Back in graduate school, I did a project with a friend from Argentina. Knowing how much I loved sweets, she shared some alfajores with me. These cookies are, in their most basic form, buttery shortbread filled with dulce de leche, or milk caramel. In the hands of baking experts from around South America, alfajores are small works of art, made with various flours (wheat, corn), nuts (almonds, mostly), flavors (brandy, whiskey, etc), and fillings (dulce de leche with different flavors) and garnished according to taste (chocolate, powdered sugar, coconut). The cookie varies in texture from cakey to crumbly to crisp to flaky. Recipes are as unique as the people who make them, and the country they are from.
I'm not sure what initially gave me the idea, but I decided I wanted to make alfajores. Finding recipes was easy - here's a site that has collected alfajores recipes from all over South America. I played around with the recipes - I knew I didn't want to make a typical shortbread and I also didn't want it to be like a sable. So I altered ratios and tried not to think about the filling. Near my house I was able to find Nestle's La Lechera Dulce de Leche, from Chile, which worked perfectly for filling.
My first attempt was chocolate alfajores, pictured here:
They look better than they taste, trust me.
It was mostly disastrous. Even cookie-loving Evan turned his nose up at more than a couple alfajores. The chocolate wasn't tasty, the texture was too hard. I decided there wasn't enough sugar in the recipe, so when I made the attempt again, I decided to increase the sugar (in the form of confectioner's sugar) and decrease the flour. Since there's corn starch in confectioner's sugar, it would still have decent texture and not spread too thin while baking.
Here's the recipe I used developed that I liked best, but it is far from a perfect recipe and resembles sugar cookies. It could use a little more flour - probably about 1/4 cup. If I were at home (I'm doing this from Evan's kitchen and most of my kitchen things are in storage) I would provide the more accurate weights for the below recipe. But I'm not, so here's the approximate recipe for what I made:
Alfajores-style Sandwich Cookies
Yield: approximately 20 sandwich cookies
1 C flour
1 C confectioners sugar
1 T granulated sugar
1/2 C walnuts (or almonds)
2 ea egg yolks
3 oz butter
2 t vanilla
1 t whiskey or bourbon
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
1 can dulce de leche OR make your own by simmering 1 can of sweetened condensed milk - unopened - in a pot of water (make sure it is covered the entire time) for 3 hours. It will be ready to use when cool.
Optional garnishes: chocolate, tempered; confectioners sugar; shredded coconut
Preheat oven to 350.
Line cookie sheets with aluminum foil or parchment or use non-stick cookie sheet
In a food processor, combine the sugars, nuts, and salt. Process until walnuts are fine. Add in butter. Process until butter is integrated in the mixture and the mixture begins to look granular. Add in eggs, vanilla, and whiskey and process. Mixture will look like icing. Add in flour and baking powder. A firm dough will form. Allow to sit for a few minutes.
Making the cookies, multiple approaches:
1. Log method: Roll out dough into log on parchment. Roll up and refrigerate until hard. Slice into uniform pieces and bake
2. Cookie cutter method. Allow dough to harden a bit in the fridge, about an hour. Roll out to approximately 1/4" thick. Cut to desired size with round cutters. Dock if desired.
3. Individual cookie method: Roll dough into marble sized-rounds, place on sheet and pat down. Bake immediately.
Bake cookies for about 10 minutes, or until cookie bases start to color, the top looks crinkled and is firm to the touch. The tops will not color.
Allow cookies to cool completely.
When cookie is full, take a plastic bag (or, more properly, your pastry bag) and fill will dulce de leche. Pipe on a good amount - it should be ooey gooey. Top with another cookie. Cover in confectioners sugar, or roll in coconut. If you choose, temper some chocolate and roll cookie in it.
Cookies will keep for a few days. Store in a container with an airtight lid.
Here's the cookie dipped in chocolate:
This is by no means the final version of the recipe. Just a version I liked enough to share - for now.