Alfajores, Your New Fav Cookie! Bonus: How to thicken runny dulce de leche.
Photography, a link to my favorite alfajores recipe, and bonus baking tip: How to Thicken Undercooked Dulce De Leche
These cookies are everything! Alfajores are traditional cookies eaten all over the Americas, especially in Argentina and Peru. They have a very soft, crumbly texture and are filled with a rich, milky dulce de leche. In Argentina dulce de leche is called manjar blanco. In Mexico, it's cajeta and is often made with goats milk. Regardless of where you're enjoying this treat, it's a classic in bakeries and home kitchens alike.
I had a wicked craving for one of these cookies last week, and it took two batches of dough and two of the filling to get it right. For my first attempt, I wrote a recipe without doing any research, challenging myself to recreate a dough to match my memories of this cookie. It was an absolutely delicious failure. Educational, but not at all authentic. My cookies were *too* flavorful, packed with cream cheese and orange zest, and more similar to shortbread in texture than the crumbly soft texture true alfajores possess. My dulce de leche as well was a learning experience. More research was clearly called for.
^Version one was pretty, though!^
The recipe for batch number two came from a fantastic food blog, Vintage Kitchen Notes. Vintage Kitchen is written by an incredibly talented baker, Paula Montenegro, who is from Argentina and really knows her alfajores. Her recipe is perfect, so I will link is at the end of this post if you want to try these yourself!
A little bit about Dulce De Leche...
I fell head over heels for this creamy filling as a kid growing up in Los Angeles, where there is no shortage of Mexican bakeries and markets to purchase treats like obleas from. Obleas, for the uninitiated, are wafer paper candies, filled with cajeta (dulce de leche, remember?) and they are almost as good as alfajores. I would eat these by the handful, and they sparked a life long obsession with anything and everything filled with dulce de leche.
While you can purchase your dulce de leche pre-made at just about any Mexican market; many American supermarkets don't carry it. So if you're wanting to try it for yourself, you can stop by your local Mexican market, pick up some Nestle brand El Manjar and a couple conchas; hey you might even find some alfajores! Or, if you're kitchen minded and feeling adventurous, you can make it yourself pretty easily.
It's a simple process to cook dulce de leche; you place several cans of sweetened, condensed milk upright in a very large pot of water, and boil for 4-6 hours. It is crucial to check the water level regularly, refilling as needed so your water is always at least an inch above the cans. This does require you to stay near home all afternoon, as letting your water boil away would be a very bad idea. (Some folks recommend using a pressure cooker to cut the time, but I cannot recommend what I have not tried.) After cooking, the cans are removed from the water and allowed to cool overnight before opening; the pressure inside the can would make it very dangerous to try to open while hot. Don't let the warning labels scare you off, as long as your are mindful it really couldn't be a simpler process to cook your own dulce de leche.
The key word in the above directions, is boil. Don't trust anyone who tells your to 'simmer' your cans. If your water is not hot enough, or if you remove your cans from the water too soon, your filling will not caramelize properly, and will not thicken. But that's not something you'll realize until the next day, when you open your can and are met with disappointing results.
Take for example, my first attempt at the lovely jam, seen below:
It's not great.
But don't worry, all is not lost! You can still transform your less than perfect caramel into a filling thick enough to pipe and spread!
What do you do with too thin dulce de leche?
There are a few different ideas floating around, a popular suggestion being to re-cook with cornstarch. I'm going to counter with a more delicious suggestion-
make a ganache!
6-8 oz Too-Thin Dulce De Leche (This recipe is for one can of of dulce de leche made from condensed milk, so scrape what you can from the can, and skip adding any parts that may be crystallized from improper cooking)
4 oz White Chocolate (One full bar from your local baking shelf at the supermarket)
2 oz Butter, unsalted
Place all ingredients together into a medium bowl. Gently reheat in the microwave, mixing every 30 seconds until combined. You can also place your bowl directly over a pot of boiling water, and use a spatula to mix until all the chocolate and butter melt and your ingredients come together. Be mindful not to overheat!
Set aside and let cool, your filling with continue to thicken as the temperature drops.
That's it! Once fully cool, you will be left with a light, milky colored caramel ganache that spreads and pipes easily. While the flavor will never be as rich and deep as it would if properly caramelized, you can still pivot and make a delicious dessert without starting over or throwing away product.
Like they say in showbiz, the show much go on! I hope if you've stumbled on this page looking for a solution for a less than perfect caramel, this trick helps you! Let me know in the comments if you've got any other ideas for salvaging a drippy dulce de leche.
These cookies are filled with the exact same drippy sauce you see in the photo directly above, after being turned into a ganache. See? Strong enough to stand upright!
Okay, I promised you a recipe for absolutely perfect Alafajores, didn't I?
^^^Try it yourself!^^^
Whether your purchase or cook your own filling, these will quickly become your new favorite cookie. Like her recipe states, Paula's alfajores are truly the best ever. My deepest gratitude to her, and all the food writers who make it possible to relive nostalgic childhood flavors, by sharing their work up for us all to recreate. Delicious!
Hey, one more thing before you go.....
Thanks for taking the time to stop by!