Argentina 101 (part III) dulce de leche basics: alfajores de maizena

One of the side effects of having this blog is paying a closer look to the food that I eat and the food that is eaten in this corner of the world. I mean, I could talk about burgers but there wouldn´t be much fun in that since there´s nothing really new about it and I´ve come to realize there´s plenty of food that´s more typical of Argentina that I could ocassionally discuss with all of you.

Besides, one of the things that engage me the most as a blog reader is discovering new ingredients, recipes and things that are staples of different cuisines I just haven´t been exposed to… of course, my beloved chai would top that list, but panko, wonderful spices like cardamom, curry, coriander follow… I can´t believe the stuff I was missing out on just a few years ago!

This leads me to dulce de leche (also called “cajeta” in some countries). The legend says that dulce de leche was invented by one of Rosa´s* maids when she was cooking milk with some sugar and left it unattended for a few hours because there was some sort of emergency: when she came back, the milk and the sugar had transformed into a thick brown dulce de leche. Now, this sounds a bit far fetched but many great inventions were born out of pure luck, so I won´t be the one to contradict that. Besides, who cares? All it matters is that whatever it was, wherever it was, lead me to this piece of heaven:

a piece of heaven

There are few things that say home to me more than a good “alfajor de maizena”. Alfajores are sweets made by joining two cookie-like layers with a sweet filling: most times dulce de leche, sometimes different jams, we have some with peanut butter fillings, chocolate mousse… pretty much anything you can think of. They can be covered with chocolate, different types of glase or nothing at all… as is the case with these alfajores de maizena.

The dough of this particular alfajor is made with over 2 cups of Maizena, which is the brand name for corn starch. The recipe I used is a very simple one that´s been in the family for decades, literally, the smudged, blurred recipe is a testimony of how many times it has been used. My mom used to make it quite often when we were kids and eating a home-made version of one of these beauties definitely reminds me of childhood and just blows my mind because it´s incredibly good.

alfajor de maizena

dripping

I am perfectly aware that some of you might now be able to find dulce de leche, but it can be found online at Amazon  for 5 dollars in this case and for 9 dollars here. My favorite dulce de leche ever is Conaprole´s, which is an Uruguayan brand which can be found here. AND you can even make it yourself (the condensed milk can trick doesn´t even come close to the real thing though, so don´t even try it), I´ve found some interesting recipes: this one by Emeril and this other one. I know, making dulce the leche must be a pain, but it can be done, and if it´s the only way to eat dulce de leche, then it´s well worth it.

But, if you can´t find it anywhere or make it yourself, you could always substitute it with things like nutella, jams, chocolate mousse or anything that suits your fancy. Of course, it wouldn´t be the original or anything like it, but maybe it´ll force you to rethink your priorities and take a trip to Argentina and try one here hahaha I know I would… trust me, they are worth it.

alfajor de maizena

alfajor de maizena

Alfajores de maizena

All-purpose flour 1 2/3 cups

Maizena (corn starch) 2 1/2 cups

Baking soda 1/2 teaspoon

Baking powder 2 teaspoons

Butter 200 grams

Sugar 3/4 cup

Egg yolks 3

Cognac or whiskey 1 teaspoon

Vanilla extract 1 teaspoon

Grated lemon zest 1-2 teaspoons (I lean towards 2 for sure, I love how it works in this recipe)

1. Zift all the dry ingredients together.

2. Cream the butter with the sugar. Add the egg yolks, the vanilla extract, the cognac and the lemon zest.

3. Add this cream to the dry ingredients making a hole in the middle of the flour and making a crumbly dough using a spoon and being careful not to overwork the dough or knead with your hands. When you see that the dough is cohesive enough, make a ball with your hands pressing the different pieces together.

4. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 30-60 minutes (30 is usually enough if you are in a hurry).

5. Roll out the dough carefully flouring the counter until it gets around 1/2 a centimeter thick. Cut with a round cutter, and repeat joining the scraps again and again until you´ve used all the dough.

