When I spent three months studying abroad in Argentina, I became addicted to alfajores, which I would best describe as an Argentine cookie. The traditional version is two shortbread-esque buttery cookies with creamy dulce de leche sandwiched in the middle, rolled in coconut flakes. There are other varieties as well, especially those that are dipped in chocolate, then sold individually wrapped in corner stores throughout Argentina and Paraguay. The two treats seemed so different that originally I was confused that they had the same name!
But I digress. Today I’m here to focus on the traditional alfajores. I have a lot of fond memories making alfajores in the homes of friends in Paraguay (unfortunately, no photos as evidence…if it’s not on Instagram, did it really happen?) Alfajores are not necessarily a holiday cookie, as they are made year round for different types of celebrations, but they certainly can be eaten during the holiday season. And the process of making dough, rolling it out, cutting it into shapes, baking and then decorating is totally reminiscent of holiday cookie baking in the US. Alfajores will definitely put a unique spin on any holiday cookie assortment, so why not try something different this year?
Looking for other sweet holiday treats? Here are some other ideas:
- Decadent Cookies & Cream Truffles
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares
- Ooey-Gooey Carrot Cake Loaf
- Pumpkin Pie Mochi Bites
- Creamy Chocolate Avocado Pudding
There are three basic phases to making alfajores: making the dough, baking, and putting it all together. Before we dive in, you’ll need dulce de leche for this recipe. You can either buy a jar or make your own at home. I recently tested out four homemade methods (see the dulce de leche cook-off, part 1 and part 2), but my favorite was to make it in an Instant Pot. You’ll find that recipe here!
I followed this recipe for alfajores by Melissa Clark in the NY Times and loved the results (though there were a few steps I struggled with, and I changed some things, we’ll get into that below). The dough for alfajores is like a shortbread in its texture, but is heavy in cornstarch, making the cookie crumbly and tender. The cookies also gets flavor from a small amount of brandy, vanilla extract, and lemon zest.
You start by combining the brandy, vanilla, and lemon zest in a small bowl and the dry ingredients – flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and baking soda – in a medium bowl. In a large bowl (this is where everything will eventually get added, so choose wisely) cream butter and sugar together using a mixer. Then add the egg yolks, the brandy mixture, and the dry ingredients and beat until you have dough. Don’t give up if it just looks grainy, just give the mixer another minute or two and the dough will come together.
The next step is to let the dough cool in the fridge. The original recipe recommends forming a roll and wrapping it in plastic, then slicing the dough into pieces 1/8″ thick. I thought that this part was difficult and that slicing by hand wouldn’t lead to the most uniform cookies, so instead I wrapped the dough as a slab in biodegradable parchment paper and just put it in the fridge.
Pick your challenge – do you want to make a perfect roll and slice it evenly free-handed, or do you want to roll out the dough evenly and cut the shapes out? I prefer the latter but you do you. Firstly, I have a small counter so rolling all the dough at once was too difficult, so I split it into batches. Then, imagining myself on the Great British Baking Show, I beat the dough to loosen it – yes, I just whacked it with the rolling pin a bunch of times and yes, this was really fun – then rolled it out carefully, using some bamboo straws I had as a guideline for thickness. I don’t have cookie cutters, but I do have a glass with a 2-inch diameter so I used that to cut the circles. As I made the cookies, I set the extra dough aside to roll out again and continued until I was out of dough. I got 40 cookies but it does depend on the diameter of your cutter and how thick you roll your dough.
The recipe said to bake at 350˚F for 7 minutes, but my crappy gas stove needed about 10 minutes per batch. I would start checking at 7 to see if they are firm and if the sides have start to turn golden, but the timing will depend on your equipment.
When you have your cookies baked and the dulce de leche ready, it’s assembly time! I used a knife to spread the dulce on one cookie and then press another cookie on top carefully. The recipe I followed recommended piping it in a Ziploc bag, but I don’t think this is necessary. Getting the exact right amount of dulce de leche does take a bit of practice, you want enough so that it fills the cookie sandwich from edge to edge and so that you can roll it in coconut, but not so much that it oozes out. Roll it in coconut flakes and you’ve got alfajores!
Minimum 2 1/2 hours, makes 40-50 cookies*
- 1 tablespoon brandy
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest, grated
- 1 heaping cup cornstarch
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 1/2 cups dulce de leche
- 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- Cooking bowls, 3 sizes (small, medium, large)
- Hand mixer or stand mixer
- Rolling pin
- Baking sheet
- Parchment paper
- Check your ingredients again. Is the butter set out to room temperature? Have you made dulce de leche already or started the process? Good.
- In a small bowl, combine brandy, vanilla extract, and lemon zest.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together cornstarch, flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
- In a large bowl (or using an electric stand mixer if you have one) add butter and sugar. Beat together for 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat together. Add the brandy mixture and beat to combine. Add the flour mixture and beat on low until just combined. It may be grainy at first but after a few minutes it should form a dough.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and wrap in parchment paper. Set in the fridge and let cool for at least two hours or overnight.
- Heat oven to 350˚F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap the dough and split in half. Hit it with a rolling pin until it is pliable enough to roll, then roll it evenly to about 1/8″ thick. Cut circles from the dough using any circular object with a 1.5″ – 2″ diameter and set onto baking sheets. Any excess dough can be rerolled and you can continue to cut circles out until there’s not enough left. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
- Bake until the edges just start to turn golden, 7+ minutes. Watch to avoid burning. Transfer to cooling rack when cooked.
- Once cool, use a knife to spread the dulce de leche on the flat side of one cookie. Top with another cookie and lightly press together to sandwich the dulce de leche in the middle. Roll the edges in coconut flakes.
*This depends on how handy you are with rolling out dough and cutting shapes, how many baking trays you have and can fit in your oven at once, and if your dulce de leche is already made.