coconut version, by all means have at it…
3 – This is where I added a couple tablespoons of brandy (left over from the Apple Muffin recipe featured earlier).
4 – Be very gentle. These cookies are light, so they disintegrate rather easily. I learned this the hard way!
Dulce de Leche
- 1 quart whole milk
- 12 ounces sugar, approximately 1 and 1/2 cups
- 1 vanilla bean, split (*1) and seeds scraped
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (*2)
Combine the milk, vanilla bean, seeds and sugar in a large saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the baking soda and stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and cook uncovered at a bare simmer, stirring occasionally. After a hour remove the vanilla bean. Continue cooking until the mixture is a caramel color, about 90 minutes more. Strain the mixture through a mesh strainer and refrigerate in a sealed container until ready to use.
1 – Cut the bean along its length but stop short of the stem. In other words, you should have an intact stem end from which the split parts descend. This’ll make it much easier to retrieve the vanilla bean later, when you remove it from the cooking mixture.
2 – Skip it. The baking soda is supposed to prevent the mixture from bubbling too aggressively, but it only made it worse. Much worse. I made a double recipe, so the second time I omitted the baking soda and had no problems. In fact, the mixture tasted slightly better the second time around, too. A rare bit of bad cooking advice from Alton Brown, but adding baking soda is something of a (minor) mistake.