“At first glance, the alfajor is entirely unassuming — one might even pass it up for something with chocolate chips or frosting. This would be a grave mistake. There’s good reason that this shortbread cookie defines the café scene in Argentina and Uruguay, with entire establishments devoted to it all across Latin America. It’s a melt-in-your-mouth cookie that’s sandwiched together with dulce de leche (milk-based caramel). There are many versions of alfajores enjoyed all over Central and South America, but the best ones — in my humble opinion — are those baked with cornstarch. Try these alongside mate at your next afternoon tea and be transported to Buenos Aires!” – Grace Ramirez
Reproduced with permission from La Latina, by Grace Ramirez. Published by Random House (NZ). Text copyright ©Grace Ramirez, 2015. Photographs copyright ©Garth Badger, 2015. Click here to purchase your own copy.
- 1 cup corn starch
- 3/4 cup plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 115 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon pisco or brandy*
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup shredded coconut (optional)
Dulce de Leche (makes 1 cup)
- 340 gram can sweetened condensed mil
Makes 12 cookies
- In a large bowl, whisk corn starch, plain flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda together until just combined. Set aside.
- Place butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Mix until light in color and fluffy; about 3–4 minutes. Add egg yolks, pisco or brandy and vanilla, and mix until incorporated; about 30 seconds.
- Turn mixer to low speed and gradually add the flour mixture. Mix until just incorporated; about 30–60 seconds. Remove dough from bowl and form into a smooth round disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour until firm.
- Meanwhile, make dulce de leche. Pour sweetened condensed milk into the top of a double-boiler pan, and cover. Place over simmering water. Cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 40–50 minutes or until thick and colored light caramel. Remove from heat and beat with a whisk until smooth. Leave to cool to room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 180°C and arrange a rack in the middle. Line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper.
- Remove dough from refrigerator, unwrap and place on a lightly floured surface, or between two large pieces of non-stick baking paper. Roll dough out to 1/2 centimeter thick, and stamp out 24 rounds using a plain or fluted 58 millimeter cookie cutter. Re-roll the dough scraps until all of it is used. The dough may crack, but can be easily patched back together.
- Place 12 cookies on each baking tray, at least 3 centimeters apart. Bake until cookies are firm but still pale; 12–14 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely before filling.
- Flip half the cookies upside down. Spread about 2 teaspoons of dulce de leche on each. Place a second cookie on top and gently press to create a sandwich. If using the shredded coconut, spread on a plate, and roll each cookie sideways through the coconut so that it sticks to the dulce de leche. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
* Chef’s note: You can use triple sec or extra vanilla extract in place of the pisco or brandy. It’s time-consuming making your own dulce de leche as well as the cookies, so you can use store-bought — it’s just as good.