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Alfajores (Caramel Sandwich Cookies)

Servings: Makes enough cookies to serve 4 people
What are Alfajores?

Alfajores (Al-fa-ho-res) are a South American type of shortbread sandwich cookie that are filled with dulce de leche (caramel filling). These delicious cookies can trace their origin back to the Moorish occupation of Andalusia, Spain and the great culinary traditions of the Mediterranean Basin. As per some Spanish culinary experts, the cookies were first composed of dried fruit preserves rolled in carefully prepared dough then rolled in an assortment of nuts or sugar.

With the Spanish conquest of the Americas came one of the greatest culinary exchanges in history. The Spaniards brought with them their foods and traditions, and it was just a matter of time before each region the American Continent developed their own style of cooking, taking a little from both the native and conquering cultures and a great deal of improvisation to create what we now known as Mexican, Peruvian, Argentinean, Chilean, Nicaraguan, Californian, or Cuban Cuisine to name just a few.

With time each region of the Americas adapted the Spanish Alfajor and made it their own. For example, in Argentina and Peru alone, there are over 15 varieties of the same basic cookie. In Nicaragua, the Alfajor is made with cornmeal, molasses, and cocoa resembling a brownie or fluffy energy bar.

No matter where you go in Latin America, you will find a local version of an Alfajor, and everyone will tell you they have the “Original Alfajor”. Little do they know the history of this cookie stretches back hundreds of years across continents.

Through research, we have been able to trace the recipe to the late 1800's to what is now Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Sweet on dulce de leche? Try these Alfajores - sugar cookies that are filled with dulce de leche and covered with chocolate or just drenched in confectioners' sugar. A classic Latin American dessert.

They're fancy enough to serve on their own for dessert, and the leftover filling is delicious plain. Be sure to start making these a few hours ahead, as the dough is easier to handle if you allow it to rest in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. When the cookies are baked and filled, you decide how to top them: either chocolate or confectioner's sugar. Either way, alfajores make a satisfying finale to just about any meal.

For the Dulce de Leche Filling:
2 cups milk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons brown sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 stick (1 oz/28g) unsalted butter

For the Cookie Dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 stick (2 oz/56g) butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Few drops of rum (optional)
Pinch of grated lemon peel (optional)

For Garnish: (optional)
Confectioners' sugar
Dark chocolate, melted
Milk chocolate, melted

Prepare the Filling:
Boil the milk with the sugars, salt and baking soda. Let it cook for about 1 1/2 hours on a very low flame (if cooking on an electric stovetop, cook on low heat), stirring regularly. Cover the pot with plastic wrap and place pot inside a larger pot with boiling water. Cook for another 1 1/2 hours. The mixture should get sticky and become caramelized. Remove from heat, add butter and vanilla extract, stir and allow to cool.

Prepare the Cookie Dough:
Mix all the ingredients together to make a thick dough. If it is too dry, add some water. Refrigerate the dough for 2 hours. Remove and let stand to soften. Roll out dough to 1/8 of an inch thick and use a floured 2 to 2 1/2-inch cookie cutter to cut cookie dough into circles.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 C). Bake the cookies for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the tops are a very pale golden brown. Cool completely on wire racks. When ready to eat, spread dulce de leche cream between 2 cookie rounds. If desired, cover with melted chocolate or confectioner's sugar.

Cook's Tips:

If you opt to cover the cookies with chocolate, melt the dark chocolate and milk chocolate together on top of the stove (over very low heat) or in a microwave oven.

You may prepare the dulce de leche ahead of time and store, covered, in the refrigerator.

In place of the rum, try using rum extract or add an extra 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract to the cookie dough.

Recipe makes enough cookies to serve 4 people.

Date: March 6, 2005