With origins in the Arab world, this caramel cookie sandwich delicacy was introduced to South America by the Spanish from Andalucia. Today, it’s one of the most popular pastries all over Latin America, where each country has their own version and claims to make the best one. One soft, creamy, buttery bite and you’ll taste the sweet spices of a nectar that is centuries old — and my favorite cookie since I was a child.
In Peru, Alfajores are made with manjar blanco, similar to the caramel used in the Suspiro Limeño. And though there are many variations, the inspiration for this recipe came from Gaston Acurio’s Los Postres, Dulce Tradicion — what a sweet tradition indeed. Making the Alfajores reminded me that I really enjoy the process of baking. And that baking is an art that has brought me a profound sense of happiness.
I felt like an ancient alchemist, shaping the dough by hand, rolling, cutting, heating, stirring, baking, and waiting to put it all together — sprinkled with the final touch of powdered sugar. The same powdered sugar that will form a little cloud and fall on my shirt when I take the first bite and moan and smile. Maybe that’s the best way to describe an Alfajor — it’s guaranteed to make a mess, and to make you smile.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE DOUGH
- 1 1/4 cup corn starch
- 3/4 cup flour
- 4 oz. butter at room temperature
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/4 teaspoon essence of vanilla
INGREDIENTS FOR THE CARAMEL FILLING
- 1 can of evaporated milk (12 oz.)
- 1 can of sweet and condensed milk (14 oz.)
In addition to the ingredients above, you’ll need a bowl to mix the ingredients, a baking sheet lined with Silpat and a working surface to roll the dough.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Combine the soft butter and powdered sugar in a bowl to form a creamy mixture.
- Add the egg yolks and mix in the lemon zest and vanilla.
- Add the flour and corn starch, and knead to form a dough.
- Roll and cut into 24 discs, 2 1/2 inches in diameter and 1/4 inch thick.
- Place the discs on a baking sheet lined with Silpat and bake for 10 minutes or until edges begin to brown.
- Let cool after baking.
- Combine the evaporated milk and sweet and condensed milk in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Stir until a thick, creamy, and caramel color manjar blanco forms, about 40 minutes.
- Set aside to cool for a few minutes.
- Spread 1 teaspoon of manjar blanco between a pair of cookies to form a sandwich.
- Sprinkle each cookie with powdered sugar before serving.
If the dough is too crumbly, refrigerate covered for an hour before rolling. Also, I found that rolling the dough in small batches worked well. When making the manjar blanco, the consistency should be creamy enough to spread but not too thin that it drips off the cookie.