An alfajor is two crisp buttery cookies held in a sandwich with (what else?) dulce de leche smeared in between. They come in many costumes-dipped in chocolate, dipped in a white sugar coating, dusted in powdered sugar (like a fairy tale dessert, those are called alfajores de nieve-snowy alfajores), rolled in chopped nuts, (almonds or peanuts) or rolled in shredded coconut, so that all along the edges of the cookie, little bits of nuts or coconut cling to the dulce de leche that oozes out from between the two cookies. Each way they are prepared just adds to how luscious they are-and Argentineans know it! They eat alfajores like they have to get rid of them-with breakfast, as a snack, in the afternoon with piping hot espresso, or for dessert...no time is a bad time to eat an alfajor.
On my first date with Guillermo, we met at a downtown Denver bar for happy hour. (Our second date was much more romantic, but that's a story for another day!) In a little brown paper bag, I brought him the last two of my treasured Havanna alfajores (Havanna is a famous Argentinean cafe and alfajor-maker) that a friend brought me from a recent trip. I suppose then it was obvious then that I already really liked this guy-otherwise, why would I ever part with such a treasure?
Havanna alfajores come individually wrapped in gold or silver foil (gold foil for chocolate dipped, silver foil for white dipped) which makes the recipient of said alfajores feel like a character from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory every time they open one-filled with hope and anticipation of the glories about to be beheld. Plus, they come in a fancy box-making this dessert what it is-a very special treat.
Guillermo was thrilled when he opened the bag! It had been a long time since he had seen anything from his home country and like most Argentineans, he loves alfajores. Well, the hours passed, and we were so absorbed in conversation that he forgot the cookies when we left. Some waiter at the bar likely tossed them in the trash, but maybe he decided to eat them...I've often wondered about the fate of those poor cookies! Little did I know then that this type of forgetfulness is an annoying habit of Guillermo's-he is a scientist after-all, I call it the 'absent-minded scientist syndrome'. Oh, but the things we forgive for love!
I don't think he's probably had an alfajor in a really long time-maybe even since that first date-so I decided to surprise him with a batch, just to remind him. (And of course, I had to share them with you!) They really are as good as they look. You can serve them any way you like-and, for that matter, any time you like, too!
To see more about the history of the alfajor, see the article I wrote for Argentina's Travel Guide.
Receta para Alfajores
Recipe for Alfajores (Carmel Sandwich Cookies)
This recipe for alfajores is adapted from the book, Argentina Cooks! by Shirley Lomax Brooks
1 3/4 cups flour
1/8 teapoon 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 teaspoon vanilla
1 recipe for dulce de leche (or one jar of it)
1 cup grated and sweetened coconut (optional)
* Rebecca's note: I cannot stress enough the importance of quality butter in this recipe-it will make a big differnce in the flavor of the cookie.
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 and vanilla. Shape the dough into 2 balls 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. Cut into 2-inch rounds and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes or until done. The cookies will be dry but not brown.
When the cookies are cool, spread a spoonful of dulce de leche in one cookie and top it with another. Press together gently and roollthe seam of each snadwiched cookie in grated coconut.