6. Place in a clean cookie sheet and bake for around 17-20 minutes in a 180°C-350°F oven. Please check often after the first 10 minutes. The dough should be white, not golden, it can appear undone, but it´s not, if you wait too much you will end up with a dry alfajor.

7. Quickly remove the cookies and place them in a rack (otherwise they can get burned and will get stuck to the cookie sheet).

8. Once the cookies are cold, put a spoonful of dulce de leche in the middle of one cookie and carefully place another cookie on top. Press the top cookie gently to get the dulce de leche to the corners of the alfajor. (You can roll the sides on some shredded coconut for a more classic look, but I didn´t because I didn´t have any and it didn´t hurt them at all.)

That´s it! You are done :) Now take a bite and forget everything and everyone around you.

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70 Comments

Filed under Argentina, food, sweet

70 responses to “Argentina 101 (part III) dulce de leche basics: alfajores de maizena

  1. I tried making caramel sauce last night, I didn’t let the sugar get very dark and so it didn’t turn out as nicely as yours!

  2. Hey, Brilynn, “dulce de leche” isn´t technically a caramel sauce as such, I mean, it doesn´t taste like caramel. I´ve seen it translated as “milk caramel” or “milk jam”… either way, that´s not the point, the point is that I´ve just edited this post and added two recipes for dulce de leche I found a while ago that look pretty good and some links to buy it from Amazon (it´s not that expensive either, one of them is 5 dollars for a 16-ounce jar).
    I´d recommend buying it if you can because store-bought dulce de leche has a thicker consistency perfect for these alfajores.

    You could make it yourself as well and use it as a sauce or to make dulce de leche ice-cream. Yum!

    Good flavor combinations for dulce de leche: coconut, banana, walnuts, chocolate.

  3. I have seen jars of dulce de leche in the mexican markets and it always intrigues me, but, like Nutella, I won’t buy it because I know I will love it and then want to eat it all the time much to my waistline’s chagrin.

    Thanks for the yummy photos!

  4. Mmmm, this looks so wonderful. My father was actually born and raised in Argentina and has spoken of Dulce De Leche – the real stuff (not the crappy ice cream flavor). These cookies look amazing, kind of like a scone – I am very curious to try out this recipe!

  5. Kate- Do buy it! My guess is your son and your husband will love it too so it´ll disappear quickly without doing that much damage to your waistline ;)

    Rachael- That´s so cool your dad was born here. You should try to get some dulce de leche and do this recipe for him as a surprise, he would love it… and you would too, I have yet to find someone (sane) who doesn´t like dulce de leche… “mate” is another story altogether ;)

  6. Wow.. just.. wow. I’ve heard of these before and every recipe I find for them, there is no picture so this is the first time I’ve seen them. Wow. I had a jar of dulce de leche in my hands just a few nights ago and put it back because I wondered if jarred could be as good as home made (I’ve never made it either – YET) – now I see I should have bought it. The cookie looks almost like a sable or shortbread – does it have that slightly sandy texture? Yum!
    Thanks so much for posting them with pictures! hehe

  7. Lisa- Yeah, jarred is good (though I have to clarify that Mexican cajeta is usually made out of goat milk and dulce de leche is made of cow milk, so try to find dulce de leche, some good brands I know: La Salamandra, La Serenísima, Arcor, Sancor, Conaprole).
    The cookie part of the alfajor is similar to a sable but the corn starch makes a big difference. It does have a bit of a sandy texture, yep, and it sort of melts in your mouth and crumbles when you take a bit mmm so good. The lemon zest flavor in the dough also helps to create a memorable flavor that screams “home-made”.

  8. You totally inspired me! Back in the far recesses of my cabinet, was a jar of dulche de leche I brought home from Guatemala. I was saving it for a “special” occasion, but your post made me run and crack the seal! A lazy Sunday afternoon…so much for the special occasion. LOL! Are you familiar with Ariquipe brand?

