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A Taste of The Alfajor

If you’ve ever been to Argentina (first off, lucky you), then you’re familiar with resisting the urge to stockpile one of their most famous desserts. Yes, alfajores. This Argentian delicacy pronounced “alpha jor” in its singular format is an embodiment of the perfect dessert. They are, according to the Huffington Post, “the best cookie you’ve never heard of,” and they are enormously popular around the world.

Is it a cake? A massive cookie? Does it matter? You’ll simply relish putting it in your mouth. An alfajor can combine chocolate, dulce de leche, meringue, icing, jam, and even mousse. In the deft hands of El Porteño, you can trust the fillings strike the right note of sweetness.

As any armchair linguist knows, Spanish words beginning with “al” have Arabic roots, and this favorite sweet Argentinian food is no exception. The name may be derived from an old Arabic word, al-fakhor, which means luxurious or excellent. Many sources believe it may have come from al-hasu, meaning “filled” or alfahua, meaning “honeycomb.”

No matter what the origin, the cookies came to be known as “alaju” by the time, the Moors made their way to Spain. The word got transliterated to “alfajor” there. By the time the Spanish began exploring South America, we had the treat “alfajores” that we know and love today. 

Alfajores, or the ancestors of them, started showing up in Spanish cuisine in the 1600s. This was at the height of the Spanish colonization, so it wasn’t long before the cookies made their way to the Americas. Historians believe a Spanish friar brought the dish with him to Peru in 1668.

As they spread throughout the Americas is really when alfajores began to change when bakers of different regions began experimenting with filling options that were made from regional abundances. Alfajores can still be found all over the world, from Spain, where they still resemble the flat pie-like pastries of the 17th century, to much of South America. But they found their home in Argentina, where El Porteño owner, Joseph, continues to visit to garner new ideas for his offerings.

As food writer, Julie R. Thomson describes in the Huffington Post, “Cornstarch isn’t an ingredient that many bakers get excited about, but it has a magical effect on the alfajor. With almost equal parts Cornstarch to butter, sugar, and flour, the easy-to-work dough creates a cookie that’s crumbly and tender. On its own, the cookie might not be much to write home about, but when filled with dulce de leche they are elevated to a whole new realm. “

The shortbread cookie – a desired accompaniment in so many situations- can have a hard time supporting dulce de leche. Whether it’s from crumbling underweight or just becoming too sweet as a pairing. But cornstarch-based shortbread cookies – known as Alfajores de Maizena — are light when the dulce is dense and flake beautifully with the stickiness of the dulce de leche. Truly the perfect dessert. 

The Argentinians eat alfajores at any time of the day, whether that be as a breakfast pastry, a snack with coffee, or an evening treat. With the opening of the El Porteño in early September do like the Argentinians do – order your alfajores for a treat any time of day.