Alfajores. Have you heard of them? If not, then you are in for a treat. Just imagine two buttery crisp shortbread cookies sandwiched
together with a sticky and gooey caramel-like filling (Dulce de Leche). To
finish them off, you can sprinkle the tops of the cookies with
confectioners sugar (powdered or icing), dip the sides of the cookies in
coconut, or even enrobe the whole cookie in chocolate, which makes me think of a Millionaire Shortbread Bar.
I have read that Alfajores (al-fah-HOR-ays) are very
popular in Latin America. Which makes sense as they are filled with another
Latin American favorite, Dulce de Leche (DOOL-say day LAY-chay). There are many versions of this
cookie, but for this recipe we are using shortbread cookies and homemade Dulce de Leche. I love the pairing of
buttery sweet shortbread and the rich, sweet, complex, caramel flavored Dulce de Leche. Dulce de Leche means "sweet of milk" or "milk candy"
and it is
also known as cajeta, arequipe, manjar or manjur, and doce de leite. You
could use store bought Dulce de Leche to make your Alfajores. Now, some
recipes make homemade Dulce de Leche by simply cooking a can of sweetened
condensed milk until thick and golden colored. While this Dulce de Leche is
good, I prefer making it from scratch. This is done by simply boiling down cow's
or goat's milk, mixed with sugar, corn syrup (glucose), baking soda and salt,
until thick and golden colored.
To cook the Dulce de Leche you will need
a large 8 quart (8 liter) saucepan or Dutch oven as the milk does foam up
as it comes to a boil. Once the milk comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer.
You want the milk to cook at a low, rolling boil. Stir the bottom and sides
of the saucepan frequently to prevent burning. After about 15 minutes of
cooking, the milk will start to turn a light beige color. As it continues
to cook, the milk will caramelize and eventually it turns a deep golden
brown color with a thick, sticky texture. Total cooking time is between
40-60 minutes or until the milk has reduced to about 1 1/4 cups
(300 ml). Remove from heat and strain. Dulce de Leche can be stored in the refrigerator for
at least a month. To soften, gently warm in the microwave or on the stove.
I love making
shortbread cookie dough as it contains just a few key
ingredients, butter, sugar, flour and vanilla, yet they taste so good. Try to
use a good quality unsalted butter and be sure to use "pure" vanilla extract as ones labeled "imitation" vanilla extracts as they are made
with synthetic vanilla and leave a bitter aftertaste.
Once made the dough does need to chill so it is easy to roll. I like to make the
shortbread cookies fairly small, about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter since we will
two cookies for each Alfajor. Bake the shortbread cookies until the edges start to brown
as we want the cookies quite crisp.
Keep in mind that the day the Alfajores are made the shortbread cookies
nice and crisp and you will taste its buttery flavor against the sweet complex
caramel flavored filling. But after storing the Alfajores for a day or two the
shortbread's texture softens and their flavors begin to mingle. Delicious either
Dulce de Leche:
Put the milk, sugar, corn syrup, baking soda and
salt in a heavy-duty 8 quart (8 liter) saucepan or Dutch oven. Place
over medium-high heat and bring just to a boil. Watch carefully, and as soon as
the milk begins to foam up, stir with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon, and
reduce heat until the milk is just at a low rolling boil. Continue to cook
the milk, stirring the bottom and sides of the saucepan frequently, until the
mixture becomes very thick and sticky and caramel colored (this will take about 40 - 60
minutes). It is important to frequently stir the milk so it does not
Note: There are
several stages the milk goes through during the cooking process. When the milk
first comes to a boil
there is a lot of foam. Eventually the foam subsides and after about 15
minutes, the milk turns a light beige color. As it continues to cook, the milk
thickens and gets darker in color. Once the Dulce de Leche has been reduced to about 1
1/4 cups (300 ml) remove from heat
and strain. Stir in the vanilla extract. Let cool before covering and storing. The Dulce
de Leche can be stored in the fridge for a month.
a separate bowl whisk the flour with the salt.
In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter
until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar and beat until smooth. Beat in the
vanilla extract. Gently beat in the flour mixture just until incorporated. Flatten the dough into a disk shape, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill the dough
for at least an hour or until firm.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) with the rack in
the middle of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough
it is about 1/4 inch (.6 cm) thick.
Using a lightly floured 2 inch (5 cm) round cookie cutter, cut out rounds. Place on the baking sheets and place in the
about 15 minutes. (This will firm the cookies so they maintain
their shape when baked.) Bake for about 7 - 10 minutes, or until cookies are
brown around the edges. Cool on a wire rack.
Shortbread cookies with keep in an airtight
container for about a week.
Alfajores: Take two shortbread cookies and sandwich them together with a
heaping teaspoon of Dulce de Leche. Sprinkle the
tops of the cookies with confectioners sugar. Can be covered and stored for a
few days in the refrigerator.
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