When I went to Portland, OR I had so much good food! Soon I’ll be sharing a whole post of where I went (and ate!), but one place I was especially excited for was Andina – a Peruvian place that came highly recommended. Thankfully they opened just before I got there and it was everything I hoped for and more, especially when it came to dessert! I had an alfajore and it was delicious. The cookie was perfectly short and crumbly but not too crumbly, there was the perfect ratio of filling to cookie, and, my favorite part, it was topped with lime zest which just brightened the whole thing up.
I wanted to recreate those flavors and ideas but in a bar form so I didn’t have to go through rolling out and cutting cookies then individually filling them and all of that. However, I wanted to start by looking at traditional alfajore recipes as my starting place.
Alfajore History & Traditional Recipes
Let’s start with a bit of history! Alfajores are a delicious dessert from South America, specifically Argentina. Most commonly they are a sandwich made of two shortbread cookies with a dulce de leche filling and often the outside has been coated with coconut or sometimes nuts. The cookies are made with cornstarch and often are flavored with some citrus and cognac.
Now, when I say that they’re an Argentinian dessert, they are but they have a history that goes all the way back to the eighth century in the Middle East. There was a cookie called ‘alaju’ in Arabic which means stuffed or filled. They were mostly made from dried fruit at that time and were brought by the Moors to Spain and then to South America by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century. All along they way the original Alaju were updated and people made their own version which eventually brought us to the alfajores that we have today! If you want to learn more about their history, I liked this post from Alfajores Bakery and this post from The Real Argentina.
I’ve taken what I’ve learned about alfajores and what I’ve loved about alfajores I’ve had and turned them into these low effort, high reward bars! These are a bit messy, but they’re oh so good.
- The shortbread base – I drew on the traditional alfajore cookie and made this using equal parts flour and cornstarch so it’s extra soft but still sturdy enough to be a solid base. I put some lime zest in to bring in that citrus flavor too! I strayed from tradition in that I didn’t include any cognac, honestly mostly because I didn’t have any and didn’t want to have to buy a whole bottle just to use a tablespoon or two. However, if you have some, feel free to add a bit!
- The dulce de leche – so easy to make, and so so delicious. You need a thicker dulce de leche for these so they aren’t super gooey and hard to eat, so don’t skimp on the time in the crock pot!
- The toppings – again drawing on tradition, I topped my bars with some shredded coconut and lime zest! You can leave these off, or put whatever you’d like on top
I’m so happy with how these came out and I hope you like them as much as I do!
These come together so quickly and are so, so tasty, if a bit messy! The buttery shortbread compliments the sweet, caramel-y dulce de leche and the lime zest adds the perfect touch. Grab some napkins and enjoy!
for the dulce de leche
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
for the shortbread base
- 90 g (3/4 cup) all purpose flour
- 96 g (3/4 cup) cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 226 g (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 100 g (1/2 cup) sugar
- zest of 2 limes
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- shredded coconut
- additional lime zest
- make the dulce de leche: place the sweetened condensed milk into a heat proof container. place that in a crock pot and fill with water until the water level reaches above the sweetened condensed milk in the heatproof container but below the lid so there's no chance of water getting inside. cook on low for 8-10 hours until a caramel color. let cool in the fridge completely before using
- prep: preheat the oven to 325*. grease an 8x8 pan and line with a parchment paper sling
- make the shortbread base: in a small bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, and baking powder. set aside
- in the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, and lime zest for 5-7 minutes until light and fluffy. add in the egg yolk and vanilla and mix to combine
- add the dry ingredients from step 3 into the butter mixture and mix on low until just combined. turn the mixture out into the prepared pan and gently push it out to cover the bottom of the pan, pushing some up the sides of the pan to create small walls to hold the dulce de leche. place in teh freezer for 15 minutes so the shortbread will keep it's shape
- bake: bake the shortbread base for 27-30 minutes or until lightly browned on the edges. let cool completely
- assemble: once all the components are fully cool, top the shortbread with half of the prepared dulce de leche. use the other half for whatever you'd like, or just eat it with a spoon! top with desired toppings
- enjoy! cut into 12 pieces and enjoy! these are best stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.