ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED January 21, 2012
UPDATED August 7, 2020
The man behind this alfajores recipe
"Is anybody else here bringing it today besides me?" asks Jungle Boy every time he steps into a classroom at the Culinary Institute of America. So this is Professor Raimundo Gaby in a nutshell. Although I'm not sure that even skims the surface. Because with every breath Gaby exudes an energy I could only dream of possessing for five minutes. He constantly brings it.
Inspiration is key
Born deep in the Amazon, he came of age in the trenches of New York City's best restaurants. He now teaches business management at the CIA. As in culinary institute, not central intelligence. He's by far the most inspirational professor I ever had at any school. And his inspiration led to this alfajores cookie recipe. You're welcome, with a wink he might quip.
For his students, it is a very intense menu concept project. And in researching potential desserts, I stumbled upon alfajores. Crisp yet crumbly. Sandwich cookies hugging caramel and sprinkled with coconut. What's not to like?!
Varieties of the alfajor are endless. Cornstarch dough or puff pastry, jam filled or dipped in chocolate. As I searched more and more, I knew these Argentinian delights were my ticket to success with Jungle Boy. So the baking began.
And alfajores cookie recipe testing went on for a solid week. And I've now eaten a lifetime's worth of South American-inspired sugar. This is what Jungle Boy will do to a student. It's not a negative pressure as with many a chef instructor, but a positive desire to bring it.
For extra flair serve them dusted with confectioner's sugar alongside a nice tawny port. Then remember, alfajores are bringing it. Alfajores served with tawny port is what we call double bringing it. And triple bringing it doesn't even begin to describe Jungle Boy's enthusiasm and motivational abilities. So find your own brand of triple bringing it, or just enjoy a few alfajores. But either way, I hope you're inspired, because I sure am
*Jungle Boy is a moniker our professor bestowed upon himself, for the record. It is only used with complete respect and out of endearment.Print
With origins in Spain, these milk caramel-filled sandwich cookies are favorites in many South American countries, most notably Argentina. Sweet and buttery, the goal is to achieve a perfect balance of crumble and bite. In Argentina, alfajores are signature items for pastry shops and come dolloped with a variety of fillings. Even completely encased in chocolate. For entertaining pizazz, the sweet gems can be wrapped in different color decorative foils, a la Argentina (insert sexy accent).
½ cup butter, European, unsalted, softened
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar , plus more for garnish
2 egg yolks
2 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more if needed (1 to 2 Tbs)
1 tsp baking powder
1 can sweetened-condensed milk (14 oz)
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (found at specialty grocers, Williams-Sonoma or Amazon)
1 tsp cinnamon, ground
½ cup sweetened flaked coconut, ground or chopped fine
Make dulce de leche
Preheat oven to 375° F. Pour sweetened-condensed milk into a shallow, oven-safe dish and cover with foil. Rest inside a larger roasting pan, and pour in enough hot water to come halfway up the side.
Bake until milk turns a deep brown caramel color, a couple of hours, stirring occasionally and maintaining water level. Remove from oven and add cinnamon and vanilla bean paste. If lumpy, purée in a food processor or blend. Store chilled.
Mix + shape alfajores dough
Sift flour, baking powder and salt (always prep dry ingredients first!) With a hand-held or stand mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium-high speed until smooth. Blend in egg yolks, vanilla, and lemon zest.
Beat in half of the dry ingredients on low speed. Mix in the remaining half by hand or with a wooden spoon, using additional flour as needed to achieve a moist but coherent dough.
Gently shape into a five-inch disk, wrap in plastic and rest in refrigerator for at least two hours, up to two days.
Bake + Build
Preheat oven to 325° F. On a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough to a quarter of an inch thickness. Cut into 1-inch rounds (or size of your choosing). Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until cookies set, but before browning occurs.
Spread dulce de leche on the bottom of one cookie, dip in coconut (if using), and top with another cookie. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar right before serving.
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