    Dulce De Leche

    We totally have to do a cultural swap. You come to Seattle, I’ll come to BA.!

  9. Traca- I have never heard of that brand, but I have always eaten Argentine or Uruguayan dulce de leche, so my parameters aren´t that wide.
    Some ideas, other than these alfajores, if you don´t feel like cooking: a mashed banana with a tablespoon of dulce de leche, one of my favorite threats ever, flan with dulce de leche, oh so very good… ok, I´ll stop now because I might just run downstairs armed with a spoon!
    And I´m totally up for the cultural swap, Seattle sounds like a foodie heaven!

  10. Hey there Marce. Okay, since you’re not familiar with that brand…I’d have to say, it wasn’t nearly as good as I hoped it would be. Funny aftertaste and all. (maybe too much time in my cabinet?) I have made my own dulce de leche before so I think the brand I got was cheap…or funky. I like cajeta very much and the Rick Bayless version is very good. Not quite as thick as the stuff in your photos, but delicious none the less.

    Okay, you’re on. You have a standing invitation to Seattle, anytime! Until then, I propose a challenge. How about we shoot photos…a la “a day in the life.” ? I’ll show you photos from my beautiful drive to work and other shots around town. A bit of city show & tell….Are you up for it?

  11. Traca- Yeah, it sounds like you had some bad dulce de leche there or it was past its expiration date (which is quite short if it´s not an industrialized dulce de leche). You can try the links I posted above for good dulce de leche. If I were you, I´d order some “la salamandra” dulce de leche at Amazon next time I order a book or something.

    I´m up for the challenge! And as for the invitation, I will take you up on that as soon as I have the chance to travel. I´ve taken some pics while in the car around town today, not sure if they are any good though, so it might be a few weeks until I gather enough material to do a nice slideshow for you and post it here.

  12. Gertrude

    Marce, I made the cookies and it turn out really well. Can’t wait to see my husband face when he comes home from work. Thanks for the recipe. Looking forward to to see more Argentinian recipe from you.

    Gertrude

  13. Gertrude

    Thanks for letting me know how they turned out! It´s particularly good for my spirits because Brilynn didn´t have such luck (though her problem was with the dulce de leche, not the cookies).
    A quick tip to make them look even more Argentinian, roll the sides in grated coconut (it´ll stick to the dulce de leche).

  14. Linda

    Hi, Pip……

    Would you be willing to share a recipe for the “Flan con dulce de leche”??? I think it sounds like the perfect dessert…..after eating, I am sure I would be in a state of bliss.

    Thanks!

  15. Pingback: Happy 25 de mayo! « Pip in the city

  16. Pingback: Mmmmm, Alfajores « siguiendo mi corazón

  17. I just made these for the first time and they are delicious! I think the recipe is very user-friendly and most importantly, my craving has been satisfied. Thank you! I don’t know if I want to share these with anyone – I want to eat them all, right now. ;)

  18. Patty in Florida

    I am so pleased to find this recipe for alfajores!
    More than thirty years ago, my family hosted a beautiful exchange student from Buenos Aires. She brought gifts of food to us, including alfajores.
    My mother adored them, and they are nearly impossible to find here. I am going to bake some for her as a surprise for her!

    I am going to make the dulce de leche myself, too.
    I am curious to taste the big difference in the real thing. The only kind I have ever had is the condensed milk version that another exchange student from Colombia taught me to make.

  19. Lisa

    Hey, another Hi from Seattle! This recipe looks awesome, and my Mom and I are excited to try it out! We’re going to make some for my goodbye gathering since I’m leaving for BA in a week and a half. (I’ve lived there about three years now.) I wasn’t expecting to find a real Maizena alfajor recipe :) Thanks!

  20. Angie

    Thank you so much for posting this dear family recipe. I have a recipe from my husband’s grandmother (from Argentina) and all the measurements are in grams. It makes the converting difficult since I’m in Seattle and usually use English measurements. I absolutely LOVE alfajores de maizena. The coconut and dulce de leche are just perfect together.

