Every friend I've ever taken down to Argentina has the same reaction: that Argentina far outshines its European counterparts when it comes to sweets. A walk past the windows of your simple neighborhood bakery reveals dozens of exquisite pastries - facturas - delicate, thumb-sized, complex, delicious. Alfajores are the quintessential Argentine dessert, as varied as the country's regions, and ubiquitous, a staple at every bakery, restaurant, kiosk. (Their presence at kiosks is particularly dangerous!) And, if you're coming to dinner at my place for the first time, you can be sure these will be served as dessert. They're my taste of home, a way of sharing my table with others, my madeleine, so to speak. This is but one of the many recipes, time-tested by generations of Toselli abuelas. Variations to follow! /// Some tips: The recipe seems a bit daunting: it's not difficult, but it is time consuming. If you're making dulce de leche from scratch, make the dulce ahead of time and simply remove it from the fridge an hour before you make the alfajores, to allow it to soften a bit. I usually make the cookies one day, and form the alfajores the next, though they can be done all at once (store your un-sandwiched cookies in a tightly sealed container in the interim). The cookies will keep in a tightly sealed container for some time - the dulce is a bit of a preservative - up to 3 weeks. And don't throw out your egg whites! Make meringue! - dpm —yclaraquesi
Test Kitchen Notes
You might be smitten just by the elegant look of these cookies...but you really fall in love when you taste one. Each bite brings the sweetness of caramel with a hint of butter and lemon. The varied textures are also wonderful - the caramel gets a bit crystallized between the powdery crumb of the cookie. I loved the chewiness of the coconut but left half unadorned for the kids. dpm's instructions and advice are spot on. The dough, reminiscent of pie crust, was quite forgiving even after several roll-outs. I opted for store-bought dulce de leche which eased the amount of work. These beauties aren't to be made or eaten in a rush. You'll definitely savor the results. - monkeymom —monkeymom
6 dozen, depending on the size of your cookie
grams unsalted butter, room temperature (European-style preferable)
Preheat your oven to 335 F. Cream the butter & sugar until light and fluffy, 5 minutes or so.
Add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing well after each yolk.
Add the vanilla & lemon rind.
Sift together the dry ingredients, and add slowly, alternating with 2 teaspoons of cognac (optional). You should have a slightly soft, smooth (not sticky!), consistent dough. You can substitute milk for the cognac, or add additional milk, if the dough is too dry (the cornstarch tends to the dry side). Be careful not to over-handle the dough, it dries out quickly.
Roll out your dough on a lightly floured surface, and cut out circles. I usually roll out my dough in sections - it's important to minimize the handling of the dough so it doesn't dry out. The thickness is your choice - don't make them so thin the cookies crack when you spread them with dulce, but remember in the end you're making a sandwich. I usually roll mine out to an 1/8+ of an inch, but don't actually measure them out! The size of the cookie is to your taste as well. I prefer mine smallish, the size of a champagne flute. Re-form and re-roll out the scraps until you find the dough is tough and brittle, at which point cut your losses and toss (or eat?!) the rest.
Bake the cookies on a lightly buttered cookie sheet for 6 - 8 minutes, until the cookies are golden on the bottom but still creamy white on top. The first batch always takes a bit longer! They won't look completely cooked after 8 minutes, but take them out if the bottoms are golden - they will harden as they cool.
Once your cookies are completely cool, put together your alfajores. Spread the golden bottom of one cookie with dulce de leche, add a second cookie, golden side towards the dulce, to form a sandwich. Be gentle! The cookies tend to crack under pressure. Smooth a little dulce around the perimeter, and roll the edge of the cookie sandwich in coconut.
NB: A note about dulce de leche. The best dulce de leche is made from scratch - milk, sugar and patience. A semi-homemade alternative is to cook condensed milk in a double boiler for three hours or so, making sure the water doesn't fully evaporate, and stirring every so often, until the dulce is a rich caramel color but is still thin enough to spread easily. Or, if you have a pressure cooker, look up the technique for that - will save you time and hours standing at the stove. If you're using store bought dulce, steer clear of nestle, you're better off using condensed milk, flavor wise! I've had luck tracking down 'Conaprole' & 'Manfrey' in the US.