Alfajores were not a cookie I went in search of, rather, they crossed my path online. And what a beautiful cookie it is. It’s a light, South American cookie held together by dulce de leche, which is like spreadable caramel. The dough is made from a combination of flour and cornstarch, which gives it a silky feel when being rolled out.
I didn’t know how easy it was to make dulce de leche until I tried this recipe, which requires pouring a can of sweetened condensed milk into a pie dish, sprinkling it with salt, covering it with foil, putting the whole thing in a water bath and baking it for a couple hours. That’s it. While it took more time than traditional caramel does to make, it was easier than watching the color of the sugar syrup change in a pan on the stove. Dulce de leche is the slightest bit grainy, but it’s spreadable, which is perfect for these cookies. I made the cookies before the dulce de leche, which was a good order to do it in if you’re doing it all in one day. If you plan to tackle the recipe in two parts on different days, do the dulce de leche first.
I opted to use a heart-shaped cookie cutter for these because I thought the cookies would be cuter, and festive for Valentine’s Day — plus, I don’t think sandwich cookies should ever be big. I like mine small and sweet, and these were perfect. They are labor-intensive and time-consuming to make, but are completely worth it.
1 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon baking powder (use 1/2 teaspoon if you’re at high altitude)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon pisco, brandy or cognac
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup dulce de leche, at room temperature (recipe below)
Powdered sugar, for dusting
Place the cornstarch, measured flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk briefly to combine; set aside.
Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl once with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is light in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolks, pisco or brandy, and vanilla and mix until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. On low speed, gradually add the reserved flour mixture and mix until just incorporated with no visible white pockets, about 30 seconds.
Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape it into a smooth disk, and wrap it tightly. Place in the refrigerator until firm, at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350 degrees F and arrange a rack in the middle. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Lightly flour the top of the dough. Roll to 1/4-inch thickness (the dough will crack but can be easily patched back together). Stamp out 24 rounds using a plain or fluted 2-inch round cutter, rerolling the dough as necessary until all of it is gone.
Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, 12 per sheet and at least 1/2 inch apart. Bake 1 sheet at a time until the cookies are firm and pale golden on the bottom, about 12 to 14 minutes. Or, if you make smaller cookies like I did, bake for about 8 minutes. (The cookies will remain pale on top.) Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Flip half of the cookies upside down and gently spread about 2 teaspoons of the dulce de leche on each. Place a second cookie on top and gently press to create a sandwich. Dust generously with powdered sugar before serving.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F and arrange a rack in the middle.
Pour milk into a pie plate and sprinkle with salt. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place in a roasting pan. Place the roasting pan in the oven and add enough hot tap water to reach halfway up the sides of the pie plate. Bake for 1 hour.
Remove the roasting pan from the oven and remove the pie plate. Carefully uncover the plate and whisk the mixture until smooth, about 1 minute. Replace the foil and return the pie plate to the water in the roasting pan. Place back in the oven, adding more hot water so that it remains halfway up the sides of the pie plate. Continue to bake until the dulce de leche is dark golden brown (about the color of peanut butter), about 1 1/2 hours more.
Remove from the oven and transfer the pie plate to a wire rack. Remove the foil and whisk the dulce de leche until smooth, about 3 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate in an airtight container with a tight-fitting lid for up to 1 week.