    The grandparents live in California now and have a fabulous Argentine market nearby, so I always stock up on dulce de leche and barbeque salt. We really need an Argentine market here in Seattle. You can’t get the right cuts of beef for barbeque and the mate pickings are slim.

    Thanks again,
    Angie

  21. Pei

    It looks delicious. I was wondering how big do you normally make the cookies, and how many cookies does this recipe make?

  22. viviana

    How many alfajores is this recipe for?
    thanks!

  23. Viviana: It really depends on the size of the cutter/glass you use. I got around 10 alfajores (20 cookies) and I made them in a medium size.

  24. Faritop

    I rather eat Havanna alfajores… thats a brand of alfajores wich are a tradition in Mar del Plata( A city in Buenos Aires).

  25. Wow! Thanks for this wonderful recipe. I got completely hooked on these things when I lived in Argentina, but you just can’t find them in North America. Same with dulce de leche. I have been trying to perfect a dulce de leche recipe, but it has never been as good as the stuff I found in Argentina. If I ever get it right I’ll share.

    Faritop mentioned Havanna alfajores. Does anyone know if you can get those in the U.S. or Canada? I love those (especially the lemon creme ones – which I suppose are not strictly alfajores) and would buy them here if I could find them!

  26. andandoaround

    The condense milk trick TOTALLY works! Have you left the can in the water for 3-4 hours? It’s delisious and so easy!

  27. elias

    Hey! My family is from Argentina and we have tried a lot of home made recipes and other ones but this one was probably in the top three ha ha. Ya but seriously it was really good thanks it was fast and delicious yummmm.

    P.S. : Sorry if i spelled anything wrong ha ha

  28. Celina

    HI there.. I’m from Argentina.. and eating alfajores is very common for me..when I started reading your comments I was surprise to find out that they are all a mystery for you. I hope you try them some day.. Now I’m living in England and I’m looking any web site from were I can by alfajores so they send to me. .. bye bye

  29. Janel

    When you say “cup,” what size is that? Say, in milliliters? I ran into a problem and suspect that I created it by using US-sized “cups,” which are 240-250 ml. I remembered (far too late in the baking process, unfortunately) that when I lived in Chile “una taza” meant about 200 ml.

    The problem is that my dough never really took a dough shape. It was more like sand, unless I squished it, but then it only held a shape for a second.

    If it’s not the size of measuring cup, what else do you think it could be?

  30. Hey Pip!

    I’ve made 3 batches of these alfajores and your recipe is awesome!!!!….Soooo good and very pretty!….Thank you!…

  31. Natasha

    Hi,
    I was reading another blog (From Argentina with Love), and I found a link to your blog there.
    I would like to try this recipe, and make alfajores at home.

    I have two questions:
    1) Do you use salted butter or unsalted butter?
    2) Can we do step 3 in the mixer? I mean, once you have creamed the butter I will try adding the dry ingredients.

    You can also find dulce de leche at http://www.amigofoods.com. Their S&H charges are a little expensive, but at least you can buy the dulce the leche there. Gaucho Gourmet only sells “La Paila”, I am not sure if that is a good dulce de leche or not.

    I haven’t found Havanna alfajores here in the U.S. I even went to their website, http://www.havanna.com.ar, and asked them where in the U.S. I could find their alfajores, but never got a response. :0( But the map says they sell it here, the question is:where?

    Thankfully we have this recipe.

    Greetings,
    Natasha

  32. Katherine

    Hi-
    I just tried making these and couldn’t get the dough to stick together as it was far too dry. I’m wondering if the 2 1/2 cups of cornstarch was a misprint. If not, do you suggest adding water or some other liquid to get the dough to stick? Thanks!

  33. Pip in the city

    Katherine,
    It´s not a misprint, alfajores de maicena means cornstarch alfajores, so they use tons of cornstarch. My guess is that your egg yolks were on the smallish side, or maybe the cornstarch there is drier than the one here. So I would either add a bit of extra egg yolk, maybe a bit more cognac or whiskey as well. Do bear in mind though that this dough is quite dry and crumbly.
    Hope that helps

  34. Pip in the city

    Natasha,

    I´m glad you found the blog and are enjoying it.
    To answer your questions:

    1. I use unsalted butter. Salted butter is very rare here.
    2. Step 3 is about adding the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients without overworking the dough, so that´s harder to do using a stand mixer. You can do step 2 with the mixer though… creaming the butter with the sugar that is. Let me know how it goes.

  35. Aaron

    Any possibility that Janel’s comment about the differences in a US cup and a taza has some effect? We are trying to make these, and could not even get the dough to hold together at all until adding a lot more butter.

  36. David R,

    well how many alfajores does this recipe make?
    email me daviddisaster12@yahoo.com

  37. Hi! and thank you so much for the alfajores maizena recipe…it was my biggest weakness this winter in bsas..along with the meat,the bread, and the choripan!! But….HELP! i am having great difficulty with my dulce de leche…I insist on making it homemade (as is all my gelato) but it comes out as a nice, but runny sauce.Perhaps I need to cook it longer…it has a nice golden colour, not very dark but certainly not the consistency of ddl that i could use to fill alfajores…i was thinking of adding a bit of cornstarch to the recipe as i do to make hot chocoate more dense….i am dying to serve homemade alfajores in my shop since i have told everyone about them….but no luck…thank you in advance for your reply!
    denise

  38. Sarah

    Hi there. I was looking for some delicious Argentinean treats to surprise a friend who grew up in Argentina and stumbled across your site from SmittenKitchen. I want to make sure I make these as best as possible, so I was wondering if any cornstarch will do or if there’s something special about the brand that you use – Maizena…? I know that may be getting a little picky, but I want these to taste like home. Thanks!!

  39. Sarah

    Please disregard my earlier q re: Maizena. I went to my corner market to pick up some stuff for dinner and there it was! It probably doesn’t make a difference, but for someone as particular as me, it made me happy. Can’t wait to try it. Thanks!!

  40. Hi,

    We here in Alabama, USA make a similar kind of confection called, simply, Sweet Milk Candy.

    The adjective, “sweet” in “Sweet Milk”, isn’t used to describe the candy but to define the kind of milk that is used. Not “Buttermilk” but “Sweet Milk”, milk that has not clabbered (curdled). I know, but that’s just the way we are.

    Anyway, we make it by boiling equal parts of sugar and sweet milk, along with a dollop of butter, until it has reduced to a thick, creamy white paste.

    We eat it “neat”, that is, straight off the plate where it cools.

  41. TLH

    I just made these today and gotta say I was distressed when my dough mixture was a loose, sandy mess. I added two extra egg yolks (American extra large eggs) and around 18 tsp of extra water (a little bit at a time) and it came together. I think next time I will make this the same way I make pie crust dough – pulsing the dry ingredients with the cold butter in the food processor until sandy and then pulsing the egg yolks, vanilla, etc. and finally drizzling in water until it comes together. In any case, the cookies came out quite well, they were firm enough to easily spread the dulce de leche onto, and shockingly light and airy and practically melt in your mouth the moment you bite into them. Next time I will cut them out with a shot glass rim and make bite size alfajores so I won’t have to feel guilty after eating just one…at least I kept myself from eating the dulce de leche straight from the jar! Thanks for the recipe.

  42. charm

    Hi!! Just wanted to say that I made them and everyone couldn’t get enough of them. My friends loved them and my sister particularly liked them rolled in shredded coconut.

    Thank you so much for sharing the recipe!!

  43. Ray from cali

    hey! thanks for the recipe. but i was wondering is the texture of this cookie? is it crunchy and crumbly? or slightly soft and bread like.?
    if you could get back to me I would be very grateful.
    thanks so much

  44. Sally

    I want to try making these cookies for my husband, because he just loves them!!! He is originally from Peru. Everyone is here talking about Argentina, but no offense to Argentina, these cookies apparently Peruvian too:)!
    He is stationed in Afghanistan at this moment, and I was wondering if they would last for at least a month in the mail and plus one day for him and his buddies to eat them :)?
    I have factory made packages of Manjar Blanco that I received from my brother-in-law, so I am hoping it will help the cookies to last longer.
    Please help, I really want to surprise him!
    Thank you

  45. Dulce

    Thanks so much for the recipe, I tried it out today and it turned out fantastic!! Felt like I was back in Buenos Aires :))

  46. Nicole

    These cookies are A LOT of work. When i combined the ingredients together and tried to “make a ball” the dough was way too crumbly and impossible to roll out as to get the dough 1/2 cm thick. It literally crumbled into dust. Added 2 Tblsp more butter (adapted the recipe for US measurements) and kneeded it aggressively and it became a bit easier to work with. Another egg yolk would’ve probably done the job. All that said the end product was absolutely delicious…perfect really. I bake a lot and my husband said these were my best yet. Thanks for the recipe.

  47. Nicole: You are right. It all depends on the egg size I think, and it is supposed to be quite crumbly, especially before it goes into the fridge to rest, but sometimes it doesn´t come together until you add a little bit more butter or half an extra yolk or so.
    I made the recipe again a few weeks ago and I encountered this problem myself, so I added a tiny bit of egg white I had leftover and that did the trick to be able to from a flat rectangle and put it in the fridge for a half hour rest.

  48. I know I’m going to miss alfajores and dulce de leche when I go back to the US–you can be sure I’ll be trying out every kind of recipe I can get my hands on in an attempt to try to come close to some of the beauties I’ve had in Buenos Aires. Thanks for the tips!

    Besos,
    Mairead

  49. Jotace

    La Paila brand dulce de leche is very good — Costco carries it (certainly in Ontario, Canada)

  50. vivi

    Oh your recipe looks delicious. I am currently visiting Buenos Aires and have tried several varieties from a store called “Havana” but honestly they have an odd flavor. The cookie tastes more meringue-esque and has an artificial flavor that I can’t make out. I have a few more days here and continue to search at smaller bakeries. If I’m unsuccessful here I will try your recipe when I back to the states. Thank you!

  51. LOVE THE RECIPE!!! I did a blog post about them if you’d like to see :)

    http://cellababee.blogspot.com/2011/09/alfajores-101.html

  52. Pingback: Nirvana In Three Bites « fried neurons

  53. This looks amazing! I’ll have to try these out… I have a LOT of dulce de leche to use up, and need some ideas for how to use it!

  54. Pingback: Steph Food » Argentinian Alfajores with Dulce de Leche

  55. Rikki

    Hello, just wanted to say this for anyone making this recipe: you have to shift the flour before you measure it, or you’ll have too much, and you’ll have the not-coming-together problems a couple people had above.

  56. Pingback: Steph Food » White Chili

  57. Hony

    Hello there pipinthecity! I was born in Perú and always liked dulce de leche my mom used to make it at home and of course we also have our own version of Peruvian alfajores. Now, I’m trying to make some for my wife for her birthday but I had an idea if it is possible. She likes Bailey’s a ot, soI wanted to incorporate that licuor flavor on the alfajores. I already made the cookies, but I was thinking to incorporate that flavor ( a little bit) into the dulce de leche. Any ideas anyone? How do I do that?
    THanks.

  58. Hi, Hony
    If you have a thick dulce de leche, it should be quite easy: add a bit of coffee powder to the dulce de leche and a little bit of whiskey (be carefully not to add too much or it might become too liquid). If your dulce de leche is already quite soft, I would do the same but I´d cook the dulce de leche with a bit of cornstarch first so that it becomes thicker.
    Let me know how it goes! Ahh y si queres, podes escribir en español, yo soy argentina! :)

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