It sounds so simple - two shortbread cookies sandwiched with caramel sauce. But they are oh, so much more.
Alfajores, a South American treat, are well known in many countries including Argentina, Paraguay and Peru. From the Arabic word for "luxury", alfajores aren't just sandwich cookies- they are a celebration of indulgence. A more accurate description would be: two soft, tender, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth cookies joined together with luscious & creamy, sticky dulce de leche. Some variations include dipping the cookie in chocolate (white or dark) or rolling the edges in coconut.
The Texture of Alfajores is as Important as the Flavour
The super-crumbly, tender texture of the cookies is attributed to the high proportion of cornstarch to flour in the dough. Barely sweetened, the dough may also include the delicate flavours of vanilla, brandy, or lemon. Care should be taken to first: not overwork the dough in any way, and second: don't over bake the cookies. Once baked the cookies should be light and pale with barely a hint of any browning. Browning in cooking/baking means caramelization aka. flavour and colour. (We'll talk about a second browning reaction, the Maillard reaction, another day). Don't get me wrong, I love caramelization, but in this case our caramel flavour is going to come from the dulce de leche filling.
Dulce de leche means, "candy of milk" or "milk jam". The most basic recipe for dulce de leche is to slowly simmer milk and sugar over low heat, stirring constantly, until most of the water evaporates and you end up with a thick, sweet, golden syrup. Other methods for preparing dulce de leche include simmering cans of unopened condensed milk in water for several hours or slowing heating condensed milk in a covered pan in the oven for several hours. Ready-made dulce de leche is also available in the grocery store if fear of exploding cans isn't something you fancy.
To assemble the alfajores, spoon cooled dulce de leche onto the underside of one cookie. Top with another cookie and gently press together until the filling reaches the edges. At this point you can roll the sandwiched cookies in coconut, or chill slightly (until firm) and dip in melted chocolate. If leaving plain or rolling in coconut, be sure to dust the tops of the alfajores with powdered sugar before serving. One of the rituals of eating alfajores is the attempt to not cover yourself with white while eating. I say, "Let the sugar fall where it may; a little poof is a sign of a good cookie."
Recipe adapted from: Serious Eats
Yield: 24 sandwich cookies, 2 1/2" diameter
Eating. Drinking. Sharing.