A sweet friend's daughter just returned from Peru or Brazil or Argentina...I am geographically challenged when it comes to any place south of Tacoma and I have no memory...but she was definitely somewhere in South America and after I had a chance to welcome her home, I found myself thinking about the food she must have had to endure...as she was not dining in hotels or restaurants I'm pretty sure she had a steady diet of rice and beans. With South America on my brain, I came across not one but two recipes for Alfajores (Al-faa-hoars)...and most of the reviews for these cookies (all raves btw) claimed they originated in either Peru or Argentina but others said they were from Spain, Costa Rica and Mexico! And my friend's daughter said she loved them and tried to bring some home but I think she said they were confiscated at the airport...so with reviews like that, I had to make them for myself!
Alfajores are a sandwich cookie...they are buttery-cake-like cookies sandwiched together with Dulce de Leche (caramel milk spread). Sounds great, no? The cookies themselves are very light, and have almost a shortbread taste, with only the faintest hint of orange - so they're good and with Dulce de Leche they are better. But to tell you the truth, I wasn't that impressed - yes they were good, but they weren't great - at least, not great enough to risk a sugar spike or even a mild coma! So to make them worth risking my health, I added the zest from one orange to the mix for more of a punch and then after the cookies were assembled I rolled the edges in shredded coconut, sprinkled them with powdered sugar and gave them a light dusting of more orange zest...THEN we were talking seriously good! And different. Good and different - what more could you want from a cookie on the third day of your New Year's diet?!?
You can make your own Dulce de Leche by boiling an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk for about 2 1/2 hours; let it cool before opening it. Or you can purchase Dulce de Leche at most grocery stores, it comes in a can or jar. I loved the addition of the extra orange flavor and the coconut but with them, these are not authentic Alfajores...just in case the Alfajores Police are reading, I know I have sinned. Please forgive me, but they are MUCH better my way!
Alfajores - Adapted from Martha Stewart and Matt Armendariz
3 cups all- purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 oranges, zested (zest oranges first before squeezing for juice), divided
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 jar (17 oz.) or 1 can (10 oz.) Dulce de Leche
1 cup shredded coconut
Powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time and continue mixing until all is combined. Slowly add flour mixture, mixing to combine, batter will be stiff. Slowly add in milk, orange juice, vanilla and the zest from one orange.
Using a tablespoon or a small ice cream scoop, drop dough onto prepared baking sheets, about 2-inches apart. Transfer to oven and bake until golden on the bottom, about 10 to 14 minutes. The cookies will not brown on the top, they remain light in color. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
When cookies have cooled completely, spread the bottoms of half of the cookies with Dulce de Leche; sandwich together with remaining cookies, pressing lightly just so Dulce de Leche comes out to the edges of the cookies. Roll the cookie edges in shredded coconut. Place on serving tray and give them a light dusting of powdered sugar. Sprinkle the remaining orange zest over tops of cookies. Makes about 30 cookies (in case you're counting, I doubled the recipe so I could make some for friends - they are definitely "friend worthy!)