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Alfajores de maicena*, are a heavenly treat from Argentina. These light and delicate shortbread cookies are sandwiched together and filled with dulce de leche, perfectly complemented by a generous amount of cornstarch in the dough, hence the name in Spanish, maicena.
With a side coating of finely shredded coconut, each bite offers a burst of flavour and a satisfying texture. They are like biting into a cloud of powdered sugar, with a perfect balance between the melt-in-your-mouth shortbread and gooey caramel filling.
For those who are familiar with Australian sweets, the alfajor shortbread is similar to the beloved Melting Moments or yo-yos biscuit.
This recipe creates a classic homemade alfajor that is popular in Argentine households. If you want to explore a wide range of alfajores, I recommend visiting Havanna. It is a national chain in Argentina that offers different chocolate-coated alfajores and a renowned dulce de leche available in various sizes. If you’re in the US or Spain and eager to try them without travelling, you’re in luck! Havanna has an online store where you can order their products. (no affiliation association)
Tips for the perfect Alfajores:
- Sift the flours beforehand.
- When kneading the dough, use the heel of your hand to press the dough away from you and squeeze the dough often. It may appear impossible for the mixture to come together as a ball, but trust me, it does after following this method of kneading.
- Chill the dough for a minimum of 30 minutes or up to 24 hours max.
- When re-rolling the dough, wet your hands with cold water and shake the excess water off. This slightly moistens the dough when rolling out the dough.
- The alfajores are ready to remove from the oven when the base is slightly golden, while the tops should look quite pale. They may feel slightly soft when touched but as they cool down, they will harden. It is important not to overbake them as alfajores are supposed to be soft and pillowy. If you feel they need to be baked longer, there is no harm in returning the alfajores to the oven for a few more minutes but keep a close eye on them as they can over-bake quite easily.
- If possible, use Argentine dulce de leche or make your own by following my homemade dulce de leche.
- Select a good air-tight tin to store the alfajores in a cool place or to chill for longer storage.
What to drink with Alfajores:
Besides a tall glass of cold milk, tea and coffee, Argentines enjoy alfajores with their national drink, Maté, which is a caffeinated hot infusion of leaves and stems from the yerba plant. This is drunk from a heatproof gourd and a metal-filtered straw.
On special occasions, alfajores are accompanied by sweet wines or liqueurs.
GOOD TO KNOW!
Discover the Meaning of ALFAJOR or ALFAJORES
In Spanish, ‘alfajor’ refers to a single caramel-filled sandwich shortbread biscuit or cookie, while ‘alfajores’ is the plural form of these treats.
The story behind Argentine alfajores takes us back centuries ago, when the Moors introduced these mouthwatering sandwich cookies to Spain. Interestingly, the word ‘alfajor’ has its origins in the Spanish-Arabic term ‘al-hasú’, which translates to ‘the filling’. However, the Moors charmingly named them ‘alaju’, and the Spanish eventually transformed it into ‘alfajor’ as we know it today.
Gluten-Free Alfajores (Dulce de Leche Cookies)
Alfajor cookie dough
- 150 g store-bought or or homemadegluten-free flour
- 150 g cornflour Known as cornflour in the UK and corn or maizestarch in the USA
- 1 ½ tsp xanthan gum
- Pinch of salt
- 100 g caster or white sugar
- 150 g butter, at room temperature
- 2 egg yolks, freeze the egg whites for other desserts like Pavlova
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 350-400 g store-bought or homemade dulce de leche (South American/Argentine caramel sauce)
- 5 tbsp desiccated coconut
Preparing the dough:
- Sift and mix both flours and xanthan powder in a medium bowl.
- In either a stand mixer bowl or a regular bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add the egg yolks, mixing in well, followed by the vanilla essence.
- Fold the flour mixture into the butter mixture.
- Bring the dough together using your hands and knead until the dough comes together and appears smooth.
- Divide and roll the dough into 3 rough dough balls.
- Next, press each dough ball down using the heel of your hand. Repeat this process until the dough feels soft enough to roll out.
- Cover the 3 dough balls in plastic film and chill for a minimum of 30 mins. Depending on your schedule, the dough can be chilled for up to 24 hours.
Rolling out the dough:
- Lay out a sheet of baking paper on the kitchen countertop and place the chilled dough on it.
- Cover the dough with a large piece of plastic film and roll out the dough 1 cm thick. This prevents the dough from sticking and also prevents more flour from being added, otherwise the alfajores may become too dry.
- Either using a 5 cm round cookie cutter or the rim of a similar-sized small glass, cut out circles close to each other.
- Transfer each cut-out alfajor to a lined baking tray, positioning them 1 cm apart.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°.
- Bake for 10 mins on the middle shelf, turning the tray around halfway through baking.
- Flip over half of the baked cookies on the tray.
- Transfer the store-bought or homemade dulce de leche to a piping bag or if you prefer, use a spatula to spread approximately 1 tbsp of dulce de leche on the flipped-over cookies.
- Cover each filled cookie with the unfilled cookie side, pressing and twisting the cookie so that the filling spreads evenly.
- Roll the cookie on its side in the coconut. Using your fingers, sprinkle some extra coconut over any dulce de leche that didn’t catch some of the coconut during the first roll.
- Transfer the assembled alfajores to a cake tin or plastic container to store in a cool place.
- Keeps for 1 week in a cool place or refrigerator.
- Suitable to freeze.