It is said that the alfajor was originally called "alajú." It is a dessert that has found its way through Spain, parts of Latin America and all the way to the Philippines. The name is of Arabic origin, and “alajú” is believed to be derived from "al-hasú," meaning “filled.” You can find them in the form of a long cylinder of ground almonds, like marzipan, with pieces of almonds in the dough and then rolled in powdered sugar. It could also be found in the form of a round “pie” with sheets of fine dough sealing the top and bottom. This dessert, alajú or alfajor, was incorporated initially into Spanish cuisine in the 17th century by the Moors. It is during this time that alfajores crossed the ocean and were first brought to Perú by a Portuguese friar in 1668.
Over time, they went from fine sheets of dough to thicker cuts of corn starch-based dough filled with a variety of delicious spreads: dulce de leche, dulce de camote (sweet potato), marmalade, and “honey”(miel de chancaca), to name a few. Today, you can also find them dipped in white and/or milk chocolate, highly decorated, making them even more decadent in both their flavor and their visual appeal. There are slight regional differences in recipes as well as presentation. While these are consumed and produced in many countries, Argentina is the largest mass producer of these delicious treats. They also happen to be a family favorite around these parts!
Mi prima, Chovi, makes the best alfajores in the family. I asked her to share her special recipe and tweaked it just a bit to make the handling of this dough a little easier for me. Afterall, I am not a baker by trade. Cooking savory dishes comes much more easily to me! The hardest part about making this dessert is that the cookie dough is very dry and crumbles quite easily, but it is so worth it! We're including a shortcut for making your own dulce de leche filling too. We hope you enjoy. Buen provecho!!
Alfajores peruanos - Serves 6 (12 cookies)
Mix all dry ingredients together, except the granulated sugar, in a bowl. In another bowl, cream sugar and butter together and then add the egg yolks until incorporated. Slowly work in the dry ingredients. Once dough has come together, cover and place in refrigerator for about an hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make sure both oven racks are in the center of the oven. Remove dough from the fridge and let sit briefly. Roll it to about 1/4 of an inch. Use a small circular dough cutter to form cookies (I used a small juice glass). You should end up with 24 small discs. Place cookies about a 1/2 inch apart on 2 separate cookie sheets. Bake for 15 minutes. They will still be pale in color but just slightly browned on the bottom. Let cool at least 20 minutes. Be very careful handling them before and after!
For Dulce de leche filling (make the night before is even better!):
Cover milk can with water in a pot and simmer for 3 hours or, even better, in a pressure cooker for only 35 minutes. Let cool until room temperature.
Instructions for assembly:
After cookies have cooled, smear dulce de leche on one cookie, then top it with a second cookie, making a sandwich. After you have completed the assembly, lightly dust your cookies with powdered sugar. Listo!