It’s not all about asados and empanadas!
Although you might know Argentina for its amazing meats and those adorable stuffed savory pastries, don’t forget dessert. On the Argentine dessert menu, you’ll find a variety of confections, sugary creations, and sweet pastries.
The favorite and most famous dessert is alfajores.
Also called dulce de leche cookies, if you’ve never tried them, you’re missing out. We’re excited to share what we know about these special cookies, including a recipe.
Think Beyond Apple Pie
Apple pie is delicious but it’s, well, so predictable. Predictable isn’t a word we’d use to describe Latin American desserts. The words insanely rich, sacred, and necessary for life all come to mind.
If you look at the most popular dishes of Argentine cuisine, you’ll find a wealth of slow-cooked dishes and simmered soups and stews. In Argentine cookery, asado (barbecue), grilled steak, and empanadas are the stars of the table. Locro, a stew or soup filled with grains, meat, vegetables, and corn, is also popular.
These hearty dishes need a rich and sweet counterpoint.
Alfajores sweeps in and assumes the role of Argentina’s national dessert.
A Step Back in Time
Dulce de leche cookies aren’t a recent arrival to the Argentine food scene. They have a long history going back to the 16th century. They originated in Southern Spain, introduced by the Moors.
Still popular in Spain, the Spaniards make their beguiling version of the dessert with honey, almonds, walnuts, and spices. Rather than a round cookie, in Spain alfajores are a finger-shaped sweet delicacy. No filling!
The modern, a.k.a. the Latin American version features a sweet filling sandwiched between two (or three) melt-in-your-mouth cookies
A Different Kind of Sandwich
If you heard sandwich cookie and filling and immediately thought of the packaged grocery stores cookies of your childhood, banish that thought from your mind! There’s no comparison.
The cookie itself is comparable to a shortbread cookie, although it’s lighter than shortbread. The texture is crumbly and delicate. It’s the maicena or corn starch in the dough that creates its unique texture.
Depending on where you’re eating them, alfajores may have jam, chocolate, fruit, or nuts for a filling. In Argentina, dulce de leche reigns as the most popular filling. Their outer layer may also vary; usually dipped in milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, merengue, or sprinkled with powdered sugar.
What’s in the Middle?
If a well-meaning friend tells you to skip the dulce de leche and use cajeta, or even more dreadful, caramel sauce, don’t do it! There’s a huge difference between these three ingredients
Caramel, made by slowly cooking granulated sugar until it melts, tastes buttery and bittersweet. Add milk and butter, and you have caramel sauce.
Dulce de leche, made by slowly cooking cow milk and sugar together, is also sweet but much thicker than caramel sauce. Cajeta, a type of dulce de leche made from goat milk is a suitable but not a preferable substitute.
While you can find dulce de leche in a Latin American market, and grocery stores in bigger cities, you can also make your own.
DIY Dulce de Leche
While there’s nothing wrong with canned dulce de leche filling in a pinch, made-from-scratch add another layer of special to the recipe.
Here are the ingredients:
- 4 cups milk
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Stir together the milk, sugar, and baking soda in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until caramelized and thickened, about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours.
The milk should start to caramelize after about an hour. At that point, to avoid burning, store more often.
Stir in the vanilla. Transfer to a bowl to cool. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
Hint: If you don’t use all of it, dulce de leche keeps for a couple of weeks, if refrigerated. Stir it into coffee, spread on your morning toast, or warm it up and drizzle over vanilla ice cream.
Secrets for the Perfect Alfajores
Every cook has their tried and true secrets for baking cookies. Here are a few secrets to creating perfect alfajores.
Remember we mentioned earlier that alfajores are similar to shortbread cookies? If you’ve ever worked with shortbread dough, you know if you handle it too much, you end up with a tough cookie. It’s the same with alfajores dough.
Keep the dough in the fridge when you’re not working with it. That means between rolling the dough and cutting out the cookies, it must stay cold. This helps keep the butter in the dough cold and makes it easier to handle.
Be careful not to overbake. Some cookies taste better when they cook to a golden brown. Dulce de leche cookies are light in color when they’re done.
Now, what you’ve been waiting for—the recipe.
Alfajores de Maicena Recipe
- 1 2/3 cups cornstarch (maicena)
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 Tablespoon brandy, cognac, or rum optional
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
- 4 egg yolks
Filling and Decoration
- Homemade or canned dulce de leche
- 2 Tablespoons powdered sugar
- In a large bowl, whisk or sift together cornstarch, flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- Beat butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy. Add brandy, cognac, or rum (optional) and lemon zest. Continue mixing.
- Add egg yolks one at a time and mix until combined.
- Decrease mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients. Mix just until no flour is visible.
- Remove dough from bowl and knead for a few seconds in your hands. Divide dough in half and shape into two balls.
- To roll out, place one of the dough balls on a large, rectangular piece of plastic wrap. Flatten slightly into a rectangular shape. Cover with a piece of wax paper. Using a rolling pin, roll into 1/8-1/4 inch thickness. Refrigerate dough for 20 minutes. Repeat with second dough ball. Re-roll any scraps and repeat.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
- Remove dough from refrigerator. Using a 2-inch cookie cutter, cut out cookies and place on prepared cookie sheet.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cookie edges are slightly golden. If your cookie sheet is dark in color, cookies will be done sooner.
- Cool cookies on cookie sheet for 5 minutes. Then, place them on a wire rack and cool to room temperature.
- Flip half of the cookies over and top each half with dulce de leche using a butter knife or a piping bag. Top with remaining cookies.
- Place powdered sugar into a fine mesh strainer and sprinkle powdered sugar over cookies.
Now you have everything you need for your Latin American cookie baking experience.
Famous Argentine Alfajor Manufacturers
Because of its popularity, Argentina boasts numerous creators of this heavenly dessert cookie. In fact, an estimated average of 6.5 million alfajores are consumed per day. Some of the more well known Argentinian companies are;
Each company has it’s own unique recipe and taste that has an army of loyal followers. But clearly the most popular are the higher end manufacturers; Havanna and Cachafaz. Both have their own chain of stores in Argentina, a la Starbucks. There you’ll find their world famous alfajores along with other café style foods such as coffees and an assortment of baked goods.
Dulce de Leche Cookies Around the World
We’d be remiss to infer that alfajores are only popular in Argentina. They are actually quite popular throughout all of South America. Alfajores are enjoyed in Uruguay, Ecuador, Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, and Brazil. Each country having a slightly different take on their own version.
Enjoy Your Dulce de Leche Cookies
If you’re looking for the quintessential Latin American dessert, dulce de leche cookies won’t disappoint. With their tender, crumbly texture and rich, sweet filling, alfajores may become your go-to dessert.
If you’ve enjoyed reading about Argentina’s favorite cookie, visit our archives and you’ll uncover the delicious history of dulce de leche.
We also have lots more recipes and articles on Latin American foods and you can shop for traditional latin foods too!
Our blog is all about sharing our love of Latin American foods & drinks. We will bring you articles and recipes of the very best Latin American & Spanish cuisine. Amigofoods was founded in 2003 and is the largest online grocery store offering a wide variety of hard to find freshly imported foods & drinks from all over Latin America and Spain.