Definition: Alfajores (Al-fa-ho-res) are a South American type of shortbread sandwich cookie that are filled with dulce de leche (caramel filling). These delicious cookies can trace their origin back to the Moorish occupation of Andalusia, Spain and the great culinary traditions of the Mediterranean Basin.
To celebrate Caramel Week, I tried a new twist on a traditional favorite – a chocolate version filled with homemade salted vanilla bean caramel, both in the traditional scalloped round shape and a less traditional square.
Chocolate Alfajores: The Cookie Dough (makes 3-4 dozen)
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 eggs + 2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (or 2 tsp. vanilla extract)
Dulce de leche caramel (recipe below or store-bought)
powdered sugar & cocoa for dusting
Cream the butter & sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, mixing after each addition, then beat in vanilla bean paste or extract until well blended. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt and cocoa; sift to remove all lumps. Turning the mixer to low speed, gradually add the flour and beat until it just starts to come together; turn the mixer to medium and beat 10-15 seconds. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead the dough into a smooth ball; pat into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for an hour or until firm.
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Line several baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats and set aside. Lightly flour your work surface and roll the dough to 1/4″ thick, making sure the dough doesn’t stick to the counter or board. Using a 2″ cookie cutter (round & fluted is traditional), cut out the cookies and carefully transfer them to the baking sheets, about 1″ apart.
Place the cookie sheets into the freezer and allow the dough to chill for 15-20 minutes, or until very firm. Once firm, pop them into the oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the tops are firm to the touch. Cool on the baking sheet for 10-15 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.
You can save time by buying a jar of dulce de leche caramel (Trader Joe’s has a great one) but if you want to tackle it from scratch, here’s mine.
Salted Vanilla Bean Caramel: (makes approximately 2 1/2 cups)
2 cans ( ozs. each) sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 to 2 cups heavy whipping cream, as needed
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
In a large heavy bottom saucepan, heat the sweetened condensed milk until it comes to a boil, stirring often. Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly, until it turns a golden tan color. If the mixture starts to thicken, add heavy cream 1/2 cup at a time, whisking constantly. Continue to cook until the caramel turns a light brown shade, adding cream to thin it out some as needed. The finished caramel should coat a spoon thickly, but still pour from the spoon easily. When it reaches that stage, remove it from the heat and add whisk in the vanilla bean paste and sea salt. Allow the caramel to cool completely before using.
To Assemble the Alfajores:
Lay the cooled cookies out in rows so you can work quickly. I like to place one row ‘bottoms up’ and the next ‘face up’ so I can keep my pairs matched. Scrape the caramel mixture into a piping bag with a star tip and twist it until the caramel is compressed into the bottom of the bag. Pipe a generous layer of caramel onto the bottom side of half of the cookies. Using the remaining cookies, put a lid on each alfajor and gently press to make sure it’s seated. Once all cookies are filled, dust them lightly with powdered sugar or, as I did, a combination of powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Then try not to eat them all at once.
If alfajores have piqued your interest, please drop by my friend Kirsten’s blog at Comfortably Domestic. She baked up a batch using her favorite shortbread recipe and a deep, dark caramel that will make your mouth water. Pinky swear.
Recipe Source: The caramel shown is my own recipe. The alfajor cookie dough was adapted slightly from Vianney Rodriguez at Sweetlifebake.com, who used the recipe from The Cookiepedia cookbook by Stacy Adimando. If you’d like to see Vianney’s traditional vanilla alfajor dough, CLICK HERE.
For more Caramel Week goodies, visit our other Theme Weavers:
Kirsten at Comfortably Domestic – Crock Pot Dulce de Leche Caramel
Madelyn at La Petite Pancake – Caramel Banana Bread Pudding
Rebeka at Kvetchin Kitchen – Caramel Apple Pie
Allison at Decadent Philistines – Salted Caramel Pork Loin with Shaved Brussel Sprout & Apple Salad
Carrie at Bakeaholic Mama – Chewy Milk Dud Brownies
Jeanne at Inside NanaBread’s Head – Chocolate Alfajor Cookies (that’s me!)
Kirsten at Comfortably Domestic – Vanilla Alfajor Cookies
Haley at The Girly Girl Cooks – Almost Famous Fairground Caramel Sauce
Lauren at Climbing Grier Mountain – Dulce de Leche Milkshakes
Kat at Tenaciously Yours – Caramel Popcorn Crunch Sundae
Beka at Kvetchin’ Kitchen – Red Wine Caramel Sauce
Christina at Buffy and George – Butterscotch Pudding
Megan at Country Cleaver – Pear & Caramel Mini-Cheesecakes
Madeline at Munching in the Mitten – Caramel Cake
Kirsten at Comfortably Domestic – DIY Dulce de Leche Caramel Coffee Creamer
Katie at The Hill Country Cook – Salted Caramel Pie