Alfajores de Maicena (Cornstarch sandwich cookies with caramel)

The Soccer World Cup is here!

It’s a Saturday morning and I’m having breakfast and watching the current game live, Argentina against France. It’s an exciting game when, at 40’, Angel Di Maria buries the equalizer and scores a goal. Argentina got some yellow cards. But hey! Paul Pogba should have gotten a yellow card for that last tackle! And so it goes.

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I cheer for the Argentine team, of course, you don’t even have to ask! We are in a bit of slump, having won just 4 of 14, but at least we won’t have to face Germany this time, which knocked us out of the last three World Cups.

Now, I know, I know… this is a blog where readers come to find delicious recipes, not read about soccer or the World Cup! And while I could make some persuasive arguments about how soccer is a way to delight in one of life’s most amazingly fun sports to watch and play, or how thrilling it is to be cheering for the Albiceleste with all your friends… I decided instead to post this wonderfully easy and 100% authentic family recipe for Argentine Alfajores de Maicena. Hey, you can even munch on these while you watch the game too!

Alfajores are a traditional sweet snack or dessert very popular in Argentina, resembling a sandwich cookie. They feature a layer of Dulce de Leche, or caramel, in the middle of two sweet cookies, and are coated with chocolate, dusted with powdered sugar, or present a thin rim of coconut flakes on the side, depending on the alfajor variety.

IMG_7595Alfajores can also be found in other countries of the Southern cone, like Uruguay and Peru, but their origins are found in Spain. They were a creation emerging in the Iberian peninsula, in the region of Andalusia, during the occupation by the Moors. So it should be no surprise that the  word “alfajor” stems from the Arabic word “al-hasu”, which means filled or stuffed. Much later, in the 16th century, Spanish immigrants made their way to the New World, and brought the alfajor to the banks of the River Plate. The Spanish alfajor is however very different from its South American counterpart: the cookies are made with honey, almonds and flour. Instead, South American alfajores are made with butter, flour and eggs and filled with Dulce de Leche. I think this gives me a bit of ground to claim that the alfajor has adopted a true south American identity!

Alfajores are enjoyed by schoolchildren during recess, served at tea, and are emblematic with patriotic holidays. Oh, I remember the days when you were in the last recess before midday and I was already starving and yet had one more class to get through before lunch break! Splitting an alfajor with your best friend on the last recess not only staved off hunger. Brokered by dulce de leche, powdered sugar and alfajor crumbs, such sharing often cemented loyal friendships that lasted a lifetime! Trust me, it’s true! I’m still in touch with several of my elementary school friends. Do we owe it to the alfajor…?

IMG_7543So, anyway, childhood memories aside, if during this World Cup you feel the urge to try a new recipe, and send your own kind of culinary sweet cheer for the Argentine or Uruguayan team, I share here below my family recipe. Enjoy! Have fun!

… and go Argentina go! Vamos Argentina todavia!

 

 

Alfajores de Maicena

 

Prep time: 20 min.

Baking time: 8-10 min.

Assembly time: 30 min.

 

Ingredients:

3/4 cup unsalted butter

3/4 cup sugar

3 yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon Cognac

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 cup all purpose flour

2 cups cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking powder

For the filling:

1 can of Dulce de Leche, which you can purchase in a store or online by clicking  here

1 cup of shredded coconut flakes

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Instructions:

1. In a large bowl, sift flour, cornstarch and baking powder together and set aside.

2. In a separate bowl, beat butter and sugar

3. Add yolks, one at a time, and then the vanilla extract, Cognac and lemon zest. Whisk well until combined.

4. Gradually incorporate the sifted flour and cornstarch mixture, using a hand to lightly knead the dough. The dough should smell citrusy and feel soft and smooth to the touch.

5. Shape dough into a ball and let it rest 15’. If you want to save the baking and assembly for another day, just wrap the ball in cellophane wrap and store in an air tight container in the fridge.

6. On a very lightly floured surfaces, roll out the dough and flatten it to a 1/4” thickness using a rolling pin. Cut circular shapes and  place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

7. Bake alfajor cookies at 350F for 8-10 minutes or until the edges are very lightly browned. You want to avoid having crispy cookies; alfajores are soft and that’s part of the appeal of biting into them.

7. Remove from the  oven and let them cool thoroughly.

Assembly:

8. While alfajores cool, place the Dulce de Leche in a bowl, and put the shredded coconut onto a shallow plate.  Find a round cookie cutter; any size will do! But most prefer a small cookie cutter of about 1-2” width. With all this at hand, now you’re ready!

9. Gently hold an alfajor cookie with one hand and place a generous dollop of Dulce de Leche onto the flat side of the cookie.

10. Take another alfajor cookie and place the flat side against the Dulce de Leche on the other cookie, to create a little sandwich. Don’t press the two cookies too hard or the filling will squeeze out!

11. Hold the alfajor and cost the Dulce de Leche sides with coconut, twirling or rotation the sides against the shreds flakes on the plate.

12. They’re ready! Repeat until all alfajores cookies are paired up into sandwiches. Place alfajores on a platter or tray or plate or you can always bite into them right away, which is what I did!

And Voila, you’re an alfajor maker!

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