I first came across alfajores [alpha-ho-ress] when I worked at a Mexican coffee shop, an unusual offering amongst chocolate chip and sugar cookies in downtown Ottawa. Alfajores are a magical creation of a simple cookie base with a hint of lemon and a rich dulce de leche filling. Traditionally rolled in shredded coconut, the alfajor is both elegant and intriguing.
Dulce de leche
Dulce de leche literally translates to sweet milk and is a feature of many Latin American desserts. You can make your own, which is especially useful in a city where the sweet confection is hard to come by. Cue the Maillard reaction. This chemical reaction is a mainstay of cooking and baking and is also the reaction that can explain the transformation of sweetened condensed milk to dulce de leche. When sweetened milk is slowly heated over an extended period of time, the milk browns and changes flavour. Thanks chemistry. The longer you leave the milk, the deeper the colour and flavour will be. I cooked mine for three hours, and it worked well with the light lemon flavour of the cookie.
Making your own dulce de leche is easy, especially if you're puttering around the house for a few hours. A can of sweetened condensed milk can be boiled to make dulce de leche either in a large pot of boiling water or much faster in a pressure cooker, the latter of which only takes about an hour. If you're making it in a pot, water will gradually boil off as time goes on. The only thing you will need to do during this process is to add more water so there is at least two inches of water covering the can at all times.
One can of sweetened condensed milk will be more than enough to make 16 alfajores (and eat the leftovers by the spoonful).
To achieve the perfect cookies for alfajores, you'll have to handle the dough with care. It is subject to cracking and wrinkling, so be cautious when cutting out dough rounds. To achieve a smooth cookie, carefully lift each round off of your work surface with the back of a knife. Eventually, the dough may become too soft to work with before you've finished with it, so pop it back into the fridge for a few minutes and roll out again.
Adapted from Cooking Classy
Total active time: 30 minutes
Total time before mass consumption: 2 hours (dulce de leche cooking time excluded)
Servings: 16 alfajores
1 1/4 cup cornstarch
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
10 tbsp salted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 lemon, zest and juice, as needed
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
Dulce de leche
1 can sweetened condensed milk, (label removed)
shredded sweetened coconut
crushed nuts like pecans or walnuts
Tools & equipment
baking tray with parchment paper or silicone mat
stand mixer with paddle attachment, optional
two-inch round cookie cutter
Dulce de leche
If making your own dulce de leche for this recipe, fill a large pot with water. Bring to a boil.
Remove the label from the can of sweetened condensed milk and lower it into the boiling water so that it is resting on its side. You're not even opening the can for this. The magic happens on the inside. Make sure there is enough water covering the can by at least two inches at all times. I had to add more water every 30-45 minutes.
Let simmer for 3-4 hours. The longer you leave the can in the water, the darker and richer the dulce de leche.
Once the 3-4 hours has passed, remove the can from the pot and put it in a cold water bath. Do not open the can when it is hot as it might splatter.
When the can is cool, open it and put the dulce de leche in a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use. Dulce de leche can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for up to a week.
In a small bowl, mix together the cornstarch, flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until pale and creamy, about two minutes.
Add in the lemon zest, egg yolks (one yolk at a time) and the vanilla.
Add in the dry ingredients with the mixer on low speed until just incorporated. Add in a few drops of lemon juice if the dough is too dry.
Flatten the dough into a disc and chill in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight. Similarly to tart dough, this dough also benefits from resting in the fridge. Why? Because the gluten in the flour will relax, making it more manageable to roll out.
When your dough is ready, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Sprinkle your workspace with flour. Remove the dough from the fridge and let it warm up on the counter. Once the dough is pliable, roll it out to desired thickness. I try to keep it between 1/8 and 1/6 of an inch thick so that the final product is not too unwieldy.
Using a two inch round cookie cutter, cut dough into rounds. You will need to use a knife to lift the cookie off of your work surface because the dough can be quite fragile. If you find the dough is breaking too much, return it to the fridge to cool down for a few minutes.
Place the dough rounds onto a prepared baking tray. I put my baking tray in the fridge and place each round onto it as I go to keep them from warming up and losing their shape.
Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes until their bases are golden brown. You don’t want the tops of the cookies to brown, so be sure to remove them from the oven before this happens.
Cool the cookies completely.
Prepare a bowl with your toppings like shredded coconut and sprinkles.
Pair each cookie up with one that is similar in size. While they all will be mostly the same size, some will fit better together than others.
Spread a layer of dulce de leche on the flat end of one cookie. Sandwich another cookie onto the dulce de leche, flat end down.
Spread a thin layer of dulce de leche along the rim of the cookie sandwich and roll the rim in one of your toppings.
Once decorated, put the cookies in the freezer. The dulce de leche can lose its stiffness and stability in warmer weather, so to keep the cookies in good shape, they are best placed in a cool environment until ready to eat.
Alfajores can be stored in the freezer for up to a month. They are quick to defrost. Alternatively they can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks.