In Argentina and Uruguay, people love to eat dulce de leche cookie sandwiches. These treats come in many different forms- large, small, covered in chocolate, surrounded by coconut, made of wheat, made of corn starch, etc. These are called alfajores in Argentina, and yo-yos in Uruguay. I remember eating these as a child, my favorite being the large, chocolate covered yo-yo. I am convinced that the alfajor is just a means to eating more dulce de leche: a creamy, milky jelly, which, although looks kind of like caramel, tastes nothing like it. Rather than being buttery and gross (can you tell I don’t appreciate caramel much?), dulce de leche is awesome. When I was a child, we used to go to Uruguay every winter break to enjoy the gorgeous summer at the beach in Punta del Este with our family. We would spend two weeks there- on the first day of our arrival, we would purchase a very large bottle of Lapataia Dulce de Leche, which we would then proceed to polish off before leaving. We put it on just about everything, and would slyly attacked the bottle with only a spoon when our parents were not looking.
Unfortunately, in Argentina, they love to bake with lard, as it is cheaper than butter. This made it difficult for me to indulge with abandon the alfajores during my years living there. However, there were some special alfajores made with butter that were amazing. First and foremost was Havanna brand alfajores, which were really expensive so I generally did not eat them when I lived in Buenos Aires. My favorite Havanna alfajores were flour cookies covered in a hard white sugar coating. Having moved back to the states 7 years ago, I had to rely on my husband to bring me back several boxes during his trips to visit his family; of which I obviously would only share reluctantly with my family and friends.
The second type of alfajor that was generally butter-based was a more typical Uruguayan yo-yo made of corn starch and surrounded by coconut. These cookies were powdery and would instantly dissolve in your mouth. Delicious and impossible to eat without making a terrible mess, they would sell these individually wrapped at the corner store, brand name Cachafaz.
On my last trip to visit my mother in California, she told me that my uncle had boasted to her that he had successfully made corn starch alfajores (or as they are commonly called in South America, “alfajores de maizena”). My mother excitedly opened her pantry and showed me an unopened box of corn starch and a glass jar full of dulce de leche. She had still not gotten around to cooking them, but was hoping we could test it out together. Mom pulled out her old recipe book from Uruguay, the sheets tattered, marked and dog-eared; we were ready to start baking! They were so easy to make and delicious, that when I found organic corn starch at the supermarket, I knew it was time to cook them myself. I’ve changed the recipe a bit to improve the healthiness of the cookie, and I make the dulce de leche at home, since many of the store-bought brands have preservatives.
Alfajores de Maizena
4 egg yolks
4 tbsp of coconut sugar/organic sugar/agave (original recipe calls for white sugar; you can use organic cane sugar, but I like to choose sugars with lower glycemic indices, such as coconut sugar)
4 tbsp of coconut oil (the original recipe calls for butter, which I really try to avoid using)
1 box of organic cornstarch (stick to organic- the other stuff is definitely GMO and gross!)
1 cup of shredded dried coconut
Preheat oven to 405 degrees.
Cream the coconut oil and sugar in a bowl. This is easiest to do with a cake mixer or egg beater, but can also be done with a fork. Add in the egg yolks and beat until smooth. Slowly begin to add in cornstarch, mixing thoroughly until incorporated. It likely will not require the entire box of cornstarch. Mix until the dough is soft and smooth and not oily. You can add in some coconut flour if you like once most of the cornstarch has been mixed in, this will make it a little dryer.
Roll out the dough onto the countertop, and cut out small circles about 1.5 inches in diameter.
Cook on parchment paper (or greased pan) for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. The cookies should be hard and dry. If you used white sugar, then the cookies will be a soft white, otherwise they will be brown if you use coconut sugar.
Once cool, spread some dulce de leche on one cookie, and sandwich it with another. Make sure the dulce de leche spreads out to the sides- this will help bind the coconut to the sandwich. Pour the shredded coconut into a bowl, and coat the sides of the cookie with coconut (you can do this by turning the cookie like a wheel over the coconut).
These can be stored in a container for a few days. This is what my finished alfajores looked like:
Dulce de Leche
1 can of organic sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk- you need the one with sugar)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Pour the condensed milk into a small container, stir in a few grains of sea salt, and cover with aluminum foil. Place the covered container in a larger pyrex container filled with water. The water should go up almost to the top of the bowl holding the condensed milk.
Cook for about 2.5 hours, stirring well with a whisk or fork every 30 minutes. Regular mixing is essential to keep it creamy and not clumpy. Once the milk has thickened and turned brown and creamy, it is done. Make sure you keep adding water to the pyrex dish as it evaporates. Let cool on the counter. The dulce de leche can be stored in the refrigerator.
Future Cooking Trials: I am going to attempt to make two new types of dulce de leche: 1) with coconut milk rather than cows milk (if this works, it would be awesome – the whole dish could be dairy free!!), and 2) with goats milk. I found a can of evaporated goats milk and am hoping this will work. I will let you know how that goes.