From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...Alfajores are shortbread sandwich cookies that are held together with a spoonful of dulce de leche, a thick, milk-based caramel sauce. They are much loved in Spain and South America, but nowhere are they more popular than in Peru where they can be found in lowland coastal cities as well as those in the heights of the Andes. No collection of Peruvian recipes would be complete without them. I never dreamed that I'd have a problem making these cookies. As it turned out, it took three attempts to make shortbread cutouts that would not crumble when the cookies were filled. Fortunately, I found a workable recipe for alfajores on A Taste of Peru. The recipe was developed by Penelope Alzamora and it included directions for making the dulce de leche that's used to sandwich the cookies together. I'm passing her instructions on for you those of you who want to make the cookies completely from scratch. I cheat a bit these days and use commercially prepared dulce de leche. Years ago, I slowly simmered cans of sweetened condensed to make it, but, do to fear of exploding cans, that method is no longer approved and I would feel uncomfortable recommending it to you. I think you will enjoy the alfajores. The shortbread is barely sweet and almost bland, but the dulce de leche perks everything up and adds the sweetness you've come to expect in a cookie. Here's how they are made.
Alfajores...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite courtesy of A Taste of Peru
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioner’ sugar, plus more for sifting
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, or more if needed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup dulce de leche
Dulce de Leche
4 cups of milk
2 cups of sugar
1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1) To make dulce de leche: In a heavy 4-quart saucepan mix together milk, sugar, vanilla bean (if using), and baking soda and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking. As it begins to thicken, stir constantly and cook until caramel-colored and so thick that you can see bottom of pan as you stir; this will take about 1 hour. If using vanilla extract, add it at this point. Remove from heat and let cool. Cover and refrigerate.
2) To make alfajores: In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and confectioners sugar together until smooth. Beat in egg yolks. Add zest and vanilla extract and mix well. Sift flour and baking powder, then mix into butter mixture to make a dough that is soft but not runny. If it is too soft, add some more flour. If it is too stiff add water by spoonfuls until soft dough is formed. Turn into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a large cookie sheet. On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough out to 1/8 inch thick and cut into 1-1/2-inch rounds. Place on prepared cookie sheet and bake until set, about 10 minutes; the cookies should not color at all. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool. Spread one cookie with dulce de leche and press a second cookie on top. Sift confectioners' sugar over top. If desired, spread dulce de leche around sides of cookie and roll in grated coconut, chopped chocolate or nuts. Repeat with remaining cookies and dulce de leche. Yield: 24 alfahores.
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